Former Baltimore Ravens guard and MIT graduate John Urschel shared his passion for numbers and his career in the NFL with a packed house Thursday in Jackson Auditorium.
With a laser pointer in hand, Urschel spoke for about an hour on mathematics and his history as a football player in the program titled “A Journey Into Mathematics,” as part of the Brown Distinguished Lecture and Cultural Event Series.
“When I was in first grade, my teacher brought my mother in and told her that I had processing issues and wanted to put me back a grade,” Urschel said. “She had me tested and proven otherwise because, at home, she noticed I had a talent and an interest in math, and she encouraged me. She would buy me math workbooks, and I would devour them. We would spend hours at the kitchen table playing Sudoku or anything that would develop my skills.”
As he grew, Urschel says he became more recognized for his skills on the field over his skills with a calculator, and called for a change in the way students are academically motivated.
“In high school, I would have coaches in my ear motivating me to do just one more rep in the weight room when I thought that was all I could do,” he said. “Sometimes, strangers would come to see me play and cheer for me… I didn’t have math teachers who were pushing just one more math problem on me. They weren’t calling math programs and telling them to recruit me like my football coaches were calling top college football programs.”
Urschel reignited his passion for math at Pennsylvania State University.
“To be honest, my engineering classes were boring,” Urschel said. “They were focused on how things worked and using formulas to solve real-world problems. I didn’t want to memorize formulas. I wanted to know how they came up with them in the first place. What most people don’t know about Penn State is that it has a very good math department. When I took math classes there, I felt a part of them come alive. There was a beauty and rigor to the math that I was doing.”
His mathematical studies expanded into celestial mechanics as well as mathematical theories and methods that he has worked with over the years.
During his time on the stage, Urschel turned the mic over to the audience for a question and answer session. The queries ranged from his thoughts on string theory to the NFL.
At the close of the talk, Urschel was available for a meet and greet.
Many students were encouraged and inspired by Urschel’s story.
“I really loved the lecture,” 21- year-old TLU senior and applied physics major, Nwankwo Nwankwo said. “I connected to it very personally, because I played football here for three years. I like to say that I retired from football because I have a passion for physics. It’s definitely been a worthwhile lecture, and I’m gonna make it relevant, and I connected with him. I love how TLU brings speakers so we can connect with them. I really appreciate it.”
Urschel’s discussion was inspirational for students and encouraged them to pursue their academic dreams, Texas Lutheran University Associate Professor of math Betsygail Rand said.
“I think John Urschel is just an extremely fascinating person,” she said. “To have such deep passions coexisting in the same person is amazing. I thought he made it very approachable to a wide audience and yet pulled in what’s so great about math. I think it’s so meaningful for a student who can see themselves in someone like Urschel to meet him in person.”