A successful mathematician and student-athlete during his college career as a Nittany Lion, John Urschel has earned more than his fair share of adoration from the Penn State community, and rightfully so. Even after leaving University Park with a trophy case full of awards to embark on a professional football career in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, Urschel is still finding ways to impact his local community.
According to a story originally published by the Penn State Alumni Association, Urschel has teamed up with Penn State graduate Jim Trexler, director of the Mathnasium of Roland Park, on a new scholarship program that will award six-month scholarships to area high school students in Baltimore. Urschel will choose the inaugural honoree and personally notify the winner, who will also have a one-on-one tutoring session with Urschel at the Mathnasium, located near the Ravens’ practice facility.
“Math is something I’ve always been passionate about,” said Urschel, the owner of two math degrees and a 4.0 GPA from Penn State, “and anything I can do to help inspire young people, and also help them understand how important math is, that’s always worth my time.”
The Mathnasium-Urschel Scholarship will continue to grow in the future. Trexler, who coached lacrosse and also taught graduate-level statistics and probability classes at Penn State, said he hopes the program will eventually recognize more than one person per year.
In fact, along with Trexler, Urschel came in contact with the Mathnasium thanks to another pair of Penn Staters. Urschel is represented by Jim Ivler, Class of 1990, an agent for Sportstars Inc., in New York City. Alex Stolls, Class of 2013, is a marketing department associate in Ivler’s company, and reached out to Urschel looking for ways to get the Ravens’ rookie starting right guard involved with the community.
“His agent started talking about this guy named John Urschel,” Trexler said, recalling a conversation with Ivler about possibly bringing Urschel into the fold. “I said, ‘You don’t have to say anything else. This guy is all gold, and if there’s some way we can work something out, I’d love to.’”
Urschel has already devoted some of his time to the Mathnasium, speaking to students a few months ago about the impact his mother had on him growing up. He mentioned how his mother stressed the importance of academics, and challenged him by buying him advanced math books when he was still in elementary school.
Having only been in Baltimore for less than a year, the 2013 Campbell Award winner has already made his presence felt in the Mathnasium. During his visit, Urschel praised Trexler teaching math in way that makes it a fun learning experience, and helped tutor some of the students. He also participated in a few chess matches, facing off against five students who collaborated and decided on every move to try and beat the former math professor. Talks are now in the works for a chess tournament that would include local schools.
For Urschel, teaming up with Trexler, a former Penn State math professor himself, was a no-brainer. Trexler, Class of 1982, said it’s essential that kids experience a fun aspect during learning. The Mathnasium’s motto is ‘Work hard, play hard, and get better.’
“It’s not just about what the problem is, it’s about the process, it’s about the active thinking — that’s what math boils down to,” Urschel said. “It doesn’t really matter if a kid in high school remembers all his trigonometry problems when he’s 30 or 40. What is important is they remember the thought processes that they learned and developed when they were learning math, and learning how to think through problems with lots of variables.”
The announcement of the scholarship continues what has been quite a busy rookie season for the Ravens’ fifth-round draft pick. Along with his responsibilities as an NFL player (which just concluded with the Ravens’ loss to the Patriots in the Divisional Round), Urschel writes a column on advanced stats for The Player’s Tribune, and also spoke at a national STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) conference in Washington, D.C.
Though his time at University Park has expired, Urschel continues to make Penn Staters across the country proud with his continuing success, both on and off the field. As the ideal role model for Penn State student-athletes, I’m sure this won’t be the last time Urschel makes headlines for his outstanding contributions.
Photo: Mathnasium of Roland Park