By Ryan McFadden
Motherhood. 80-hour workweeks. An incurable form of breast cancer. One lifetime dedicated to the success of so many more.
Dr. Bonnie Green shapes the four walls of Stroud Hall Room 116-B into a vibrant chamber of thought with a drive usually found in motorcycles. Green teaches psychology and statistics at East Stroudsburg University. She researches ways to promote the success of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
The married mother of two wishes every child had access to the quality of education her own children were blessed to have. An inspired vision informs the methods.
“My job as a parent and my hope in the science of success is to maximize the brain health of everybody,” said Green. “I want what my kids had for everybody. We can do a much better job at this.”
At least eight years of research and two years of active writing results in two, multi-million-dollar grants operating today, and two more awaiting approval.
“What you’re doing with the grants is not going after the money. There’s a larger research plan,” said Green.
“Some things take money and once that is in place it can move forward but the whole time I’m working on research that doesn’t require funding.”
The $4 million Clear Path S-STEM grant, in its second year, provides scholarships for 120 transfer students needing financial assistance to bridge the gap between community college and state universities. It became the largest grant ever awarded to ESU with the approval of the National Science Foundation in 2016.
The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR-UP grant, worth $24 million at the state level is an initiative promoting the success of students from under-served school districts.
Both grants supply Green and her student research team with a sample group of young minds to study. The team learns what academic obstacles can be addressed, and how public education could have better primed the new students for success in college.
Professor Green has overcome social roadblocks to get her grants approved. “I have been told by men that NSF would never fund a grant I wrote, or that I was incompetent,” said Green.
The naysayers are part of the narrative that gives the feminist movement its purpose. Feminism means dignity and self-determination to Green and at a societal level, she thinks people have a long way to go towards promoting those values.
“No one should have to prove their worth or competence in the way many women and others have had to,” said Green.
“Of course, this means among other things equal pay for equal work, that woman have a right to autonomy with their bodies, and that they have full access to education. We have made advances in education regarding women, but have a long way to go on other areas of dignity!”
Green sees parallels between a gender dominion and an unfair school system. The current American education system ensures that lowest socio-economic classes will not receive a quality education.
The stark contrast between wealthy schools and impoverished districts in urban and rural America puts the professor into emotional distress. Green thinks the usual suspects should jump out of the picture.
“It absolutely makes me cry,” said Green. “Washington can’t seem to get out of the way of letting teachers teach. One could say its anti-American. It’s because the politicians don’t trust the teachers, they don’t see them as competent.”
Green typically works 70 to 80 hours per week. She publishes statistics textbooks and ponders writing fiction stories. Occasionally, the line between work and leisure begins to blur.
“If I am at Panera’s with the team is that work or fun?” Said Green.
“I’ll write some fiction stuff, but the statistic books are fun to write too! When you realize you are an influence in helping people understand statistics, it’s motivational.”
Sometimes the stylish professor walks through the woods and loves the rain.
She saw “Hamilton” on Broadway this year, describing the play as “inspiring” and directly related to the science of success. The character development happened to have an even greater impact on Elizabeth, Green’s daughter.
“My daughter was flying high,” said Green. “I periodically turned to see her reaction.”
Last year’s solar eclipse was an event the professor would not have missed for the world.
She and the family packed up their belongings and drove down to South Carolina to get the best view. Green needed to see the real deal for more than just curiosity’s sake.
“When my sister had cancer, there was a partial eclipse and we went to see it,” said Green.
“When I heard this one was going to be partial I said no I want to see the full eclipse, I want to see the corona, I need to see the corona.”
Green’s sister passed away 24 years into life from cancer. Her father and grandmother both fought cancers that took their lives as well. In her immediate family, Green is the sole cancer survivor.
In 2017, Professor Green was diagnosed with breast cancer. She sat alone in the Emergency Room as questions from death-ridden trains of thought forced her fighting spirit into action.
She wondered what needed to be done for her kids and asked, “how was I going to tell my mother, that another one of her daughters has cancer.”
“I want to buy a f*****g motorcycle!” Said Green.
Further testing revealed the professor has a non-terminal, incurable form of breast cancer but now, in 2018 she is currently cancer-free and spending more time in the woods, laughing, dancing and having fun.
“Clarity is what I would say. I found clarity,” said Green. “It is making me really evaluate what am I doing, why am I doing it and what is my legacy going to be.”
Motherhood comes first. Everything else is secondary for Green.
That said, her professional career continues to impact students all over the world for the better. At ESU the effect is felt at a personal level.
Students come in to talk with Green about their struggles. They leave knowing someone they can relate to is on their side. Being a first-generation college student from a poor neighborhood gives the professor a clear perspective into how these students feel.
“It was interesting being on a college campus and feeling like I didn’t belong,” said Green.
“I think that probably is what sticks with me when I am working with ESU students, some of them feel the same way and that’s exactly how I felt. I talk to students and tell them to join clubs, I give tips about that kind of thing. I’m always looking for those students who might possess some self-doubt but have the ability to be great in the lab.”
The human brain is a moldable machine. Its neural plasticity is something Green encourages all young people to remember. Difficult achievements are accomplished with practice. It doesn’t matter whether it is emotional, social or intellectual. Green believes there is always more room to grow.
Teaching is a classical dance for Professor Green. The lecture is a freeform exercise dependent on the teacher’s connection with the class, and the classes’ connection with the curriculum.
When the teacher moves with the pupils the four walls of the classroom transform into a vibrant chamber of thought.
“I refer to it as The Dance. You can tell when a teacher has a connection with the class, great teachers do that. Why don’t expensive high schools have those (standardized) tests? It’s because their parents don’t want them. Low level schools make it all about the test. That makes it tough for the teacher to have an impact on the students,” said Green.
“The curriculum is the music, as the curriculum changes so does the dance, there isn’t one right way, its dependent on the connection between the dancers.”
At the end of the day, Green tries to get more sleep. An inspired amount of work and lack of rest may have had something to do with her development of breast cancer, according to Green’s oncologist.
Although, what most consider work is just part of the fun for Professor Green. Vision informs reality.
“I want to be a good mom. Everything else would be okay. My second is for my research to continue without me,” Green said as teardrops welled below each eye.
Email Ryan at: