Coaches in Classrooms
This spring, coaching at Harvard took a new turn as more than two dozen varsity coaches attended classes with their athletes from February 4 to February 15, in the inaugural version of Back to School weeks. The brainchild of Andrew Rueb ’95, M.T.S. ’04, assistant coach of men’s tennis, the program had the full support of Nichols Family director of athletics Bob Scalise, senior associate director of athletics Pat Henry, and associate director of athletics Nathan Fry. “Faculty have been coming to games and matches for a long time,” says Rueb. “This is a way of returning the favor—instead of professors coming over to our arenas, we’ll cross the river and have an experience of their fields of study. It’s a chance for Harvard coaches to get a taste of what an all-star team we’ve got on this faculty.”
The coaches sat in on large lectures, hearing teachers like Eliot University Professor Lawrence Summers hold forth. “What an energizing experience!” said assistant coach of men’s basketball Yanni Hufnagel, after a lecture by Fletcher University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in “Introduction to African-American Studies.” “The material was intellectually stimulating. I only wish the class lasted more than 50 minutes!” Linda Muri, assistant coach of men’s lightweight crew, attended “Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Economics,” taught by senior lecturer on statistics Michael Parzen, along with four of her freshman rowers—Sam Frum, Cameron Clemence, Ray Lopez, and Chris Xu. “Professor Parzen’s was one of the most entertaining lectures I have ever been to at Harvard or MIT, and I’ve been to a lot of lectures,” she reported. “The topic of the day was covariance and correlation—who knew statistics could be fun?”
Many varsity sports have “faculty fellows” associated with the teams, part of an effort to weave two forms of teaching—coaching and classroom pedagogy—closer together. Often the fellows are faculty members who play or have played the sport themselves, or simply have an avid interest in it. The Back to School initiative, in fact, had its roots in a conversation between Rueb and David Fish ’72, head coach of men’s tennis, about how much fun it would be to visit the classes of the tennis team’s fellows. And so, during Back to School week, the two tennis coaches accompanied one of their players, Alex Steinroeder ’15, to a class on the Civil War taught by professor of English and of African and African American studies John Stauffer, who once played varsity tennis for Duke and is now one of the Crimson team’s fellows.
Rueb is an apt candidate to have originated such a program. As an undergraduate, he twice went undefeated in the Ivy League, playing in the tennis team’s number-one slot under Fish, and won the John Reardon Award for the scholar-athlete of the year as a senior. This spring he will be inducted into the Varsity Club’s Hall of Fame. He has also worked as a teaching fellow for Robert Coles’s course, “The Literature of Social Reflection,” and served as a freshman proctor in Thayer Hall. “Part of being a successful coach here is having your finger on the academic pulse, and knowing what goes on across the river,” he says. “Coaches who do well here celebrate academic achievement.”