(if you’re here for the first time look at excerpts 1-25 in earlier Blogs )
John Pitts sauntered in and seated himself strategically, in the third row off the left isle. He didn’t care if he sat with anyone else, he’d rather not be distracted. At his first look at Maddie his breath caught in his throat. She was regal. Her back was ramrod straight, her skin glowing. She was joking with Lisa, but then looked up the aisle and waved at an approaching party. A group of black students were seating themselves in the center. He recognized Craig Berry as he detached himself and went up to Maddie, probably to wish her good luck. John’s stomach muscles tightened with a twinge of something, but he stood to shake hands with Craig as he came back up the aisle.
“Hey, John, how are you doing?” Craig shook his hand with a crushing grip.
“Okay, you guys come to see Maddie?”
“Yeah, well, she’s our girl, you know.” He gestured with his head in the direction of his companions. “Folks from the Black Caucus.”
Craig seemed to remember something. “Say, John, didn’t I hear that you volunteered to tutor some of the kids in the minority program?”
“Yeah, well, Maddie, you know. She put the screws to us in the journal club,” he brushed it off.
Craig looked at him pensively, “Yeah, that’s Maddie.”
They took their seats as Dr. Castle started calling the seminar to order. Maddie was standing behind him. As he ended the introduction John felt her take a deep breath.
“Friends,” she said, “today I’d like to present to you some of our research from the Bean Group, focusing on some recent findings. Please keep in mind these are preliminary. My hope is that your ideas and critique will assist us in refining our research.”
John was absorbed, but this didn’t keep him from carefully analyzing her opening remarks. She’d done something unusual; she had immediately invited the audience to be part of the process, appealing to their critical thinking as a tool in the collaborative pursuit of scientific truth, rather than a tool of one-up-man-ship. That was brilliant. But he wondered why she kept using the words “we” and “our,” sharing the credit with her whole research group. Hadn’t Dr. Castle said she was presenting her own research? He himself was pretty familiar with the work of the Bean Group and he knew that this was all new stuff. In fact, if he was not mistaken, this was a significant breakthrough: a new protein, hence a new gene, for two major diseases! What was more, an allelic series in the one gene and a dosage/response toxic effect in the other! Why wasn’t she touting this as bigger than it was? Why wasn’t she taking personal credit? Did she know what she had?
When Maddie concluded her remarks and called for comments, there was a veritable eruption of questions. He saw her startled look at all the hands that went up, and then a squaring of the shoulders as she plunged ahead. Atta a girl!
She fielded a number of questions, some from students needing clarification on her methods, but others from professors asking her evaluation of the significance of the results and her outline for future work. Then, the whole room grew silent when Heinrich Van Zant spoke, in his booming German-accented voice. “Ms. Hawkins, there is a very serious flaw here, in zis research.”
Together with everyone else, John turned his head to look at the last row. Pompous ass!
Maddie answered politely, “What is it you see?”
“Well…” he cleared his throat for effect, and launched into a tirade, questioning her assumptions and experimental methods in isolating the toxin.
Maddie stood, trying to focus on his comments but unwittingly remembering that this was the volleyball player who never passed her the ball, and the fellow student in her disease resistance class who couldn’t be bothered to sit through her project presentation. He had a perpetually overbearing manner, which often had the effect of making her doubt herself.
When Heinrich was done, however, Dr. Gillian, who was sitting in the audience, arose in defense of her lab methods, stating they were tried and true, and effectively quashing his concerns. Relieved that that part of the question had been dispatched, Maddie then patiently told Heinrich of her future plans for verifying her findings.
After a few more questions, Maddie was shocked to discover that the whole hour had sped by. Dr. Castle arose to thank her and dismiss the audience. A steady stream of people came up to congratulate her, including several professors. A few people wanted answers to further questions. Her friends hung around, waiting to see if she wanted to go for a drink at Sparky’s.
She seldom joined the graduate student TGIF in the dark bar. “C’mon Maddie, you can make an exception this one time,” Lisa urged.
Maddie looked at Josette McKendrick and Craig and issued an invitation to the group. “You guys want to come? It’s right next to the McDonalds.” She felt funny trying to convince anyone to go to a dark place to drink beer, because she didn’t drink.
“Yeah, sure, we’ll come for a little while. TGIF, I need it!” Josette said.
“Okay, I’ll meet you all there. I just gotta get back into my blue jeans!”
When Maddie walked into Sparky’s twenty minutes later, her eyes had a little trouble adjusting to the dim interior. But the scene that confronted her, when her eyes focused, caused her immediate irritation. It reminded her of a high school lunchroom scene. Her friends were all there. But one table was black, the other white.
But then she remembered that the only connection between these two groups was herself, and that it was up to her to mix things up a little. Somehow, she felt slightly daunted by the prospect. She sighed as she turned back to hang up her coat on the wooden hooks by the door, wishing for an ally. At that very moment John swung open the heavy wooden door and stepped inside. Smiling at her, he said, “Great job! Good seminar!”
She felt herself blush as she murmured “Thanks.” His approval meant a lot to her.
Walking up to the “black table” John pulled up a chair and started talking to Craig. She watched him introduce himself to the others around his table.
Lisa franticly beckoned Maddie to the “white table,” and she had to move in that direction. But then a commotion ensued because everybody was getting up.
“What’s going on?” She asked, confused.
“Here, we’re going to pull the tables together,” John answered.
Maddie couldn’t quite explain her feelings at that moment, but she exhaled softly. Bless his heart.