Reducing Anxiety in College and after College
"Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel" -- Socrates --

This project is being launched for the first time this quarter, fall 2008, and it is about reducing student anxiety in college. My hope is that it will help you to genuinely enjoy the college experience by becoming and staying happy, without stress. As a result, in addition to excelling academically on exams, you will be making the right decisions about your major and career after college.

I have decided to work on this endeavor lately after realizing how widespread the phenomenon of student anxiety is. This past quarter of Fall 2008, I tried to spend more time thinking of how to minimize the pain of my students and to advise them how to reduce their anxiety by following very simple techniques. The feedback I received from my students this quarter was amazing and greatly rewarding. In some cases, the improvement of their grades and their life experience in general, not just their college experience, sounds almost unbelievable.
Notice how the first and second student below specifically talk about their best grade not coming just by studying but by enjoying the learning experience without anxiety.

I feel very happy to share my findings with my students and my colleagues. But let us see what the students have to say, starting with the winner of our Natural Soap Award.


Hello Professor Toupadakis,

It was very pleasing to hear that I am the receiver of this quarter's Natural Soap Award. The credit goes to you. Chemistry used to be my weakest subject in high school. I think the major reason behind my success in this class was taking your advice seriously- "feed your soul as you feed yourselves with food". I didn’t start studying more or something of that sort; instead I took this class very leisurely and simply made sure that I enjoy whatever we do in this class.

Thanks and congratulations to you also. I would be glad to pick up my soap by the beginning of the next quarter from your office.
If you can send the message to my fellow classmates that you conveyed to me, I will be really grateful of you as I have noticed that a lot of my friends did not perform well in class, particularly on exams, because of stress.

When our mind is disturbed, it creates uneasiness among our self and if it is not given the right kind of food, the uneasiness turns into stress. So, it is really important for us, to do what we enjoy the most (at least once a while), and to enjoy what we do (all the time). Enjoyment is, in essence, the food for our soul.

I hope I have not copied any of your lines. I sincerely apologize if I did. This impression is engraved so deeply in my mind that I could not separate out mine and your words.
Professor, enjoy the break! Relax and have fun! See you next quarter in 2B.

Karandev Singh "Karan"

Dear professor,

First of all, I wanted to thank you for teaching me chemistry this quarter plus some other valuable lessons about being relaxed and doing what I like in life. It did really impact me! It was an absolute pleasure to be your student this quarter!

I know that you wanted to collect different student's emails about how anxiety impacts their ability to take different tests!

Yes, sure you can use my name if it will help other students more this way!
I remember I emailed you after my first mid term. I still have the email! I don't know if you remember, but I was so afraid and wanted to drop the class! But you said "it might not be that bad, come to my office hours" and it did really help! Thank you so much for all the helps!
I truly understood the material! And I really like the fact that you teach concept instead of how to solve specific problems! Thank you for caring about us!

So I just wanted to give you some facts that proved to me how important that is!
I got a 41/100 with class average 57 on the first mid term! I was so nervous and when I got out of the exam I knew how to do all the questions! But my mind was locked for some reason when I looked at the problems during the test!

I did your exercise for relaxation for the second mid term! My grade improved more than twice....I got an 84/100 with class average 58! And for the final! I had two finals back to back! Chemistry and physics, Monday of the final week! I was stressing out so much! But I reminded myself what you told us!
"You did the best you could, you don't have control over the rest, you can just control your minds" with that thought I went and took both of my finals!
I got a 180 out of 197 for finals; that's 91.4%
Its amazing how relaxation brought me from a solid D, nearly F to a B+ in grade!
With that said, I really know that the problem is not from how much I did or did not study! It’s about how relaxed I can be during the test and do my best!
So, thanks again for everything! Hope I have you as a teacher for the following 2 series!

Monica Sunlight

SUBJECT: The most important thing you taught me.
Dear Professor Toupadakis,

I appreciate the fact that you have made yourself a human being for your students. Many times you made it obvious to me that you truly care, not only for WHAT you're teaching, but especially to WHO you are teaching. You did this by anticipating our questions. Through both your experience and foresight you explain and clarify ideas in chemistry, big or small, that confused you as a student with the thought that it may also confuse us. In reality, many of the ideas that confused you as a student confused me too, which make me so glad that you did those things!

Your passion for your craft is contagious. After this quarter and the many words of wisdom you've offered, I realize too that I must also have a purpose to work towards in order to give my life meaning. Therefore after one of your lectures I decided that my purpose in life is to give my future family security and stability as well as leave the world a better place than when I entered it.

I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed you're class this quarter and although I only earned a C+, I still was very lucky to have had you. You have intrigued me and lit a flame in me to seek out my own individual purpose, a purpose that gives my life new value and meaning, which in turn gives me the will to succeed at whatever it takes for me to accomplish my dreams. I feel like I'm a brand new person--my spirit rejuvenated.

I realized that I needed a purpose in order to find meaning in life. The most important thing I learned in your class was not the expanded octet rule that confused me all throughout high school. It was that we as people give ourselves meaning. We choose our purpose and we are powerful in the sense that we can change all that surrounds us according to the purpose that we choose. I feel like I can move mountains. Thank You.

I have wait-listed your 2B class for next quarter with the prospect of better grades and better understanding of myself and the world around me.

Anyway professor, I hope that you enjoy you're winter break and that you and your family be safe. Merry Christmas if you celebrate it, and I wish you the best for the New Year!

Alexander Oribello
Chem. 2A Fall 2008

Dear Toupadakis,

I cannot begin to say how grateful I am to have had you as my chem. professor. You have opened my eyes as to how I should study, how I should work, and how I should spend my time. I do however regret to inform you that I will not be completing the chem. 2 series at this time. I am a CSE major, and there are other core classes my time has to be devoted to. But I hope that if the day comes that I take chem. 2B, or any chemistry class, you will be the professor. You are one of my first professors here at UC Davis, but you are probably one of the best professors I will have. I hope that students in future quarters will see you as I have seen you; a professor with the will to teach and the heart to help others.

Thank you for everything,
Jon Tinney
prospective computer geek

Dear Professor,

I am really happy that I chose you for my Chemistry classes this quarter. It has made a world of difference. All of your motivation and advice during lectures helped me to do extremely well in class.

I was able to get an A+ in this class and I'm sure that it wouldn't have come if it wasn't for your help.

Unfortunately, I do not need to take Chemistry anymore because my degree doesn't require it and as a result I won’t be continuing the series.

But I would like to thank you for all of your advice during the course of the quarter. You are really a wonderful professor and you convey concepts very clear and your notes help back them up. All the things you said about anxiety, relaxation and the life curve will always be with me. I'm sure it will really make a big difference just as it did in the class.
Thanks a lot!!

Varun Kumaraswamy

Hi there Professor,
I just wanted to send a quick note to thank you again for taking the time to make the video of the review session. I attended the live session in SLH too, but so many people were talking that at times it was hard to follow what you were saying. It was so much more crowded and noisy than the reviews for the midterms! I left feeling really disappointed.
I was able to watch the video on Sunday, and it was great! What could be better than being cozy at home, with a cat on your lap and a dog on your feet, watching a video of your own professor reviewing important concepts on the day before an exam? Being able to pause and go back is such a luxury.
Thanks for going out of your way and working so hard to give all your students every opportunity to do well in your class. High school chemistry was 20 years ago for me; it was my worst subject then, and I dreaded taking it again after all these years. I entered 2A as one of your "weak background" students. Thanks to you, I won't go into 2B the same way.
Have a wonderful vacation, and I'll see you again for new chem. in the New Year!

Dear Professor Toupadakis,

I know it's a little late but I decided to write this after reading your email attachment. I hope you will still take time to read this.

To be honest, after reading and hearing what some (note: some, not all) of the people said about you, I initially regretted having you as my professor. My first test, I earned a 52% and that certainly did not help my chemistry experience. However, during one of your lecture, you mentioned that we're only capable of doing so much and if a B is the best I can get, then I should be happy with it (at least i hope that's what you said). Before the second midterm, I was 'freaking out.' Even though I was motivated to study hard from my first F, I wasn't feeling confident for the second midterm. I was then reminded again what you told us. Then for the second term, I just did my 'best.' Thankfully, I got a 78%, certainly way better than a 52% and on the final, i got a 72.5%. I ended up getting a B in the class.

This class did not make me enjoy or love chemistry any more than I dislike it. However, I learned a lot from you. I learned that life is not always about having the best GPA. Instead, it's about doing your best and doing what you love. I did learn a lot of these 'life lessons' before but I am really thankful that you reminded me again what it means to learn. Especially in college where it seems like i feel like everything is bombarding me with grades and papers, you taught me more than chemistry theories and methods and I wanted to thank you for that. Thanks again for reminding me to just simply do my best and do what I love.

And because in life we should to be able to hear what everyone has to say, I also include below the opinion of a student (I got the comment from the web) who speaks from the other side of the spectrum. Always remember that light has high frequencies but it also has low frequencies and we need them all in order to be able to see clearly.

11/25/08 CHEM2A If you're not a chem. person, avoid his class. I had a hard time in his class. I tried to do everything I could to keep up with him but I couldn't. Worst teacher ever. ANONYMOUS


SUBJECT: Thank You
Dear Dr. Toupadakis,

I've been meaning to write you this email but somehow got delayed with all the packing and leaving for the holidays. My name is Nadhira, and I'm in your Chem. 10 class this fall quarter.
I'd just like to say a simple thank you for your class. It was definitely something I didn't expect in the beginning of the quarter. I went to all the lectures and definitely learned something from all of them. I've never quite had a teacher who has your approach and believe in things.
Another thing I'd like to thank you is on your advice on life; what we want to do next, doing the things we like, how to approach life etc. I was unconsciously thinking about it the whole quarter since you started advising us. It really made me think of what I want, and what I want to become (although I don't think I have the answer yet...ha-ha). So, thank you. I mean in sincerely.
Have a great holiday!
-Nadhira Abdul Halim-