Sunday orientation session: Taking care of your rocks
AUSTIN, Texas -- Midway through the five-day fall orientation period, the Longhorn returning student-athletes and freshmen and transfers came together for the first time Sunday afternoon, enjoying sessions with coaches, academic counselors and special speakers. And, they had a lesson in sand, rocks and pebbles, courtesy of a UT distinguished teaching professor.
Sunday (Aug. 28) was the third day overall of UT fall student-athlete orientation for freshmen and newcomers, but it was the first day that the upperclassmen, who just returned to Austin, got together for their portion of orientation with everyone. Classes officially begin for UT students on Wednesday, Aug. 31. This annual fall orientation session is coordinated by the UT Athletics academic services staff which is led by Dr. Randa Ryan, Senior Associate Athletics Director.
After three days of interacting with administrators, coaches and fellow athletes, the newcomers have come away with a new perspective about their brand-new university.
"This is only the second time I've ever been in the United States, with the first time being my official visit to Texas," noted freshman rower Lucy Mulvey, who has traveled the furthest of any new UT athlete this fall - from Sydney, Australia. "I learned a lot about the university in emails from the academic staff and from my coaches before I got here, and that was helpful. But, I didn't really have a good idea about how big and elite The University of Texas was until I got here. I've learned this weekend how much the athletes and coaches are looked up to, and how important everything we do and say will be."
Unlike the rest of her six fellow freshmen basketball players, guard Erika Arriaran did not attend summer school. Arriaran, who hails from Norco, California, spent her summer playing on USA Basketball's U-19 National Team, which won the gold medal at the World U-19 Championships in Tunisia. For her, this five-day orientation is especially crucial.
"Basically, it's been a lot of running around, back and forth, but we've talked about things which have answered lots of my questions about books, classes, the dorms and parking, things like that," noted Arriaran. "It's all moving fast for me right now, but once school starts, I think things will settle down into a routine. Basically, the most important thing for me has been all the advice about getting yourself organized. If you are organized, you will be OK. I know I am going to use my daily planner like nothing else! It's the most important thing I'm going to have with me every day."
Freshman golfer Kristin Walla agreed with Arriaran.
"I can tell you that my anxiety is down a little bit," noted the first-year college student, who comes to UT from Aspen, Colorado. "There is such great support here. It already feels like we are part of a big family here at Texas."
Sunday afternoon, all the women student-athletes met in Bellmont Hall where the newcomers introduced themselves amid lots of laughter and cheers. When every freshman from Houston announced her hometown, great cheers and applause went out from all the athletes who hail from "H-town"; whenever the new rowers introduced themselves, they were met with a great cheer from their fellow rowing teammates - all 50-plus of them.
"I think we all feel really welcomed here," noted freshman golfer Erica Dooley from Houston. "It was really exciting when the upperclassmen were yelling for us when we introduced ourselves. That made us feel great."
After introductions, the coaches and athletes heard a lively and interactive talk from Dr. Mary Steinhart. Steinhart, a UT professor for 20 years, carries the title of "Distinguished Teaching Professor". She teaches in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education in the College of Education.
Steinhart, herself a former student-athlete at the University of North Carolina in her undergraduate days and a current member of the UT Women's Athletics Council, utilized the athletes' assistance as she gave a spirited talk about each woman valuing her time, keeping the right perspective and being a positive role model and building relationships at UT.
Steinhart, who called on many athletes to assist her during her 20-minute talk, spoke to the female student-athletes from three perspectives - as a former student-athlete herself, as a mother of two volleyball-playing daughters, and as a UT professor.
She jokingly arm-wrestled with softball junior shortstop Desiree Williams to demonstrate the importance of working together, not resisting another person, to emphasize her point of "there is no "I" in TEAM".
Steinhart spoke on "connection" by having several volleyball players stand together and light up a golf-sized ball which buzzed and lit up.
"To light it up - light up the scoreboard, light the UT Tower with a national championship - you have to connect with each other," Steinhart stated.
Taking a $20 dollar bill, she folded it, then crumpled it into a ball and started to rip it. When everyone said a resounding "yes" when she asked if the crumpled $20 bill was still viable, Steinhart added that "Things will happen here to tear you up, to disappoint you, but remember one thing - you are still whole and no matter what happens, you have value; you will be OK. People still value you. Value yourself as well."
In her final example, Steinhart focused on two pails, a bag of sand and a pile of rocks which had inscriptions written on them.
She called on senior softball player Amber Hall for assistance. First, she had Hall dump the sand in the bucket, and it nearly filled the pail.
Hall then read aloud the sayings on the rocks - "go to class", "study", "show respect and good sportsmanship", "go to practice", "have fun with family and friends", "allow time for yourself". When instructed to place the rocks in the pail, Hall struggled to get them all in, due to the amount of sand and small pebbles already in the pail.
She vainly tried to push the rocks down, amid laughter from all the athletes in the room.
Out came the second pail, and Hall was instructed to place the rocks in FIRST. Voila- they all fit nicely, and there was a little room left for the pebbles and sand, which rolled into the open areas between the rocks.
"The moral here is - always take care of your rocks first - the rocks represent the things that really matter," noted Steinhart. "Remember to do what's most important first. The sand is everything else - the small stuff. You don't really have lots of extra time as a student-athlete, and if you take care of your rocks, it will pay big dividends."
Following the talk by Dr. Steinhart, the athletes dispersed for the evening, connecting and laughing as they left Bellmont Hall with more perspective than they had before the session with Steinhart.
On her way out with her new golf teammates, freshman Caney Hines from San Antonio was quick to point out her personal high points of orientation.
"I am really excited to be here, to be surrounded by all these great, great athletes," Hines said. "The message I am going to take away from Orientation is to plug into the system and to get off to a good start academically, since it is so hard to play catch-up. Know what your priorities are. I think we all understand that now."
"This orientation has been great," noted New Jersey native and freshman track and field athlete Janine Davis. "It has helped me meet new people and learn all about this campus. I definitely feel like I've chosen the right school. I have no second thoughts about my decision to come all this way to Texas. I love what Dr. Steinhart had to say about the importance of teamwork and connection - look at what my teammates did last year in winning the NCAA championship! I am so excited to be part of that team.
"The staff and counselors are pointing me in the right direction," Davis concluded. "Orientation is helping me feel very comfortable right now."