By Brady Farmer, Kolten Hagens, Austin Henderson, Phuc Lee, Max Salinger, Henry Sharpe, Devyn Stewart, Ava Stipanovich, Juan Tello, and Bryanna Thumma
This fall, the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center welcomed its first class of Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy students. The long-term development and success of these students is very important to the Center, and toward that end, we have designed a series of salons around meaningful subjects like noble failure, wonder, and humility. These conversations take place around a dinner table and include perspectives from our University and Iowa City communities.
Our first salon took place on Monday (11/7), 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm, in the North Room of the Iowa Memorial Union. The topic was noble failure, with each student being paired with an invited guest. The following are a few student reflections on what they learned:
Joe Sulentic, (lecturer, Tippie College of Business)
The wonderful person I had the pleasure of conversing with was Joe Sulentic. He is a businessman and professor, and his life experiences all had a type of common theme. Throughout his life of traveling the world, racing cars, and doing business, he never failed to seize an opportunity. He would talk about his failures as if they were the best things to ever happen to him. He said that attending UCLA after failing to get accepted to any Ivy League schools made him into the man that he is today, and the rest of his stories followed suit. He talked about how much he loved racing cars in Italy after being denied a trip to Germany. And he talked about how many times in his life he had no idea how to keep moving forward and always managed to be better off than he was before. All in all, Joe sure knew how to make the best of a bad situation.
Amir Hadzic, (head soccer coach, Mount Mercy University)
Amir Hadzic is an athlete and a coach, and he has a very interesting outlook on failure. Amir was a young man in the Bosnian military, and a member of a professional soccer club, when almost immediately he became a refugee collecting rainwater to be able to live in an environment torn by civil war. He has had many failures since being in the military, and has been in many sticky situations due to conflicts in his nation. His outlook on failure is this: don’t dwell on failure, because there is usually something better down the road. That is exactly how it has played out for him, too. He met his wife in a refugee camp, and that led him to Iowa where he no longer had to face the violence back home. I really look up to Amir after hearing his story, because it shows me that anyone can come back from bad situations. Not only did Amir come back from a really low point, he regained his passion for soccer and is now helping young students be their best. Amir is a very great individual, and he was a pleasure to become acquainted with.
Jan Jensen, (associate head basketball coach, University of Iowa)
I was given the wonderful opportunity to have dinner with the Associate Head Coach for the University of Iowa’s Women’s Basketball Team, Jan Jensen. This is Jan’s 17th year at the University of Iowa, and her time coaching here has been extremely successful. However, Jan’s life hasn’t been all success. A particular example was during her time playing basketball in Germany. Having this time in her life when she was less successful has allowed her to relate better with her struggling players now. This led our conversation to focus on the question, was her time in Germany really a failure? We concluded that failure is only failure when you let it be. Instead of labeling an experience that went less well than projected as a failure, we decided that, at least as far as it applies to both of our lives, it would be better labeled as a learning experience, or “noble failure.”
Megan Foley Nicpon, (associate professor, Counseling Psychology and associate director for Research and Clinic, Belin-Blank Center)
I sat by Megan Foley Nicpon and got to talk to her during dinner. She is a psychologist and the associate director for research and clinic at the Belin-Bank Center. We talked a lot about how failing to succeed doesn’t mean failing to progress, and that failure, more often than not, opens doors and opportunities for you that would never have been there otherwise. She shared with me lots of times that a failure gave her the chance to do something different, and how those failures brought her to where she is today. I got to share with her how my failures and trials have shaped my life. I got a lot out of our conversation, and will be bringing that with me throughout the rest of my college career.
Ginny Ryan Buresh, (assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology for University of Iowa Health Care and co-founder of Girls on the Run of Eastern Iowa)
I had the pleasure of spending my evening with Ginny Ryan, a doctor, assistant professor, and activist with Girls on the Run. The evening passed quickly as we talked the great successes and failures of our lives. While, unfortunately, I spent the majority of our time talking, I found that these events are those that define us most. Although Ginny and I were strangers at the start of the evening, I’d like to believe our wins and losses provided solid ground for relatable discussion. Though I still found it hard to believe, over one (non-bowel-wrecking) dinner, I learned that there is success in failure, and that nobody’s prediction of failure should prevent one’s pursuit of a seemingly viable idea, among other life lessons, most too complicated to discuss here.
Keri Hornbuckle, (professor, College of Engineering)
Dr. Hornbuckle is now a very successful woman in the field of engineering, but it wasn’t always an easy road. While attending college, Dr. Hornbuckle had a co-worker whom she both admired and looked up to as a mentor. Ultimately, this person acted irresponsibly and was a great disappointment. After that experience, Dr. Hornbuckle altered her career plans and began advocating for herself. Following many noble failures, accompanied by some social and family pressures, Dr. Hornbuckle ultimately found the path she was meant to pursue – engineering. Talking with Dr.Hornbuckle, I found that I share similar experiences in my own life. For example, we both had mentors that disappointed us. Nevertheless, these experiences made us stronger, and gave us the courage to explore what life ultimately has to offer.
Steve McGuire, (professor, School of Art & Art History)
I was paired up with Steve McGuire; he is a professor in the College of Engineering here at the University of Iowa. His focus in the College of Engineering is classes based on bicycle design and fabrication and general computer aided design. Through this interaction at the dinner, I was introduced to real life examples about following your set goals even when failure is imminent. One of these examples was when Steve was little and decided to go try and ride an ostrich at the zoo. He ignored the barriers and reached the typically territorial bird, which proceeded to bite him upon his arrival. Despite all of the obstacles that were between him and his near impossible goal, he still gave it his best shot, and that is respectable.
Nate Kaeding, (former NFL player and Iowa City Downtown District’s retail development director)
I was paired with Nate Kaeding, the former NFL kicker, where he played mainly for the San Diego Chargers from 2004-2012. Throughout his career, Nate faced tough criticism from sport fans and intense pressure from the cutthroat nature of professional football. Nate experienced several moments of failure in a position where failure was unforgiving. He told me that one of the most memorable moments was when he watched a Chargers fan return a Chargers jersey with his name on it back to the store after he cost the Chargers a big game. But Nate learned that he could not let failure define him. Instead, he rose above it, using his failure as a motivator to do better next time. In the end, Nate ended his career as the second most accurate kicker in the history of the NFL. I really enjoyed talking to Nate. Not only was he the first (former) pro-athlete I had ever met, but I learned some really valuable life lessons which I will definitely apply in my life.
Fred Newell, (founder of The Dream Center and student advisory center director at City High School)
We all face adversity at some point in our lives, and we are shaped by how we react to it. Some fall at the first obstacle, and become what is expected of them, without achieving their true goals in life. Fred Newell is not one of those people. He is an example of dealing with adversity in the best way possible. From the beginning, he had many setbacks, but overcame what life gave to him, and created a charity to help those coming from similar positions. From our conversation I learned that you can always “take an L,” (loss) but that you should never let that keep you from achieving your final goals. Fred’s successes, in spite of his failures, shows that through perseverance you can achieve anything.
Frank Durham, (associate professor, School of Journalism & Mass Communication)
Spending the evening with Dr. Frank Durham, an associate professor in the Journalism Department, gave me a new perspective on the importance of noble failures in college. During our time together, Professor Durham did not specifically highlight his failures, instead he spoke candidly about how failures can allow you to form unique connections with others. Throughout our discussion, he continued to reiterate how individuals form the most meaningful relationships with others because of common hardships. When a person encounters a similar struggle as another individual, each person becomes more empathic through his or her experience. For the rest of my college experience, I will continue to view failure with this same positive mentality, as I have learned that I can become a more understanding individual from my own noble failures.