Since 1959, KU seniors have chosen a professor to receive the H.O.P.E. Award to Honor an Outstanding Progressive Educator. The award, established by the Class of 1959 and given each year through the Board of Class Officers, is the only teaching honor bestowed by the senior class.
Hailey Solomon, a senior from Oswego, nominated her civil engineering professor, Matt O’Reilly. When he was selected as a finalist, Solomon attended the Oct. 5 KU-OU football game to support her mentor. Uninterested in the game itself, Solomon brought her crocheting and presumed her presence had gone unnoticed.
Four million Twitter and Facebook views later, she had become a social media sensation.
“It was incredibly surprising to go to exactly one football game in my entire college career and leave it as a meme, but I’m thankful for the experience,” Solomon says. “If a 30-second video of me contentedly crocheting brings people joy, then I’m joyful too!”
O’Reilly, an associate professor, is one of the few people Solomon would attend a game for. She credits his guidance as an adviser during freshman orientation as the reason she had the confidence to pursue engineering. An excerpt from her nomination form shows O’Reilly’s investment in his students, even before they are in his classroom.
“You can absolutely be successful in engineering because engineering, like everything, is so much more than it appears,” O’Reilly told Solomon. “It’s not just math and science; it’s writing, communication, teamwork, design, and so much more. You can’t judge yourself based on what you’re not, otherwise you’ll never accomplish anything. You have to make decisions based on what you’re good at and get help with the rest.”
Standing on the field during the award presentation, O’Reilly presumed one of his fellow finalists already received word he or she had won, so when “Dr. O’Reilly” blared over the loudspeaker as the winner, it took a second to sink in. Then he jumped with surprise.
“Most of my students call me Dr. Matt, so it took me a bit longer to respond to ‘O’Reilly’ and realize ‘he’ was me,” he says. “Nothing like jumping in shock when you’re on the Jumbotron.”
O’Reilly’s care for his students led to the H.O.P.E. Award. He fills his lectures with humor, makes video tutorials for difficult lab procedures, and grades every assignment, including exams, the day they are turned in. His open-door policy extends beyond office hours: He has been known to drive to campus on a Saturday to help a student understand a topic that was better explained in person.
“I know my students like and appreciate what I do, and that’s always been a source of happiness for me,” O’Reilly says. “I couldn’t imagine having a better career than teaching.”
His style derives from his own favorite teachers, student feedback, and trial and error. He constantly adjusts to best suit the needs of his students.
“The common thread was always putting students first and treating them with respect, and I strive to always hold myself to that,” he says.
As for Solomon, her crocheting is more than a hobby. She co-founded Warm the World, a student organization that makes warm clothes and blankets to donate to local homeless shelters and soup kitchens. The group meets every other Wednesday in the Union and is open to all students, regardless of skill level.
Solomon’s 15 minutes of fame made for a fun weekend, but the real story continues a cherished 60-year KU tradition: Matt O’Reilly’s teaching has earned him a place among the professors enshrined on the H.O.P.E Award plaque in the Kansas Union.
Half the battle of getting a job is putting in the hard work to be prepared and gain relevant experience. The other half is conveying that work and experience to prospective employers.
How do you effectively talk about yourself and your value? Bill Mar, c’88, a manager for site reliability engineering at LinkedIn, is involved with NOVA, a nonprofit employment agency that offers customized services to job seekers in Silicon Valley. Through his work, Mar has learned some tips and tricks to landing a job.
Put your best foot forward
Often, it’s not what you know, but who you know (which is where KU Mentoring can help!). However, once you’re in front of someone, what do you say?
Mar, c’88, explains how to position yourself for success when talking to people, whether it’s a first introduction or during an interview.
“You don’t go in and say ‘Get me a job,’” Mar says. “It’s more about informational meetings and finding out the culture. If you focus on giving, you’ll naturally get back.”
If you’re not asking for a job, Mar says it’s still critical to convey your value, but you don’t have to be “rah rah” about it. It’s OK to be humble while making sure the person you’re talking to understands what it is you do.
Practice your elevator pitch
One way to speak plainly of your value is by providing scale and quantifying your work. Mar also suggests telling your story in the form of PSRs, which stands for Problem, Solutions, Results.
“That’s the way that things about yourself should be described,” he says. “They can be used in different orders depending on what you’re trying to get across to people.”
It’s important to practice these two- to three-minute-long PSRs so that you’re able to tell a fluid and coherent story. Think of it like an “elevated” elevator pitch.
Learn from your mistakes
How do you talk about your qualities that might be less than ideal? Mar, who helps KU students by conducting mock interviews, warns against being blindly honest.
“[In an interview] they’ll ask you, ‘What’s your least favorite characteristic?’” he says. “Some people will take it really literally and tell me. You have to not say anything toxic to the industry that you’re in.”
Mar explains that interviewers typically ask this question to see how well you deal with adversity and learn from your mistakes. For example, if you want to go into the tech industry, don’t say you’re resistant to change. Instead, follow up a shortcoming with an action plan.
“The issue is not ‘I will fail,’” Mar says. “The issue is ‘I know how to deal with failure and I won’t repeat the same mistakes.’”
—Brianna Mears, digital media intern
The Jayhawk Career Network gives students and alumni access to career resources, jobs, events, programming and connections at every stage of their career. Services include KU Mentoring, a job board, informational articles and more. For more information about the Jayhawk Career Network, contact Kristi Laclé, assistant vice president for the Jayhawk Career Network, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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At every one of the Student Alumni Leadership Board’s (SALB) bi-weekly meetings, students get a chance to hear from alumni, Association staff and prominent members on campus during what they call the “Alumni Corner.” Following each meeting, Brianna Mears, SALB’s VP of Communications, shares one particularly memorable comment through the Student Alumni Network Twitter account. However, that task became more difficult when Interim Provost Lejuez paid a visit. There were just too many.
Lejuez covered everything including his aspirations for KU, advice on taking advice, and of course, budget cuts. An even bigger question on some student’s minds: What’s a Provost? Lejuez answered that one too.
Mears originally recorded the conversation for accuracy, however when it came time to decide which quip to share on social media, she simply chose to use all of it. As Mears put it, “it was not just what he said that evening, but how he said it.” Originally a professor, Lejuez is comfortable speaking and a natural storyteller. Mere highlights of his conversation with SALB would not suffice.
Using the audio, Mears spliced together a podcast that serves as a pseudo-interview. She provides both context and commentary that is bound to connect with alumni and students alike.
The Kenneth Spencer Research Library on KU’s campus features seasonal exhibits curated by the library’s archivists. From Jan. 30 to Apr. 30, the library showcased the athletic achievements of KU women through their exhibit “Women’s Athletics at KU: From Physical Education to Recognized Athletic Program.” The display celebrated the strides the University has made in giving women the opportunity to exceed outside of the classroom.
Formation of the Women’s Athletic Association
Women’s Athletic Director Marian Washington
Before the creation of university-sponsored teams, women at KU could only participate in club sports. The first documented sport for KU women was the Tennis Club in 1892. A few years later, women’s basketball was added in 1897.
In 1912, the students and faculty of the Women’s Department of Physical Education established the Women’s Athletic Association, or WAA. The first three sports under the WAA were hockey, tennis and basketball.
While women could now compete in intercollegiate competitions, funding was very limited. Students were expected to supply their own equipment and transportation, so individual sports held fundraisers to cover the cost, such as the gymnastics team who held an annual carnival so they could afford traveling to competitions.
Earning a letter sweater
Throughout this ever-changing landscape of women athletics, the letter sweater served as a literal badge of honor. The WAA awards these letter sweaters to athletes based on criteria outlined in the 1925 Jayhawker yearbook. Each woman had to accumulate 75 points to earn their sweater.
Women could earn points from excelling in their sport, as well as from more obscure ideas of success such as good posture and maintaining grades.
Impact of Title IX
By the 1960s, club teams received funding from the Student Senate, yet not enough to cover all of the costs. Although Title IX was passed in 1972, changes were not immediate.
According to KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, Title IX’s purpose is “to end discrimination on the basis of sex in education and applies to all programs and activities that receive federal funding.” However, Title IX’s passage in 1972 had no immediate effects on the WAA.
The WAA won a victory in 1974 when the state and the Student Senate allocated a combined $122,435 for women student-athletes. Women’s Athletic Director Marian Washington was able to completely fund all nine sports, covering the costs of coaching staff, equipment, transportation and lodging. It was not until 1979 that the men’s and women’s athletic departments merged to meet the federal funding requirements.
Today Title IX plays an active role in providing equity for male and female student-athletes. Under Title IX, three key principles apply to men’s and women’s athletics: equitable opportunity to participate; equal proportion of scholarships; and equal treatment and benefits.
The University of Kansas celebrated Langston Hughes’ birthday with its fourth annual “The Power of Sport: A Conversation on Business, Race and Sports” symposium on Feb. 1. The event featured panelists Lafayette Norwood, a former KU basketball assistant coach, and Darnell Valentine, a KU All-American and former player for the Portland Trail Blazers. Claire Smith, a sports writer and news editor for ESPN, was the keynote speaker.
Life in Wichita in the 1980s
Dr. Shawn Leigh Alexander, associate professor and director of graduate studies for the Department of African and African-American Studies, led the evening and interviewed both Norwood and Valentine to dig deeper into what life was like in Wichita during the 1980s. Valentine explained that growing up, his entire world existed within a three-block radius, but basketball allowed him to broaden his perspective. He was the star of his team at Wichita Heights High School under Coach Norwood; when Norwood became an assistant at KU, it was a no-brainer for Valentine to follow.
Aside from being an successful athlete, Valentine was also an academic All-American. When faced with any issue, whether it involved school, relationships, or athletics, Coach Norwood asked Valentine, “what is the worst case scenario?” With this as his motivation, Valentine says having a college degree and being prepared to do something other than basketball was always in his mind.
Smith delivers keynote
Later in the evening, Smith gave her keynote address and recalled how she fell in love with sports. Her parents loved a nation that did not always love them back, but they showed an admiration for sports that was contagious. They had the ability to make Smith feel as though the star athletes were part of the family. One day Smith watched The Jackie Robinson Story at school and from then on was hooked. “Jackie mixed grit and grace and a grim determination to sacrifice for the greater good. He hasn’t played in over half a century and yet he still inspires; he still inspires me,” Smith said.
The “lost generation”
Smith laments the era of Michael Jordan as the “lost generation.” Sports were no longer arenas for social and political discussion, and black athletes appeared content simply making money instead of using the voice their notoriety gave them. “People so easily disappeared beyond their gated communities, sold products, and forgot that many of the kids pining to wear their shoes were even hungrier for role models,” Smith said. With the return of politics in sports, Smith notes that there will always be consequences for standing up—or even sitting down—and the media will always ask “why?,” but we should never expect to hear regrets.
All three guest speakers addressed the need for black athletes to represent, and more specifically, to represent the voices other people do not have. Using one’s name and notoriety is a powerful tool, because the world is always watching.
Editor’s note: Brianna Mears is a digital media intern for the KU Alumni Association. She is a fourth-generation Jayhawk and a sophomore in the University Honors Program majoring in strategic communications with a minor in business and African & African-American studies. She is also a member of the Journalism Student Leadership Board, a J-School Ambassador and a member of the Student Alumni Leadership Board.
The Jayhawk Career Network event on Monday, Nov. 27, allowed students access to real-world insight from Portia Kibble Smith, c’78, and Mark Mears, j’84. Putting your best foot forward was a common theme as both guest speakers brought to light what really counts when networking.
Just be yourself
When it comes to networking and interview preparation, the best advice is to simply be yourself. For some, that might be easier said than done. To be the most authentic and best version of yourself, you must first know who you are.
Mark Mears, j’84, stressed the importance of taking personality tests when preparing for interviews. When he spoke recently with KU students, Mears revealed, “your resume tells part of the story.” He believes grounding yourself in who you are helps show future employers the other part.
“None of the personality results are bad,” he said. Instead, these tests show who you really are, not necessarily who you think you are.
Whether it’s a DISC or a Myers-Briggs, these tests highlight your strengths. KU’s University Career Center even offers various assessments. Once you have a sense of who you are, you can understand how you work in a team setting and what you bring to the table.
Are you a leader? Do you work well under pressure? Do you try to keep the peace? Whatever your strength, remain true to whatever makes you “you.”
The KU Alumni Association and the Jayhawk Career Network are here to help students and alumni. Find more information about career resources, networking, and tips from alumni on our website.
Students of all majors and graduation years will not only be able to hone their networking skills, but have free professional headshots taken, learn LinkedIn pro-tips and get a sneak peek at the new Alumni Mentoring Platform. In addition, Mark Mears, j’84, and Portia Kibble Smith, c’78, will provide a master class for both novice and advanced networkers.
Smith is the owner of PKS Executive Search & Consulting and an experienced talent in executive search, diversity & inclusion, and career development. I asked Smith to share three reasons why students should attend this event:
Network with your fellow classmates who you may not know but also with alumni that you’ve never met.
Enhance your ability to practice your elevator speech by introducing yourself to others.
Ask questions of experienced networkers on how to leverage these types of events.
So, students: Come to the Adams Alumni Center from 6-8 on Monday, Nov. 27, and learn how to plug in to the power of the Jayhawk Network.
For as long as I can remember, Saturdays were for the Jayhawks. At an early age I learned to wave the wheat and sing the Rock Chalk Chant. I didn’t know what they meant or why we did it, simply that I was supposed to cheer on KU. In all honesty, I was a Jayhawk before I even knew what it was.
However, as I got older I began to pay more attention. Not just to the athletics programs, but to the Jayhawk network around me. I accompanied my dad to alumni dinners, fraternity reunions, J-School Generations, and many a trip to campus to stroll down memory lane (otherwise known as Jayhawk Boulevard.)
It became clear my dad was not the only one who felt this special connection to his alma mater. Other Jayhawks nationwide were bonded by this shared experience. I could see how much love they had for the university and for the time they spent in Lawrence; many even looked for any excuse to come back to the Hill. It was infectious.
The legacy continues
Growing up, my dad couldn’t be home as often as either of us would have liked. He worked hard to provide for our family, and sometimes that included taking jobs cities, or even states, away. Regardless, he was always passionate about his work and eager to share with the family. With my dad being gone a lot of the time, and with me being a typical teenager, we didn’t always have the kind of relationship I hoped for. However, no matter what was going on in our turbulent world, we always had KU to unify us.
It’s been two years since I told my dad I was going to KU. We were seated at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, and the tears of joy began to stream down his face. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now. The Hill is a magical place for Jayhawks young and old to gather, share stories, and connect. There is such pride in being a Jayhawk, so it’s no wonder alumni want to give back and help the next generation of leaders.
The power of a Jayhawk connection
Stories like this are common at KU because of the culture of alumni who want to assist other Jayhawks. Students already have the opportunity to connect with alumni at major-specific networking events. However, the new Jayhawk Career Network is open to Student Alumni Network members of all backgrounds. This event on Monday, Nov. 27 will be the first of many, and allows both novice and advanced networkers to hone their skills. Both my dad, Mark Mears j’84, and Portia Kibble Smith c’78, owner of PKS Executive Search & Consulting, will be teaching students how to build their own Jayhawk Network.
Throughout his career, my dad has always been eager to give back to KU in any way he can. In 2012 he endowed the Dr. Tim Bengtson Journalism Faculty Mentor Award for journalism professors who carry on the legacy of mentorship Dr. Bengtson left behind. My dad went to KU with the intention of being a lawyer, and it wasn’t until Dr. Bengtson pulled him aside and acknowledged his gift in advertising that my dad found his true passion.
I’m so proud to have a dad who wants to help others be the best version of themselves. All my life he’s instilled in me to “be the best ‘Brianna’ I can be,” and now I get to watch him help others be the best Jayhawks they can be.