To celebrate the Fall 2014 LSA Theme Semester, a panel of academics and coaches discussed achievement, happiness and even facial hair to more than 50 students and rising professionals Monday night in Rackham Auditorium.
The theme, “Sport in the University,” combines courses in several disciplines as a means of exploring and researching the many facets of athletics. The panel, consisting of the University’s men’s basketball coach and women’s gymnastics coach, a linguistics professor and two administrators, discussed the theme’s aim.
English Prof. Anne Curzan, an organizer of the Theme Semester, outlined the goal of the project: to blend the curricular and the co-curricular to look at the subject of sports from several different perspectives.
To survey from academics and coaches, Curzan moderated the event, posing questions to gauge advice from the panelists on how to achieve success and — more importantly — how to respond to failure.
Perhaps the most comical answer was given by Phil Deloria, LSA associate dean of undergraduate education: “Shave off the scraggly beard and never grow it back.”
Deloria’s and others’ more serious suggestions were relevant to all students, including those who may not have clearly defined academic paths. Deloria made the point that experiential goals, though their outcome may not be as identifiable as those of more concrete goals, are still an important part of the learning process.
“No experience is ever lost or wasted,” he said. “You just haven’t used it yet.”
Women’s gymnastics coach Bev Plocki said because athletics in general are so perfectionistic, there can always be an element of failure. However, to her, the most important element of “failure” is learning to overcome it and try again.
Men’s basketball coach John Beilein called failure “fertilizer for growth.” As perhaps the most well known panelist to the student body, Beilein led the men’s basketball teams through successful seasons in 2013 and 2014, finishing as the national finalist and the Elite Eight, respectively, in the March Madness tournament.
Beilein offered his “WIN” acronym — what’s important now — as a tool for keeping objectives in line. As an example, he said in identifying what his players need to work on in any given practice, he may not have a solid idea going into it. However, once he pinpoints problems and how to solve them, he doesn’t let anything else get in the way.
Beilein also explained how to maintain drive in light of achievement. One point that was touched on several times throughout the panel was that it is much easier to know how to improve when one has not met a goal.
“It’s a good feeling to have success when you know you’ve gotten it the right way,” he said.
Robert Sellers, professor of education and psychology and vice provost for equity, inclusion and academic affairs, took the idea of learning and growing through failure a step further with a personal anecdote of the proudest grade he ever received. It was an F in seventh-grade English.
“Over four semesters, I finally got it up to a B, and I worked my butt off.” he said. “All the other As paled in comparison, because it was the F that made me actually work.”
Since the students in the audience have begun their second week of classes, linguistics department chair Robin Queen and Deloria offered advice on how to stay focused and keep up with their work. Deloria called on students to use office hours to develop relationships with professors, which he cited as “all the usual stuff that students don’t do.”
Queen said that the best thing students can do right now is to examine their syllabi and factor in how much time and preparation should go into each deadline.
She also presented time as a finite resource of which everyone has the same amount.
Although different people can have different levels of productivity within the same time frame, there are ways for everyone to maximize brainpower.
“Save your mind for the great creative work of learning,” she advised, and let your Google calendar keep track of your appointments.
The LSA Theme Semester will host a series of events throughout the rest of the semester, which include film viewings, panel discussions and lectures, all of which are open to students.