Hi, I am Stu Schmill, and I am responsible for organizing MIT’s alumni interviews. I am looking forward to discussing them on this blog, but first allow me to introduce myself.
After growing up in Queens, NY, I went to MIT for college. I graduated about 20 years ago as a mechanical engineer. I went to work for General Motors in Detroit designing cars. Mine were the Chevy Lumina, Olds Cutlass, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Buick Regal — not the whole car but about 200 parts (which is about 1% of the car).
While there, I also volunteered my time coaching the high school crew program at the Detroit Boat Club (I was on the varsity crew when I was a student at MIT). I found that I enjoyed my coaching more than I enjoyed my day job, so I did what any good MIT grad would do: I followed my passion.
I quit my job at GM and became a full time crew coach. I wound up back at MIT and coached the crew here from 1987-2000. I had a great time and had some good crews (was voted EARC coach of the year one year — the EARC is our league with the Ivies and a few others). I loved coaching MIT students; they know how to focus as well or better than athletes I’ve coached from other colleges.
About five years ago I stopped coaching, largely because I had been coaching for a while and I thought it would be fun to do something else. I spent a few years in the MIT Alumni Association, and three years ago I came to work in the admissions office in my current role. Although my path has been somewhat untraditional, I wouldn’t change any of it. I happen to love what I do every day.
I am still active in rowing. I cox a few times every year, always racing in the Head of the Charles. I’ve won the race quite a few times now, including one win with the United States National Team. This year I will be coxing a boat from Croatia in the Masters eight event. I also just spent this summer coaching crew. I just got back from a three-week trip to Israel where I coached the US rowing entries at the World Maccabiah Games (the Jewish Olympics). We entered every event offered. We won most of them, but I think it is more cool that we entered everything.
I love racing, because it gets you into a heightened state of awareness (read Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which was recommended to me by my former professor Woodie Flowers years ago). John Everett, MIT class of 1976 — who learned to row at MIT in 1973, won the world championship in the US eight-oared shell in 1974, and was on the 1976 and 1980 Olympic teams — once told me he’d rather be 10-10 than 10-0: he preferred to get 20 chances to race, to test yourself, to get into that state of awareness when growth occurs, regardless of whether he won or not (believe me, he preferred to win). The key is to look upon performances — a race, game, music or dance recital, speech for debate team or at a science fair, a test in school, or, yes, a college interview — as an opportunity to experience a heightened state of awareness, to experience, “flow,” or to be in the “zone.” It is in these times when life is fun and you learn about yourself.
People sometimes get nervous about these performances because rather than looking at them as opportunities to experience life fully, they look at them as a test of their self-worth. “If I fail, I’m not so good.” If you fail (which only means not doing as well as you can, it does not mean, “not winning”) it is only because something inhibited you from performing (lack of preparation, fear of failure, fear of success, etc.), not because you are a bad person.
Think about this as you go through the college process. In particular, think about how this relates to the interview. View the interview as an opportunity. It is not something you can fail at — there are no tests, no admissions decisions being made — it is just a conversation between you and an alum. It is an opportunity for you to talk about your involvement in the things that interest you (which should be fun for you to do), and for you to learn about MIT and have your questions answered by someone who went here (which should also be fun for you to do).
In my next blog entry in a few weeks, I’ll offer some specific advice on how to approach the interview. For now, just relax and enjoy the rest of your summer. And get into that “flow” state as often as you can.