Live long and professor

Those close to me may be shocked to learn I’m a longtime “Star Trek” fan — a Trekkie if you will. Usually this pastime is reserved for my own entertainment or for the final round of a bar trivia contest where I won my team $50. I don’t usually have a practical outlet for my knowledge of dilithium crystals or the Dominion War, but a recent opportunity was a rare exception.

During my time at Lake Forest College, I became good friends with one of my professors, Matt Kelley, based on our mutual enjoyment of all things nerd — namely “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica.” Last year, Matt inherited the duties of teaching one of the first-year studies courses — Robots and Brains. As he was putting together his syllabus, he thought it would be fun if he called upon an expert in the field of “Star Trek: The Next Generation’s” Lieutenant Commander Data — none other than yours truly.

For readers uninitiated into the world of “Trek,” Data is the second-in-command android officer of the Starship Enterprise. What better topic for a Robots and Brains course than probing the sentience of Data? Is he a man or machine?

Last year, I put together a presentation revolving around one of my favorite episodes. In ““The Measure of a Man,”“ Data is put on trial to establish his rights as an individual and how all future androids will be treated. I tried to come up with a list of discussion questions that were challenging but not cliché, trying to impart the significance of the topic on the young minds of the class.

This year, I updated the presentation and tried to incorporate some real-world relevance. Could we eventually have smart phones that were intelligent? Could the iPhone one day develop a soul? I didn’t have any answers, but I hoped the kids could at least bat the questions around for a bit.

And, for the most part, they carried on the conversation admirably. They came up with some good ideas, and I tried to interject every now and then with my two cents. I was a substitute teacher for a bit after college, so I was somewhat familiar with the feeling of standing in a room and teaching where I was once a student. But for these past two guest lectures, it was interesting to be teaching off a lesson that I designed — and for that lesson plan to revolve around “Star Trek.”

Overall, the day was a success. Matt was very pleased with the class, and I think the young Foresters enjoyed the episode and thought about some big ideas thanks to the planning of their esteemed professor. I also was paid a small stipend for the presentation, allowing me to boldly go where I had never gone before — onto campus as a paid academic.

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