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“I don’t want you to mention too much about that,” Dr. Andreas Toupadakis said. “That’s not what this is about.”
Toupadakis is a widely acclaimed UC Davis chemistry lecturer. Just one of the many notable professors who DavisWiki users respect with a page, Toupadakis wished not to emphasize particular information one might find on his: details of his resignation from two well-paying lab positions back in 2000.
If anything must be said on the subject, his reasons for leaving are best kept short and simple. He walked away because he was not doing what he really loved to do.
Toupadakis’ instead wanted to focus on spreading his message of lifelong personal success and happiness to students.
“In my opinion, you cannot be successful if you are not happy,” he said. And as the years go by, Toupadakis has come to realize there is much more to teach than chemistry to help students succeed both in and after college.
Hailing from the island of Crete in Rethymno, Greece, Toupadakis joined the UC Davis chemistry department in 2005. He teaches the general chemistry 2 series for first-year science and engineering majors, two organic chemistry series and the 107 physical chemistry series. He also teaches a freshman seminar every quarter entitled, “Success in College and After College: How to Get and Stay on Course.”
Since his own college years in Greece, he’s been aware of his passion for teaching.
“When I was an undergraduate student, I was a tutor in math, physics and chemistry,” he said. “I loved it. By teaching, I could really understand more things. And I saw the joy in the kids – that joy when they finally understand something, too. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
Toupadakis received his B.S. in chemistry from the Aristotelian University in Thessaloniki. In 1978, he traveled to the U.S. for graduate studies, ultimately receiving his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Michigan in 1990. This, he said, was a predestined path.
“In Greece it’s different; when you are admitted to a university, you already know you are going to be a chemist. That decision is made before you graduate high school,” Toupadakis said. “And there’s no way to change it.”
Although students change majors today more often than in Greece, Toupadakis believes quite a few students still feel pressured into sticking to one academic discipline and notices happiness is oftentimes absent within them.
“You see this table?” he asked, motioning over the table’s surface. “A lot of tears have fallen here. I always run out of tissues.” These students, he said, are unhappy because they aren’t where they should be, comparing them to the bulbs of a Narcissus flower he once found and had tried to replant in his own yard.
“The first year I planted the bulbs, the flowers were beautiful. The second, only two flowers emerged,” he said. “I predict next year, there will be none because they are really not in the right place.”
The same goes for struggling students, Toupadakis said.
“If they are in the wrong place, they will wither on the inside and never be truly happy.”
The gardening reference reflects one of Toupadakis’ most treasured hobbies. He spends a majority of his free time in his organic garden plot, provided by the Experimental College Community Garden.
Encouraging students to garden is just one of the ways Toupadakis promotes relaxation and overall happiness. He has also learned to make his own soap, a feat that in 2008 began to stir some friendly competition among students in his courses.
In an effort to promote healthy competition, sustainability and the benefits of hobbies, Toupadakis offers handmade bars of soap to the student with the highest percentage score in each of his classes every quarter. Carved onto the bars of soap is an upward-curving line that Toupadakis calls “The Life Curve.”
“I tell them life is an uphill process, with the eventual result being a very successful life – the happy face on top,” Toupadakis said. “Sometimes you will go downhill,” he said, indicating the dip in the middle of the curve. “But that only lasts for so long. You will go up again.”
Students who take his classes are no strangers to the curve, which has become somewhat of a logo.
“I put it everywhere – on every exam, any handout I give out, it’s always there,” he said. “I teach my students chemistry, but I also remind them about life and overall stress-free happiness.”
Author of three study guides for the general chemistry series, Toupadakis makes sure to include pages with study and relaxation techniques, as well as testimonials from past winners of the soap bar, who share their methods of success. Even the covers are designed to help his students take their minds off chemistry.
“There is enough chemistry in the book,” Toupadakis said. “Why not give them a beautiful island or sunset to look at?”
Many students enjoy Toupadakis and his teaching philosophy, which is best manifested in the Socrates quote: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of vessel.”
Toupadakis draws inspiration from the classical Greek philosopher, as well as Albert Einstein and Gandhi.
“To me, these men were great teachers and have shaped my life greatly,” he said.
At heart, Dr. Toupadakis only wishes not only outward success in life, but inward personal success for students, he said, directing attention to an anonymous quote posted to his office door.
“I have no idea who said it or wrote it,” he admitted. “But it is the most beautiful sentiment.”
It reads: “Potentially creative young people are misguided into other fields. This may be for reasons of glamour, of promise for greater earnings, or parental influence. Few indeed are the people who are doing in life what they are most capable of doing.”
MARIO LUGO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.