Seizing Opportunities

Honors Blog Week 2014 a

by Jake Sporrer

Jake’s blog is the first of Iowa State’s contributions to National Honors Blog Week 2014.  This year’s theme is “Things You Can’t Learn in a Classroom,” and Jake Sporrer holds a PhD in networking and jumping at opportunities – neither of which he learned in a classroom.


Once upon a time in February this year, I came into Emily’s office because English class got out early and the lab that I’m a TA for was cancelled due to a test. On that fateful afternoon, I was excited to tell her about an opportunity that I received, to work in Dallas this summer. Emily asked me to write my blog post about how I got this opportunity.

This February, I was invited to attend a Materials Engineering conference in San Diego. Both my hotel and flight were paid for me because I am a member of a (national and local) group called Material Advantage and through that group was awarded a scholarship that included paid travel to the conference. At the conference, I attended several talks about topics ranging from crystal structure modelling systems to metallic glass formation. One talk was particularly interesting to me: “Teaching Engineering through Minecraft”. I contacted the presenter, a professor at University of Texas at Dallas, and told him that I would like to meet and discuss some of his ideas. He talked about his outreach efforts and I talked to him about my work at Iowa State doing materials engineering demonstrations. He then asked me if I would like to work for him in Dallas this summer and I accepted. The professor is Dr. Walter Voit and I will be doing polymer research with some outreach and Minecraft fun sprinkled in.

Sporrer 2News update: “Grandparents Outraged when they Learn Students Play Video Games for Class”

So, that’s the story. The stars aligned and my experiences placed me in the same place at the same time as someone doing interesting work that was looking for interesting workers. However, the events leading up to this neat happening are far more valuable to discuss.

In order to get to the conference, I had to join Material Advantage. I was lucky and was pushed to join by an incredible peer mentor who was also the president of Iowa State’s chapter of Material Advantage. Then, I had to win the scholarship. These awards are sometimes not handed out for lack of qualified applicants; Material Advantage is a small organization and few people know about them. Another senior student in the Materials department convinced me that I should just apply and see what happens. That series of events gets me to the conference. In order to discuss outreach with Dr. Voit, I had to become the Outreach Chair. I was persuaded, once again by the wonderful peer mentor, to run for Events Chair of Material Advantage my freshman year. I won and used that experience to run for Outreach Chair this year. Lastly, I knew coming to ISU that I wanted to study abroad. The Materials Department offers a summer study abroad for freshman to go to England. This allowed me to study abroad my first year, when internships for freshmen are sparse, and freed up my 2014 summer. All those opportunities combined caused me to go to the conference, meet Dr. Voit, be appealing as an employee to Dr. Voit, and be free this summer.

Sporrer 3Summer 2013: “Is this a major landmark?  Who knew?  I’m just casually standing here…”

Essentially, this post is a very long winded way to say that accepting opportunities when they are presented to you, as early as you can, can yield neat results. I didn’t plan for any of this to happen and I am not the most qualified person, but eventually, if you keep saying yes when given opportunities, you will find an employer that is looking for your skill set and experiences. As a side note, I’ve been rejected by several scholarships, turned down for several on campus positions, and received less than a handful of job offers. I didn’t have to work hard for any of the aforementioned opportunities; I just had to keep trying. As my uncle Ron always shouts at kindergarten basketball games, “You’ve got to show some tenacity out there, boys.” For current sophomores and juniors, become a peer mentor and get your students to think about professional societies. Be the awesome peer mentor that I had. Thanks for reading my first blog post, wish me luck, and let me know if there is anything I shouldn’t miss in Dallas.

Sporrer 4Uncle Ron: A great and wise man. “I’ll get that girl a melon; ladies love melons.”

One comment on “Seizing Opportunities

  1. […] blog post is one of the few where including my uncle Ron actually makes a ton of sense. He just returned to Brazil, where he is launching a branch of his […]

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