Engineering Nebraska, Summer07
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NTC Intramural Team Hoping for a Breakout Season

What do engineers do when they want to blow off some steam? One group of students at the Nebraska Transportation Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln does it by playing intramural sports.

NTC intramural vollyball team during one of their games

A team consisting of 12 members, 10 graduate students and two undergrads, started an intramural volleyball team this past summer. Two of the teammates are women. Two of the students are accounting majors and one is pre-med. All are research assistants or staff members with NTC.

“I decided to get us involved in intramural sports,” said Craig Schiller, a graduate engineering student and research assistant who serves as the team’s captain. “Some needed a little bit more coaxing than others.”

“It was inspired by me,” said Jay Ling. “Intramurals are important to me.” The idea came when Ling, who was a student at Georgia Tech but a native of Omaha, came to check out UNL as he was trying to find another graduate school to attend. Schiller assured him there would be an intramural team.

Schiller posted a signup sheet, and with some encouragement for people to sign up, he soon had a team. And Ling decided to attend UNL.

“I had thought about forming an intramural team but having someone else who was also interested helped,” Schiller said.

The six-week volleyball season was in June and July. The team, minus the two women, also played intramural basketball this summer.

Neither the volleyball or basketball teams won a game in their first season. The basketball team made it to the post-season due to some forfeits. But Schiller is proud that the volleyball team went from scoring 10 to their opponents’ 25, to scoring 20 to the opponents’ 25.

“We’d love to tell you about our successes but we’re building the program,” Ling laughed.

Team members don’t take themselves too seriously, but still remain hopeful that they can develop a team that won’t live up to the stereotype of engineers not being athletic.

“The real reason we did it is if athletes can pretend to take academics seriously, engineers can pretend to take athletics seriously,” Schiller joked.

The team had to play against teams of all skill levels because there weren’t many teams signed up for summer intramurals, but this fall the team will probably be in the C league, which is recreational, as opposed to A or B, which are more competitive, Ling said.

Most of the team members are just starting their Ph.D. programs, so this group will probably be together for another one to two years. They hope future engineering research assistants will continue what they started.

Ling is probably the most active athlete of the bunch, participating in all sorts of intramural sports, as well as yoga and Pilates. He’s even a professional ballroom dance instructor.

Diego Franca, a graduate student from Brazil, is looking forward to soccer season, which begins in September. He and Hang Yue, a graduate student from China, are two other team members who came in with some athletic talent. Franca belonged to an intramural soccer team in fall 2005 that won the intramural championship. Yue is the team’s best basketball player.

“Not everyone is very good at basketball,” Franca said. He used some of his soccer moves during volleyball play, taking advantage of the loose rules governing intramural volleyball. “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with the soccer team,” he said.

Franca said the team is probably one of the most diverse in the league. There are members from India, Brazil, China, Zambia and Ghana.

With two games each week, Ling said, the NTC team practices before every game and tries to practice on Friday afternoons.

“It’s a good way to get out of the office early,” he said.

Ling adds that the camaraderie with his fellow research assistants and staff is great.

“Research groups tend not to congregate,” he said. He said there’s a lot of seclusion in their work so it’s good to be able to interact in a situation where they are not just discussing work. And going to the bar after the game is done is another way they can get to know each other socially.

“It’s fun,” Franca said. “It’s more of a way to get together. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose.”

That’s not to say the team doesn’t hope for a win every time it goes out.

“We’re optimistic before every game,” Schiller said. “We have a good time anyway.”

—Stephanie Geery-Zink