"I didn't do well the first time. When I went back to school, there were people who became mentors. They would see something in you and push you, and I needed pushed. It didn't work the first time because I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do. I didn't need to be in engineering. I don't have a right brain. I'm more of an emotional, creative person.
"So I got into psychology at WVU. A couple of professors in educational psychology became my rudders in life. It took a long time, but they just would not let go. My adviser, Dr. Anne Nardi, was a driving force in my professional life.
"I had a professor on my dissertation committee, Richard Walls, nationally known for his research and writing on children with intellectual disabilities. When it came time to do the analysis of data for my dissertation, he scheduled a time for me to be in Morgantown. I was working and had been out of college about six years. I would go to his office on Monday morning at 7, and he would work with me until 11:30 that night. I spent the night at his house. He fed me. That went on all week long, doing this analysis. He didn't do anything else. What is that worth? You can't put a value on that.
"I got my doctorate in educational psychology, which is about people, how people live and love and learn, and that made sense to me, getting into a field where you can help people understand why they are having problems and do something about that.
"I started working in Elkins in the fall of '83 at the county office in Elkins. I worked everywhere from Pickens to Junior to Coalton. The first day at work, I met my wife. She's a Charleston girl, so we eventually gravitated this way.
"Now I'm lead psychologist for Kanawha County Schools. I'm responsible for guiding the way we deliver services and keeping up-to-date with trends and current ideas about learning and how people have difficulty with that and what we should do about it.
"Things are happening. I'm as excited now as I was 30 years ago, because of technology. Our current thrust is doing evaluations based on cognitive neural psychology. It associates specific activities a child might do in learning with certain neuro-functions in the brain. We can do that because of MRIs.
"We can take a picture of a brain as a kid reads and see exactly what is happening and where. In kids who have severe reading problems, the part of the brain that is supposed to be functioning when you read is not working.
"We've known for a long time that it's neurological in origin and now we have visual physical evidence that proves it is a neural dysfunction. Our task now is to find ways to identify that and find research-driven ways to remediate it. And we are working on that.
"My music is gravy. You wonder if it's an inherent thing, maybe even genetic. Celtic music has got to be in my blood. It resonates in my soul.
"Music is a big part of my life. I never took a lesson in my life. Now I give lessons in fiddle, banjo and guitar.
"Lately I've been playing guitar with a wonderful fiddle player, Jenny Allinder. If you ever get a chance to hear her play, it's so soulful. The way I play guitar, we mesh beautifully. We play weddings, occasional concerts. We've played at Taylor Books and the New Year's thing every year.
"I do lots of traditional Appalachian music and Celtic. Jenny and I can play pop. It's unbelievable what comes out.
"I've been married 29 years. I'm so blessed to have Marty. She teaches the exceptional gifted, students who are gifted but have some disability that makes it difficult for them to succeed. We have two children, Matt, 27, doing his last year at Marshall and Michael, 22, who drives trains, a passion of his.
"I've only within the last few years come to realize what I had on the farm in my early days. It's that background of self-sufficiency, the confidence of being able to do what needs to be done in your environment to get by.
"I hunt. When I hunt, it is for food. I've probably butchered 150 deer.
"My wife and I, it had always been our dream to build a house. After a couple of years, we found some land in Putnam County. I contracted for people to frame it. But we pretty much did the rest ourselves, siding, doors, windows, all the woodwork inside.
"We built it so we could retire there, but I live there now. I don't want to retire. I like what I'm doing. I think we are doing a lot of good, so I figure I will do it a couple more years. I hope they don't kick me out the door, but a lot of young folks are looking for jobs."
Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.