There’s plenty that distinguishes Ravens rookie offensive lineman John Urschel from his teammates, including his prodigious academic career and potential in the field of mathematics.
But what I couldn’t fit into Sunday’s story was the fact that, with all of his football and academic responsibilities, Urschel taught two classes at Penn State — and did it well, by all accounts.
Urschel said it’s not typical for master’s students to teach at Penn State — that responsibility typically goes to doctoral students. But he asked whether he could try it out, and was assigned a section of Math 041.
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In the spring of his senior year, he had a course supervisor who oversaw all the sections of Math 041--trigonometry and analytic geometry. Urschel taught the day-to-day class with guidance from that instructor.
The following fall, as a fifth-year senior, he was able to teach Math 232--multivariable calculus without an adviser because he already had his master’s degree. One student in that section, Laura San Roman, said Urschel was quick to quell any thoughts that it might be anything but a normal course.
“The guys in the class were talking about [him being a football player],” San Roman, now a rising junior, said. “When people started to ask about it, he said, ‘Guys, I’m your math teacher. I’m not a football player right now.’ ”
Urschel taught with the comfort of a tenured professor, but communicated in a way that might have been more difficult for an older mathematician.
San Roman said she believed Urschel’s youth allowed him to relate to the students better than other teachers might, and said he never moved on from a concept until he was sure everyone grasped it. When a student was badly ill, Urschel communicated with her on Skype to keep her up to date.
When his office hours were affected by a football trip, or students needed help when he was going to be on the road, he accommodated them. San Roman said he met with a group of students early one Friday morning, before he hit the road for the weekend, to ensure they grasped the material they needed to study.
She wasn’t the only one who was impressed by his instruction. Ludmil Zikatanov, Urschel’s mentor at Penn State, said he communicated ideas very well with summer session students he was instructing at a program Urschel helped out with.
Of course, it became harder to separate teacher from football star on Saturdays.
“Everyone thought it was really cool,” San Roman said. “My family had season tickets, and I’d say, ‘Hey, look, that’s my math teacher on the field.’ ”