Like Superman in his guise as a mild-mannered reporter, Michele (Malki) Drazin is much more than she appears to be. The pretty young college instructor and psychologish -- she turned 21 lastweek -- looks for all the world like a college student. But Drazin's deceptively ordinary appearance masks a superior intelligence an almost superhuman capacity for work.
She is a full-time staff psychologist at Rosewood Hospital for the mentally retarded in Owings Mills, near Baltimore, and a part-time psychology instructor at Howard Community College in Columbia. She also teaches history and Hebrew at the Hebrew School of Baltimore, tutors local children and adults several times a week and works with learning-disabled children.
She wants to combine a teaching career with a private practice as a clinical psychologist.
In her spare time, Drazin is preparing her master's thesis for publication in a professional journal. She also reads suspense novels and works puzzles. She loves a good mystery story and once entertained the notion of joining the Central Intelligence Agency.
Born in Baltimore into a family of what she calls "high achievers," Drazin now lives in Columbia with her parents, Dina and Israel and her younger sister and brother, Leba and Steven. An older sister, Daniela, is married and lives in Baltimore.
Religion has played a pivotal role in Drazin's family life.
"We are Orthodox," said Drazin. "We keep kosher, which means you can't mix certain foods, like meat and milk."
It also means dating only Orthodox Jewish men. But, she said, "I grew up this way. To me it's natural."
Also natural to Drazin is the family's preoccupation with reading and learning. If the Jewish faith and heritage are the foundations on which her solid family life was built, books have been the bricks and mortar that made the house secure.
Her paternal grandfather, a rabbi, was a well-known biblical scholar and wrote several books, including a history of Jewish education. Her father, a lawyer and a colonel in the Army Reserve, has pursued graduate degrees in Hebrew and biblical literature--"just for interest."
One of the many shelves in her father's large office-library, which Drazin estimates contains more than 3,000 volumes, is devoted to books written by family members--including a copy of Drazin's master's thesis. In addition to research and law books, the library contains volumes on biblical and Hebrew scriptures, Hebrew, German and English classics, modern fiction and about 10 sets of encyclopedia.
Drazin's mother, an artist, said she and her husband have always encouraged the children to read.
"People always say, 'You have four bright, intelligent and great kids,' " Dina Drazin said. "I could show them it's a lot of hard work. You have to be very sensitive to children's needs. You have to know when to support and not support, when to put your foot down and not let them get away with something. We made that commitment when we had children. That's our contribution."
Recalling early signs of her daughter's mental prowess, Dina Drazin said Malki (her Hebrew nickname) began talking before she was a year old and taught herself to read and write when she was about 3. That was when her parents began buying her books.
Drazin and her mother recalled that her ongoing battle against boredom began in the first grade, where, having grown impatient waiting for her teacher to grade English papers, Drazin began correcting papers herself.
"I knew my answers were right," she explained.
She developed a habit of doing extra work to make her classes more interesting. "I'd write two reports instead of one," she said.
Drazin, who spent about four years in Israel, was sent there at age 13 to attended a Hebrew boarding school.
Returning to the United States after her second year, she found that she could skip the 11th and 12th grades because she had more than fulfilled the requirements for a high school diploma here. She enrolled in an early admissions program at Howard Community College and received six language credits before the first week of classes, by passing a Hebrew proficiency examination.
Drazin later returned to Israel, and was graduated from Bar Ilan University there in 1979. Two years later, at the age of 20, she earned a master's degree from the University of Maryland.
Although she considered careers in law and medicine, Drazin credits Dr. James Bell, her college instructor, with honing her interest in psychology.
"I was always interested in how the mind works, how the brain works. So when I had the opportunity to take introductory psychology, I did," she said, adding that Bell had inspired her "to work harder and do better.
"As I got into psychology, the more and more interested I became. I decided at that point that I would continue."
After a year off from school, Drazin is now looking forward to earning a doctorate in psychology.
She wants to work as both a clinical psychologist and a teacher, she said, because they "pull at different parts of the knowledge and the interests that I have. When I do clinical work, I lots of times feel like I am solving a crossword puzzle and that I am literally being given clues by a client."
Bell, who met Drazin five years ago when she enrolled in his class at age 15, said, "You don't have to give her an I.Q. test to know she is intelligent. It would be safe to put her in the top one percent. Whether she's in the top one-tenth or one-thousandth is hard to say. You meet such people so rarely, it's hard to put a finger on it."
He added that Drazin is one of the "very few" people who could successfully combine research, teaching and clinical work.
Working with the severely retarded at Rosewood, Drazin said, was "the best challenge I could have had." She said it has helped her develop patience, a trait she feels she may have lacked in the past.
"I've made a lot of mistakes," said Drazin, in summing up her experiences. "My dad once told me that that would be a learning experience. I really do that now. I still make mistakes--I have never claimed to be perfect and I don't want to try to be, because that's a boring life."