Friday, February 15, 2013

Being an Athlete and an Engineer…YES YOU CAN

Being an engineer at the University of Pennsylvania is hard.  No one, inside or outside of the school will deny that.  People spend countless hours in the lab, in the library, an at home doing problem sets, finishing projects, and running experiments.  It is a very difficult yet rewarding major.  Seems like a lot on your plate right?  It is, but as students at Penn, being involved in extracurricular activities is a must.  Clubs, societies, and groups are full of engineering students who want to get more out of their college experience than a degree and a bunch of graded tests, but few take on the giant commitment of being a varsity athlete.
            I am currently a junior in CBE and a member of the varsity gymnastics team at Penn.  I practice 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, 3:00-7:00 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.  As many varsity athletes will tell you, being involved with Penn athletics is a commitment like no other.  For one, practice is not optional.  You cannot skip it for class, you cannot get someone to go for you, and you cannot put it off until later.  That chunk of time in my schedule would be labeled on my Google calendar as “I’m busy, no exceptions.”  During the season, my weekends are filled with gymnastics as well.  Traveling to Ithaca New York to compete against Cornell, or busing to Yale to take on the Bulldogs.  School work still must remain a priority, but the time you have is much more precious.
            Right now everyone reading this is probably thinking “Wow, this girl is nuts! Who would do this to themselves?”  I cannot lie, I have asked myself the same question multiple times before.  Yet through the stress, I am here to tell you it is possible!  And here is how :

  1.  Set your priorities.  With your time spread so thin, you have to decide what is important to you.  Whether it be friends, grades, athletics, sleep, or fun, you must decide what is most important to you.  I promise that there are not enough hours in the day to have it all, but you can have a little bit of everything.
  2. Do not compare yourself to others.  You are unique.  Being a varsity athlete and engineer is tough, so if you start comparing your grades or number of hours spent studying to others in your classes, you won’t feel great.  You must learn to have pride in all you have accomplished and all you can successfully balance.  Take pride in your work!
  3. Use athletics to your advantage.  I cannot say that professors will let you miss a test or turn in a homework late if you are traveling to a match or game, but I can say that the amount of teamwork, self-discipline, and leadership skills you learn through athletics in college will help you in the future.  It is impressive to employers to see that you are a student at an Ivy League school and are involved in athletics.  Yes maybe you don’t have that 3.95 GPA, but you are able to learn more valuable lessons than you can in the classroom. 
  4. Talk to your professors.  Are all their office hours during practice?  Are you behind and do not have the time to catch up?  Does it look like you aren’t trying when really you are working your tail off?  Go and talk to them.  I find that at the beginning of each semester I make an appointment with all of my professors just to introduce myself and throw in the fact that I’m an athlete and willing to work hard in the class, then slip in that I may need some extra help and ask when they are available.  Most professors are impressed that you are able to handle everything at once and they will help you out. 
  5. Embrace the community.  There is an instant bond you create when you meet someone who is a varsity athlete, especially if they are an engineer.  This connection makes you instant friends, because only you understand what it is like.  Form study groups with these people, because most often you are available at the same hours.  Athletics also provides a lot of resources.  Don’t be afraid to ask for things such as study hours, free tutoring, and help.  It is helpful, I promise. 
So to all of the varsity athletes and engineers, you can do it.  Being involved in athletics at Penn is a very valuable experience.  And with the support of your family, teachers, friends and teammates, it can be done!

Questions for Diana about being an athlete?  Contact her at

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