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Rowing Your Way To An Entire Mess

, , , | Learning | August 6, 2020

The professor in this is one of my favorites to this day. I took many of his classes. He was my mentor, gave great advice, was funny, and made me strive to be the best I could be, and I visited him a few times in grad school to catch up. But this one story still gives me anxiety to think about.

In my junior year, I take [Professor]’s class that requires all students to go on a mandatory field trip as a group during spring break. However, I am attending university under two separate scholarships, one academic and one athletic for rowing. Every year, spring break is dedicated to three-a-day practices and is extremely mandatory; it’s a big deal.

I approach [Professor] on the first day of the semester after he speaks to the class about what to expect for the required field trip.

Me: “[Professor], I’m really sorry but I can’t do the field trip. I have spring break training every year and it’s mandatory. Can we find an alternative option?”

Professor: “Then you’ll get an incomplete in the class.”

Me: “…”

Professor: “…”

Me: “I… I’m not really sure what you want me to do here. I can’t go, and this class is required to graduate. I can’t have an ‘incomplete.’ But I can’t miss spring break because of my athletic scholarship.”

Professor: “Can’t you talk to your coaches? They need to know that this field trip is essential.”

Me: “With all due respect, so is spring break training. It’s the final race prep before racing season begins and because it’s such a team sport, if one person misses, it messes everything up.”

It doesn’t matter a ton, but the position I usually sit in the boat sets the rhythm and pace for the whole boat, and I try to explain that to him. Also, for those thinking, “Well, the field trip will set you up for your career,” I already know I don’t want to go into that particular field, and I am going to an additional five-week field course this summer anyway, also required in order to graduate in that major.

Professor: “What if you take this class next year and take the field trip then?”

Me: “That’s the same issue; we have spring break training every year. And I’ll be a senior so that would be even worse to miss.”

Professor: “Well, then I need you to ask your coaches to bend the rules for this. This is extremely important.”

I agreed to ask but warned him it would be a no-go. I did ask earnestly because I respected him and knew I was missing out on something valuable and fun, but I was right about their response.

Thankfully, after some back and forth between [Professor] and my coaches, he agreed to let me skip the field trip and assigned me an independent project that I would need to turn in before finals in order to avoid an “incomplete” in the class. All seemed well. My team had a great racing season — my boat placed first in conference championships — and I dove into the project.

Fast forward to the end of the year. I turned in the project with plenty of time for the professor to grade it before grades were due. Then, I waited. And waited.

As the deadline was approaching and I saw my other professors posting their grades, I still saw my grade for [Professor]’s class listed as “incomplete.” I bugged him and he assured me that he could change it after the deadline passed, and it wouldn’t matter in the long run if it said “incomplete” for a week or so. So, I stopped pestering.

Then, a few days after the deadline, when I was already home for the summer, I got a stern email from the university saying I had lost my academic scholarship because I had an “incomplete” in a class. Turns out, even just having that there on my record for a short time triggered a cascade of problems.

After a panicked email, [Professor] quickly posted my grade and apologized because he didn’t know that would happen with my scholarship. But after several weeks and calls to the administration, no one could help me sort out why I wasn’t able to get my scholarship reinstated.

I eventually called my coaches and had to escalate the issue up in the athletics department because I would not be able to cover costs without both scholarships. I had to get them to intervene and get someone to actually fix my issue in administration and get the records and scholarship cleared.

Say what you want about whether college athletics are overrated or not, but I was grateful to have those resources to help me. To this day, I still don’t know what the holdup was. Maybe it was because it was summer vacation, but that’s not a great excuse when a student is uncertain about whether they can return and pay tuition and rent in the fall.

Thankfully, everything worked out and [Professor] presented me my diploma the next year. He even wrote in my grad school recommendation letter, “She excelled in school while being a varsity athlete; imagine what she can do if she isn’t rowing.”

I took it as a compliment and commendation, but still, it seemed like tough love. Also, I’m still rowing and have even been a coach at times. You shouldn’t have to compromise your passion for your career… though I recognize that’s said from a place of privilege!

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