How to Email a Professor: Research or Grad School Opportunity

Isabelle Gordon

Isabelle Gordon

This week Isabelle Gordon, or Izzy, as we know her in the Ryan Family Student Center, asked me on behalf of the Material Advantage club if I would blog about how to email a professor when inquiring about a research opportunity. Here’s the Anatomy of an Effective Email. This format is also useful for an inquiry email to a professor you’d like to work with for graduate school.

TO Field: Send it directly to the professor’s professional email account.

From: Use your Penn State email account.

Subject Line: This is one of the most important and neglected lines of email communication. Always use subject lines to announce the key idea. For example, you might write, Seeking Possible Undergraduate (or Graduate) Research Opportunity 

Opening: Dear is always acceptable and correct. You could also use Hello. Hey or barking out a professor’s first name is rude. Use titles when appropriate. In this case, you might write, Dear Professor <last name>. Use a colon instead of a comma after the last name. Commas are used for personal letters.

Body: Essentially this is an action-oriented message. You are making a request. AIDA or Attention-Interest-Desire-Action is a good acronym to remember when composing this type of persuasive message.

Attention—use this opportunity to engage your reader. If another person the professor knows suggested you contact this professor, use the referral as your opener. Or you might pose a question that includes your accomplishments.

Example: Are you seeking an energetic, conscientious geoscience major with a 3.8 GPA and an ability to work both as a team and independently to join your lab? If so, please consider me.

Interest and Desire-Explain why this professor’s lab is a good fit for your interests and talents. Develop Desire by showing specifically how the requirements for the position match your experience and expertise.

Example: I am interested in the work you are doing. I have read several of your journal articles, such as <Article Title>. <Show your ability to summarize accurately and concisely a few key points of the work being done.> I have <include your key benefit to the professor—what can you do for him/her because of your course work and experience>.

Action—you have to ask for what you want.

Example undergraduate research: I am very interested in research in this area because I would like to <your future goal and how it fits>. May I meet with you at your convenience to discuss my possible involvement in your research? I have attached my résumé and can be reached at <cell phone>. I look forward to hearing from you.

Example graduate school applicant: I have attached a copy of my CV for your consideration. Will you be accepting graduate students this upcoming academic year? I would be interested in discussing possibilities to work in your lab at your convenience. May I follow-up this email with a phone call, or I can be reached at <cell phone>. I look forward to hearing from you.


Best, All best, Best regards, Best wishes, Regards, Sincerely, Cordially, Sincerely yours, Yours, Love, Love and kisses and xxoo.

Okay, okay, these last four really aren’t used in business! I was just checking to see if you are paying attention.


The signature tells people how you would like to be addressed.

If you don’t get a response in a week or so, don’t despair. It’s okay to follow-up gently. The second time around you might write, “I know how busy you are…” It just shows how resourceful and determined you are. If you need writing help, come to drop-in hours Mondays through Thursdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Your graduate writing tutors are waiting for you here in the RFSC!

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Living With Bears: Wildlife Experts Explain Bear Behavior

Bears-Buck-Wilde.fullPhoto credit: Jeff Wilson

State College Magazine provides locals with relevant, interesting, and readable articles about life in and around Happy Valley. This month includes an article I wrote about bears. My inspiration for this story occurred while visiting our EMS CAUSE class when Buck Wilde stopped by and told the students about his bear encounters. Wilde’s moniker is the bear whisperer. 

Ursa was six inches away from his face. He could feel her hot breath as she frothed and huffed. He remained calm as she put her head between his legs and the camera’s tripod.

“That’s OK, girl. Let me alone,” Buck Wilde soothed the female brown bear.
On assignment in Alaska, his pepper spray was ready, but she was too close. He had learned from an earlier career in covert counterespionage operations to read body language and facial cues. Ursa’s face read distress.

A conversation with a bear is not something most people do calmly, but Wilde is known as a bear whisperer. Sir David Attenborough, the BBC broadcaster and naturalist, gave him this moniker. For most of the past 27 years, Wilde has lived in Alaska’s wilderness. As an expert wildlife behaviorist, he joined a team of filmmakers in 2013 on the Great Bear Stakeout (co-produced by the BBC and the Discovery Channel).

Photo by Buck WildePhoto by Buck Wilde

Wilde, who is in his 60s, has long gray hair, quiet charisma and Paul Newman-blue eyes. He grew up in Central Pennsylvania and received his engineering degree from Penn State. He comes back to Happy Valley to recharge. He describes his work as “being alive at a level you can’t explain.”

“A bear whisperer is someone who can communicate with a bear through body language—someone who has empathy and understanding and doesn’t see the bear mechanistically or believe it to be inferior,” he says.

“I think we have a common set of emotional intelligence that goes across all mammals. I see myself as part of this spectrum.”

As Wilde uttered reassurances to the sow, he called upon all of his bear whispering skills.

Half of all the nuisance bear conflicts involve garbage or bird feeders. Our nuisance complaints are preventable. We don’t have a shortage of habitat.” —Mark Ternent

“I had been filming the mother and her three cubs for a week or so. I was all by myself, which is more dangerous, but she knew me. That’s when Ivan, a large predatory male showed up,” he explains.
Ivan attacked the mother as Wilde continued to film for Grizzly Empire (scheduled to air in the U.S. on the National Geographic Channel). The footage shows Ivan grabbing and twisting Ursa by her neck. The cubs flee and run past Wilde.

The mother was buying her cubs time to escape, according to Wilde. Male brown bears have been known to kill cubs for reasons that are not clear. The footage captures the mother breaking away from Ivan and coming right at Wilde to find her cubs.

Mark Ternent with cub. Photo by PGC/Hal KorberMark Ternent with cub. Photo by PGC/Hal Korber

“Let me alone,” he said again.

This is not a typical Central Pennsylvania scenario. Black bears, who live locally, respond differently from brown bears when threatened.

“Black bears evolved in deciduous forests with trees to climb and places to run. They flee when they can,” says Mark Ternent, a Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife biologist. “Brown bears evolved in open habitats, so they fight in response to a threat.”

If you live in Central Pennsylvania, you are likely to see black bears. Recently, an orphaned cub was rescued from a store parking lot, and a mother and her three cubs showed up in a Lemont backyard. The black bear population in Pennsylvania has quadrupled since the 1970s, with about 20,000 calling Pennsylvania home. Yet there have been no human fatalities from bears in Pennsylvania. “You’re more likely to get hit by lightning,” says Ternent.

Ternent educates the public on how to minimize human and bear conflicts. Last year there were approximately 5,500 nuisance bear complaints, defined as when a wildlife conservation officer has to take some action, such as a visit or phone consultation.

“Half of all the nuisance bear conflicts involve garbage or bird feeders. Our nuisance complaints are preventable. We don’t have a shortage of habitat,” reports Ternent.

This is an important point: We have enough space to coexist peacefully. A few easy changes in our behaviors can eliminate most conflicts. For example, Ternent suggests taking your bird feeders in for the summer beginning on March 1.

Treat it like you would a stray dog that came into your yard. Yell out to it. Clap your hands. Wave your arms. But give it respect.”
—Mark Ternent

Most bird experts agree it is not necessary to feed birds during the warmer months, and some suggest that it’s beneficial not to feed them all year. Young birds need to develop skills to find food.
Also, because black bears eat almost anything, including human food, keep your garbage in a place that will not invite bears into your living space.

Photo by PGC/Hal KorberPhoto by PGC/Hal Korber

If you do encounter a bear, Ternent says, “Treat it like you would a stray dog that came into your yard. Yell out to it. Clap your hands. Wave your arms. But give it respect. Don’t approach it. If it is curious and takes steps toward you, slowly back up keeping your eye on it. Don’t run. You don’t want to appear to be prey.”

Wilde suggests making sure your voice doesn’t sound high pitched like prey. Use a deep, serious tone.
In the unlikely event that a black bear charges, knocks you down, and attacks you, Ternent and Wilde advise you to fight back. Black bears usually run away, so you’re dealing with an abnormal predatory situation.  Going limp and playing dead might work with a brown bear, but it is not the right strategy with a black bear. Black bears run from threats; brown bears eliminate them.

“Let me alone,” Wilde said once again to Ursa. He was no longer filming. His camera pointed up toward the heavens, he’s focused on living. You can hear only his voice.

“Go get your cubs. They’re not here,” the bear whisperer said.

Finally, the mother bear turned and left. •SCM

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Penn State Reads Essay Contest

Essay SlidePenn State Reads invites first-year students to participate in an essay contest.

Winners will receive a $100 Penn State Bookstore gift card and have the opportunity to meet Eggers during his campus visit in October!

Responses submitted as attachment to: by September 9.

If you need help, make a tutoring appointment today.

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Tips in a Nutshell from Recruiters


Did you notice all the well-dressed students walking on campus? Chances are some of them were headed over to the Bryce Jordan Center for the fall Career Fair to speak with recruiters.  I caught up with a few recruiters to ask them what tips they had for you. Here’s what they told me.

Speak knowledgeably about my company. Recruiters want to know that you did your research. Read widely about the industry and the specific company before approaching a recruiter. It’s a total turn-off if you don’t even know what the company does.

One quick and easy way to research companies is to use Hoover’s ™; it’s available to you through our library and you are paying for it with your tuition. Why not use it? It has profiles of over 40,000 companies and includes key contact information too. You can read the company overview, history, financials, strategies, products and operations. Plus it lists key competitors to give you an idea of who else you might like to consider as an employer.

I linked to it on my blog (It’s in the PSU Business Library, but it can be hard to find.) After clicking “Useful Links” on my blog, scroll down and click “PSU Library Career Resources for All Majors.” There’s a lot of good stuff here. Hoover’s is ¾ of the way down the page.

GPAs are important, but slightly less so in technical sales. Generally recruiters reported having some minimum GPA in mind to use as a cut-off. Most like to see a 3.0 or above, but several recruiters mentioned that personality plays more of a role in jobs that have a strong social component. Take away: if your GPA is below 3.0 and you have a great personality, consider technical sales as a way to enter your field.

Give specific examples when answering questions, but be succinct. For example, one recruiter told me he asked the following: Tell me about a time that you were on a team that wasn’t working. What did you do about it? The prospective employee blathered on for over two minutes and never answered the question. Several made the point that your résumé is only an outline of the stories you want to tell. But practice your stories. Come prepared with effective examples of what you’ve achieved both in and out of the classroom.

Go to the Career Fair every year—even as a freshman! Recruiters agreed it’s more difficult to get a summer internship related to your major between your freshman and sophomore years, but it’s not impossible. Plus they keep records of your visit, and you’ll have established your interest in the company early. Every opportunity to try your 30 second elevator speech on a new audience moves you closer to cracking that nut of getting a job.

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LEAP 2015 Story is Live

JamaicaCheck out this story about our EMS LEAP in Penn State News that Liam Jackson wrote.

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How to Land a Job with Your Study Abroad Experience

EMS LEAP Group Photo_Durgas Den

Perhaps you spent multiple weeks on an ecosystem service project in Peru, attended lectures at a foreign university on social policy, or tested your physical limits by trekking to remote scenic wonders. You may have practiced language skills or gained new confidence and poise as you tested your leadership abilities under dynamic conditions.

You’ve told your family and friends about these amazing experiences, but if you want to use them to advance your career prospects, you need to know how to tell prospective employers about them too. How can you translate and articulate your study abroad experience into meaningful workplace skills to use on your résumé?

To learn more, check out this article I wrote for collegeXpress


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A Legacy in the Making: EMS THON 1st Among General Organizations

EMS THON 2014 photo

It takes years to build a legacy, but for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) THON team a strong foundation for one is emerging. For the fourth consecutive year, EMS THON raised the largest amount among general organizations, a record-breaking $110,114.67. This year, overall THON also broke last year’s tally with $13.34 million raised for the Four Diamonds Fund, which works to find a cure for pediatric cancer and help relieve financial burdens for families battling the disease.

Senior Carly Hinton (environmental systems engineering) was the chairperson of the EMS team and in charge of building this year’s legacy. With such a successful organization already in place, Hinton focused on more contact with the THON families, and getting the whole EMS community—including faculty and staff—involved in fundraising this year.

“We really reached out to the whole College for support, and we were able to build a great foundation. Not only did we have many generous donations from faculty and staff, it was the first time that we had faculty and staff join us at meetings, the THON 5k and THON weekend.  It is so important to us that we extend the inherent passion of our college to this incredible cause.”

Dakota Smith (senior, meteorology), who danced this year and is also Student Council President believes that strong student bonding helps make the College successful even though it’s one of the smaller ones at Penn State.

“EMS has such a special THON community,” Smith said. “It’s tight knit, and people are so passionate about what they do.” Smith thinks the bond between EMS Student Council and EMS THON has strengthened in recent years creating even more opportunities for successful fund-raising and community building.

“They’re separate groups but very supportive of each other and this gives a family-like feel to our college,” said Smith

The dancers also play a crucial role in both giving and receiving support. They are elected by the organization, and because it is highly selective, it often represents a pinnacle of multiple years of service to the cause. During THON weekend from February 21-23, the dancers relied on the EMS team to give them strength for the 46 hours of no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon. This year, the EMS dancers were Henry Coll (senior, energy business and finance), Marc Procopio (senior, energy business and finance), David Suhan (senior, environmental systems engineering), Albert Emhof (junior, energy business and finance), Dakota Smith (senior, meteorology), and Meredith Nichols, (senior, meteorology). All made significant contributions throughout the years—organizing canning events, supporting THON families, and dedicating a large part of their free time to the effort.

Like many people involved with THON, Meredith Nichols dances in honor of someone close to her. “For me, finding a cure to pediatric cancer and knowing that no other family has to endure what [my close friend’s] did motivates and inspires me to get through the 46 hours of THON.” Dancing in her late friend’s name, “gives me the courage to basically accept that he is gone and to try to help make a different outcome for other children diagnosed in the future.”

In the end, the legacy of EMS THON—and THON as a whole—is all about hope for the future. As Nichols says, “One day when we cure pediatric cancer we can say ‘I was a part of that!’”

 Penn State News Article

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Five Win Top Awards for Grundy Haven Paper Competition

group photo 2013-2014

Five undergraduates from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS)—Ethan Lucas, Rachel Passmore, Olivia Price, Kahindo Kamau  and Abraham Duplaa—earned top awards in the 2014 Grundy Haven paper competition. The goal of the competition is to foster excellence in communicating science to the public. Students choose a topic related to the programs within the College and write an informative article directed at a non-specialist audience.

First place winner, Ethan Lucas, a material science and engineering major, wrote about preventing nuclear meltdowns, such as the one at the Fukushima power plant in western Japan in 2011. At the Applied Research Laboratory, he participates in research to find improved corrosive resistant coatings for fuel tubes that house nuclear material. The objective of the research is to avert similar disasters.

“I’ve been participating in this research for close to a year, and I wanted to explain that if this team of scientists is successful, it will help revolutionize the energy industry and make nuclear energy safer and more viable,” said Lucas.

Taking a course on global health issues and travelling to Ghana gave second place winner, Rachel Passmore, a geography major, the inspiration to write her paper on malaria prevention methods in endemic African countries.

“It’s an extremely complex public health issue. Not everyone has access to insecticide-treated sprays and netting. International aid is also always complicated,” said Passmore, “but knowing more about the pros and cons of various options helps us to become better global citizens.”

The global public health issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture, specifically with respect to Bt Cotton was the topic geography major Olivia Price explored in her second place entry. (This year, there was a tie for second place.) Price entered the competition “because of the sense of passion” she has for her subject, and because she believes that she should put her “passion to good use and help spread the word by writing from the perspective of a social scientist.”

She wrote multiple drafts and met with her faculty sponsor and writing tutors to tweak her paper. In her earlier drafts, she noted that her tone was not sufficiently objective.

“I think the most difficult part of writing this paper was remaining unbiased. I chose a controversial topic that many people get heated over. I wanted to take a side, and in my earlier papers you can definitely observe a bias in my tone. I overcame the challenge by realizing that when communicating science, it’s not personal opinion that counts. I had to rely on strong scientific evidence.”

Kahindo Kamau  and Abraham Duplaa, two petroleum and natural gas engineering majors,  won honorable mention for their collaborative entry on the promise of methane hydrates as a viable energy source for the future. As Kamau explains, the primary challenge they faced was adjusting their usual solitary methods for writing and editing to a team approach.

“Because we were two writers working on one paper we initially each took the job of writing half of the essay. When we put it together into one document we had theses that did not quite match, and our word counts were too high. We also had a lot of repetition. As writers, we learned the importance of not only communicating with our audience but also with each other.”

Plans for how each of the winners will use the cash prizes that range from $250 to $1,000 are as varied as the topics: to purchase a passport, for a month’s rent, to buy soccer cleats—and to go to Chipotle and eat vegetarian burritos!

The William Grundy Haven Awards were established in 1950 in memory of a Penn State geology student who was killed in action during World War II. The Earth and Mineral Science College is grateful for these funds, and proud to recognize the achievements of these fine communicators.

Penn State Live Article

For more information on the Grundy Haven Student Paper Competition, contact Kimberly Del Bright, Giles writer-in-residence, Ryan Family Student Center, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, 14F Deike Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16801, Telephone: (814) 863-6077, Fax: (814) 863-3349, E-mail:


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Action Verbs for Your Résumé



action verbs

Save the readers of your résumé time by conveying your information concisely using short phrases that begin with action verbs. Use the appropriate verb tense too, most likely either simple present or simple past, depending on when the action took place. In this post, you’ll find a list of examples; they are all in the past tense. There are many more action verbs. This is to get you started.


Example: Demonstrated strong work ethic by working 20 hrs/wk while taking 21 credit hours

Accomplished Eliminated Innovated Rejuvenated
Achieved Enjoyed Integrated Renovated
Added Enlarged Introduced Resolved
Advanced Enlisted Invented Restored
Appointed Ensured Joined Selected
Attained Exceeded Launched Spearheaded
Attended Excelled Lightened Succeeded
Augmented Expanded Minimized Surpassed
Boosted Expedited Modernized Strengthened
Built Extended Obtained Targeted
Combined Finalized Opened Transformed
Completed Fulfilled Orchestrated Uncovered
Consolidated Gained Overcame Won
Constructed Generated Pioneered
Contributed Grew Prevailed
Delivered Guaranteed Produced
Demonstrated Hastened Qualified
Diminished Heightened Realized
Earned Improved Received
Eclipsed Increased Reduced (losses)



Example: Presented to orientation group to facilitate community building among incoming freshmen

Acted Defined Moderated Submitted
Adapted Deliberated Negotiated Substantiated
Admitted Demonstrated Perceived Suggested
Addressed Drafted Persuaded Summarized
Allowed Dramatized Presented Supplemented
Amended Edited Publicized Supported
Arbitrated Educated Queried Surveyed
Argued Elicited Questioned Synthesized
Ascertained Explained Referred Systematized
Attested Extracted Reinforced Taught
Briefed Greeted Related Tested
Clarified Highlighted Rendered Translated
Cleared up Improvised Reported Transmitted
Closed Indicated Represented Verified
Communicated Inferred Revealed Welcomed
Composed Informed Sanctioned Wrote
Consented Instructed Settled
Concluded Interpreted Shaped
Convinced Interviewed Smoothed
Consulted Justified Specified
Corresponded Lectured Spoke
Critiqued Marketed Sold
Dedicated Mediated Solicited



Example: Initiated campus clean-ups with eco-friendly student organizations

Acted Customized Fashioned Modeled
Began Designed Formulated Originated
Combined Directed Illustrated Performed
Conceptualized Displayed Initiated Photographed
Condensed Drew Introduced Planned
Created Fabricated Invented Shaped


Financial and Quantitative

Example: Executed baseline tests for the denitrification push-pull method on soil cores

Accounted for Converted Increased Reduced
Appraised Counted Inventoried Tabulated
Approximated Dispensed Maximized Totaled
Audited Dispersed Multiplied
Balanced Earned Netted
Budgeted Enumerated Profited
Calculated Estimated Projected
Checked Executed Purchased
Compiled Figured Quantified
Compounded Financed Rated
Computed Forecasted Reconciled
Conserved Grossed Recorded



Example: Served as President of College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Student Council

Aided Cooperated Familiarized Rehabilitated
Accommodated Counseled Helped Relieved
Advised Dealt Interceded Rescued
Alleviated Eased Mobilized Returned
Assisted Elevated Modeled Saved
Assured Enabled Polished Served
Bolstered Endorsed Prescribed Sustained
Coached Enhanced Provided Tutored
Continued Enriched Protected Validated



Example: Recorded survey results of constituent services using Internet Quorum

Acted Entered Operated Shipped
Administered Exercised Performed Sold
Carried out Forwarded Processed Stocked
Collected Handled Produced Transacted
Completed Input Proofed  
Conducted Installed Prospected  
Displayed Labored Proved  
Distributed Merchandised Recorded  



Example: Chaired committee to encourage faculty involvement in college charity fund-raising

Accelerated Empowered Inspired Set goals
Assumed Encouraged Involved Stimulated
Caused Enlisted Led Strengthened
Chaired Envisioned Managed Supervised
Changed Fostered Mentored Trained
Conducted Founded Motivated Visualized
Directed Guided Originated  
Disproved Hired Promoted  
Elected Influenced Raised  
Employed Initiated Recognized for  



Example: Measured concentrations using mass spectrometry to gain experience in identifying compounds

Adjusted Discovered Measured Reviewed
Analyzed Established Modified Revised
Apportioned Examined Monitored Screened
Assessed Explored Officiated Set
Certified Graded Overhauled Scrutinized
Compared Inspected Oversaw Supervised
Controlled Indexed Policed Supplied
Corrected Judged Prohibited Tightened
Correlated Licensed Refined Traced
Developed Maintained Regulated Updated



Example: Organized educational, social, and extracurricular activities for Engineering Society

Acquired Classified Implemented Rectified
Activated Collected Incorporated Retrieved
Adjusted Committed Instituted Routed
Allocated Confirmed Issued Scheduled
Altered Contracted Linked Selected
Appointed Coordinated Logged Secured
Arranged Customized Mapped out Simplified
Assembled Delegated Neatened Sought
Assessed Designated Obtained Straightened
Assigned Designed Ordered Suggested
Authorized Dispatched Organized Tracked
Cataloged Established Procured
Centralized Facilitated Programmed
Charted Housed Recruited



Example: Developed study to identify land-based sources of pollution affecting watershed and coral reef

Administered Devised Observed Reserved
Anticipated Evaluated Planned Revised
Commissioned Forecasted Prepared Strategized
Determined Formulated Prioritized Studied
Developed Identified Researched Tailored


Problem Solving

Example: Analyzed data collected through field work with interdisciplinary team to address environmental issues in Peru

Alleviated Debugged Found Revived
Analyzed Decided Investigated Satisfied
Applied Deciphered Recommended Solved
Brainstormed Detected Remedied Streamlined
Collaborated Determined Remodeled Synthesized
Conceived Diagnosed Repaired Theorized
Conceptualized Engineered Resolved
Crafted Foresaw Revamped
Created Formulated Revitalized



Example: Researched viable alternatives for waste storage area for San Juan waste authority

Clarified Examined Interpreted Summarized
Collected Experimented Interviewed Surveyed
Critiqued Extracted Measured Systematized
Diagnosed Gathered Organized Tested
Evaluated Identified Researched



Photo credit: John Rensten



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Coaching Done Right


I found this on You can sign up to get a brief daily email with a noteworthy excerpt or quote. Given all the discussion right now about who’s going to replace Bill O’Brien, I thought this was thought provoking. By the way, if you want to improve how you write, then reading more–more of anything–is the key. Read this. I think you’ll enjoy it.

In today’s encore selection — as reported by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jeffrey Marx inSeason of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood. Gilman High School in Maryland has a highly successful football team. And its coaches have a few unusual rules — such as an ironclad rule that no Gilman football player should ever let another Gilman boy — teammate or not — eat lunch by himself. And the requirement that players constantly base their thoughts and actions on one simple question:
What can I do for others?:

“What happened that first day at Gilman [High School] was entirely unlike anything normally associated with high school football. It started with the signature exchange of the Gilman football program — this time between [head coach] Biff [Poggi] and the gathered throng of eighty boys, freshmen through seniors, who would spend the next week practicing together before being split into varsity and junior varsity teams.

” ‘What is our job?’ Biff asked on behalf of himself, Joe, and the eight other assistant coaches.

” ‘To love us,’ most of the boys yelled back. The older boys had already been through this routine more than enough times to know the proper answer. The younger boys, new to Gilman football, would soon catch on.

” ‘And what is your job?’ Biff shot back.

‘To love each other,’ the boys responded.

“I would quickly come to realize that this standard exchange — always initiated by Biff or [defensive coach] Joe [Ehrmann] — was just as much a part of Gilman football as running or tackling.
” ‘I don’t care if you’re big or small, huge muscles or no muscles, never even played football or star of the team — I don’t care about any of that stuff,’ Biff went on to tell the boys, who sat in the grass while he spoke. ‘If you’re here, then you’re one of us, and we love you. Simple as that.’ …

” ‘I expect greatness out of you,’ Biff once told the boys. ‘And the way we measure greatness is the impact you make on other people’s lives.’

“How would the boys make the most impact? Almost anything Biff ever talked about could be fashioned into at least a partial answer to that question.

“For one thing, they would make an impact by being inclusive rather than exclusive.

” ‘The rest of the world will always try to separate you,’ Biff said. ‘That’s almost a law of nature — gonna happen no matter what, right? The rest of the world will want to separate you by race, by socioeconomic status, by education levels, by religion, by neighborhood, by what kind of car you drive, by the clothes you wear, by athletic ability. You name it — always gonna be people who want to separate by that stuff. Well, if you let that happen now, then you’ll let it happen later. Don’t let it happen. If you’re one of us, then you won’t walk around putting people in boxes. Not now. Not ever. Because every single one of them has something to offer. Every single one of them is special. Look at me, boys.’

“They were looking.

” ‘We are a program of inclusion,’ Biff said. ‘We do not believe in separation.’

“The boys would also make an impact by breaking down cliques and stereotypes, by developing empathy and kindness for all.

” ‘What’s empathy?’ Biff asked them. ‘Feeling what?’

“‘Feeling what the other person feels,’ said senior Napoleon Sykes, one of the team captains, a small but solid wide receiver and hard-hitting defensive back who had already accepted a scholarship to play college football at Wake Forest.

” ‘Exactly right,’ Biff said. ‘Not feeling for someone, but with someone. If you can put yourself in another man’s shoes, that’s a great gift to have for a lifetime.’
“That was the whole idea behind Biff and Joe’s ironclad rule that no Gilman football player should ever let another Gilman boy — teammate or not — eat lunch by himself.

” ‘You happen to see another boy off by himself, go sit with him or bring him over to sit with you and your friends,’ Biff said. ‘I don’t care if you know him or not. I don’t care if he’s the best athlete in the school or the so-called nerd with his head always down in the books. You go get him and you make him feel wanted, you make him feel special. Simple, right? Well, that’s being a man built for others.’

“How else would the boys make an impact?

“By living with integrity … and not only when it is convenient to do so. Always.

“By seeking justice … because it is often hidden.

“By encouraging the oppressed . . . because they are always discouraged.

“Ultimately, Biff said, the boys would make the greatest overall impact on the world — would bring the most love and grace and healing to people — by constantly basing their thoughts and actions on one simple question: What can I do for you?

” ‘Not, what can I do to get a bigger bank account or a bigger house?’ Biff said. ‘Not, what can I do to get the prettiest girl? Not, what can I do to get the most power or authority or a better job title? Not, what can I do for me? The only question that really matters is this: How can I help you today?’

“Biff and Joe would constantly elaborate on all of this as the season progressed.

” ‘Because in case you haven’t noticed yet, we’re training you to be different,’ Biff said. ‘If we lose every game of the year, go oh-and-ten on the football field, as long as we try hard, I don’t care. You learn these lessons, and we’re ten-and-oh in the game of life.’ ”

with thanks to BJK

Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood

Author: Jeffrey Marx
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: Copyright 2003 by Jeffrey Marx
Pages 3, 48-50
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