Sunday, December 20, 2009

Penn State Athletes Convey Life Lessons

On Saturday, at university-wide graduation ceremonies, Penn State University released yet another pride of Nittany Lions into the wilderness, including many of the students in my senior marketing classes. They will be forced to find their own path through the jungle of a recovering but still bad economy. Some of them were lucky enough (or good enough, or both) to land jobs this fall. Others are still looking, or waiting to hear the results of job interviews held this fall. Still others are applying to graduate school in order to wait out the dearth of jobs. They are graduating, though, with a major advantage: the Penn State brand name on their degree, and a phenomenal network of Penn State alumni who are always willing to help fellow Penn Staters.

In any case, during the last two weeks or so all my efforts went to end-of-semester grading. Had to get the grades done so that these students would get their diplomas on time. Done, finally, as of 3 p.m. Friday.

What does this have to do with football? Nothing. I just wanted to explain why this blog has taken a back seat to my full-time job over the past two weeks. Then, just as I was about to post this blog on Saturday morning, I lost all telephone service – including Internet access. The explanation by Verizon is that there’s an area-wide outage, some sort of major cable failure. They promised me that it would be restored by WEDNESDAY at midnight, five full days after the outage occurred! Unbelievable. For someone like me, not having Internet access is worse than no coffee in the morning. It’s worse than withdrawal from nicotine. It’s just hugely bad.

Today, I drove to work just to access the Internet, check email, and post this blog. But I digress…back to my main topic.

My work as a professor and my interest in football – and other Penn State sports - are not totally separated. Every once in a while, something happens that reminds you that athletic sports at a collegiate level are different from those at a professional level. What Penn State Athletics translates to ultimately is the development of young people into the best that they can be, both on and off the field.

Three incidents reminded me of that in the past few weeks. The first was a student-athlete who came to my office hours this week. The grade this athlete received was not as high as it could have been, although it wasn’t bad. But instead of complaining about the grade, as so many students tend to do during finals week, the athlete came to my office hours to apologize for not doing better, to ask my advice on how to do better in the future, and to thank me for a great class. It was a very rewarding – and fun – developmental conversation.

This athlete applied an important principle of social influence: the ability to be likable. That’s one life lesson that I believe has to do with the way student-athletes are coached at Penn State to pay attention to academics and to have positive communication with their professors. The conversation didn’t change that athlete’s grade, but I developed a sense of respect for this athlete as a person who is serious about improving and making the most of a Penn State education.

Another incident occurred while watching the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Semi-Finals on TV the other night. In the opening introductions of the team, each player discussed their relationship with “The Widget”, Cathy Quilico, a junior defensive specialist. That brought a smile to my face. Cathy was in one of my classes last year. When she approached me at the beginning of the semester with her volleyball schedule, I looked at her and said, “You’re too short to play volleyball!” She’s 5’1” tall, basically tiny for a volleyball player. “I’m a dig specialist,” she responded.

So it was rewarding to see her play such a prominent role on the team in the wins against Hawaii and Texas, and to see the respect she had earned from her other teammates as conveyed by the good-humored introductions. It was clear to me just from watching the matches that not only is she competent at her specialized role, she is also an emotional leader of the team who is maximizing her potential.

Cathy has learned a life lesson about various paths to leadership. In a sport that is dominated by tall females, she has found a way to make a difference by focusing on what she can do, not on what she can’t, in a game she obviously loves.

Congratulations to the entire volleyball team for achieving an unprecedented third National Championship! We weren’t sure at all last night that Penn State would come back from being two sets down against Texas. They had not faced that sort of adversity in two years. But they did it. They found a way to win. What a game! Congratulations also to Russ Rose for achieving his 1000th win plus.

The final incident occurred at the Senior Banquet sponsored by the State College Quarterback Club on December 6th. In addition to numerous speeches and awards that lauded several graduating seniors, the Quarterback Club presented Brandon Short , former linebacker for both Penn State and the NFL, with its Distinguished Alumnus Award. While Brandon Short was not enrolled in any of my marketing classes, he did graduate from the Smeal College of Business with a marketing degree.

So I was very proud when he gave a speech about what he learned in his time at Penn State. It brought a standing ovation by the people who were present to hear it, and it caused Coach Joe Paterno to be overcome with emotion in his closing remarks. But rather than summarize the speech, I’ll just provide the link to the Penn State Football page on Facebook (you don’t have to join Facebook) so you can view excerpts from his speech and judge for yourself!

All for now. But since it may be Wednesday or possibly later before I get Internet access back, I would also like to wish you a very Happy Holiday season and a great New Year!
Carolyn Todd

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