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Posted on February 7, 2017

Life lessons from a tough professor

Sure, it’s a bit of a cliché, but a recent blog post by Syracuse University’s Chancellor Kent Syverud got me thinking about how the people that push you the hardest are often the ones who have the most profound effect on your life.

I’m always proud to tell people that I went to Syracuse University and attended the prestigious Newhouse School of Communications, which certainly taught me a TON about the finer points of our trade. But if anyone asks about my best experiences at S.U., I immediately begin reminiscing about my dual major in Public Affairs, led by Bill Coplin.

Professor Coplin’s Public Affairs 101 course was truly life-changing, where he taught dozens of wide-eyed freshmen about how to drive change in the world. It was there that I first learned about the concept of corporate social responsibility, and felt drawn to find a career where I could make a difference by influencing the way companies treat their employees and society at large.

But what really made him an outstanding professor was his steadfast commitment to each individual student. Much like the best managers and mentors in the professional world, Professor Coplin pushed us hard, but we never doubted he believed in us.

Chancellor Syverud sums it up perfectly:

“Bill is demanding, even curmudgeonly. He insists students learn and manifest the skills of a competent professional [and he] demands a lot of them, but that is because he sees extraordinary promise that others may overlook. He relentlessly advocates for his students.”

In the second semester of my freshman year, Professor Coplin not only pushed me to be a Teaching Assistant for his class, but asked me to act as manager of the large group of Teaching Assistants. I argued and pushed back, intimidated at the thought of leading such a large group of TAs, most of whom were older and more experienced. But he insisted I had what it took to lead and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was one of the greatest challenges I faced in college, but one that certainly prepared me for my current career path, and inspired me to get involved in many meaningful ways during my time at S.U. and beyond.

I want to take a moment to express my gratitude to Professor Coplin, for pushing me to lead even when I resisted, for challenging me to think about how I can affect some of society’s most complex issues, and for encouraging me to find ways to satisfy my desire to give back without sacrificing my personal career aspirations. Most importantly, you taught me that a leader can be BOTH tough and nurturing – a balance I still strive for today. Thank you!

Ann Melinger