INDIANAPOLIS, IN-- The opportunity to attend the 2016 Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Summit national conference started with a bang. The first keynote speaker for the 2016 PLTW Summit gave the students of Innovation Central much more than a speech after dinner.
John Urschel, a center for the NFL Baltimore Ravens and a PhD candidate in mathematics at MIT, met with students, all of whom had been invited by PLTW to attend the conference, for 45 minutes prior to the evening plenary session. The three Innovation Central students capitalized on the encounter by asking questions and hearing about life, career and passion. Mr. Urschel spoke eloquently and clearly about not separating his love for football and his passion for math similar to not choosing a favorite child.
Toward the end, Mr. Urschel answered a question and mentioned how his competitive juices flow even when it comes to chess. Our students mentioned that they play as well and he challenged then to play later in the evening after his speech. The students walked away trying to process that this NFL giant had challenged them to a game. And after they heard him speak at dinner, they were interested in a game, not only for the challenge, but as a way to connect and have personal time with Mr. Urschel.
Meeting in the lobby outside the ballroom, they simply pulled out a tablet with a digital version of chess and the games began. Even as conference attendees passed by and asked for a photo or a quick handshake, he gave them a cursory nod and focused back on the game at hand. It was obvious how his competitive nature got him to reach the elite level in both mathematics and football. He was surely not going to take it easy on the students, and his intent was to win. However, he was very accomodating in answering all the students' questions, engaging them in pleasant conversation about career, his inspiration (his mother), his hero (his mother) and his love of math and the freedom it gave him to consider the realm of possibilities.
After two victories and the reality of the early flight he was scheduled to take, Mr. Urschel thanked the students for the games, wished them luck in the future and went to bed. The students also thanked him for his time, prepared for their study hall and left the lobby satisfied with the connection they had made with a possible new mentor. Oh, and the kings in the room were not only the ones left on the board.