Dr. Şebnem Özkan speaking at the podium
Dr. Şebnem Özkan encouraged students to develop global competence regardless of their planned career

Sapora Symposium Day 2: Being a Global Citizen

From a basketball player who traveled the world to a Chicago lawyer who built a hospitality empire, speakers during the second day of the annual Sapora Symposium sponsored by the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism had a wealth of helpful advice for the future RST leaders in the audience: open your mind and experience other cultures, understand and act on issues of global significance, make a difference through what you do, and be passionate about your work.

RST partnered with the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics to present this year’s symposium, and also welcomed a variety of sponsors that included the Center for Global Studies; the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies; the Center of Latin American and Caribbean Studies; the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center; and the European Union Center.

Among the presenters was a former associate director of the European Union Center, Dr. Şebnem Özkan. Now the inaugural associate director of the Atlanta Global Studies Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Dr. Özkan urged students to prepare for global careers by sharpening the “soft” skills that will be critical in the 21st century, including communication, leadership, and problem solving. “Take your career seriously and shape it,” she said. “Just going to class isn’t enough. You have to understand what is happening in the world and different viewpoints.”

Dr. Özkan also encouraged students to study foreign languages, citing results that showed that more than half of employers who responded to a survey, including many who do business only within the United States, believe that foreign language skills are going to become increasingly important in the future. It’s not even about becoming fluent, she said, but about broadening perspectives. Challenge yourself, she told students. Explore, try something new, and seize opportunities to learn.

“You think you know about other people. You have assumptions and stereotypes,” she said. “They all change instantly when you actually interact with people from other cultures.”

Joining Dr. Özkan during the Friday session on career diversity and global readiness were:

  • Former Fighting Illini basketball legend Deon Thomas, who played professional basketball in Spain, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Israel. He told students, “Step out of your comfort zones to learn about other people and other cultures. It will make you stronger. Opening your mind is important and necessary.” With all of the records he set at Illinois as a standout player and all of the success he experienced in his subsequent professional career, he told students his biggest accomplishment has been helping others to succeed.
  • U of I graduate Melissa Luebbe, the first woman to serve as publisher of Midwest Living Magazine, who encouraged students to develop an “attitude of gratitude” and ask people, “What can I do for you?” “Take on more responsibility,” she said. “When someone inspires you, ask them for more.”
  • Dr. Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at Illinois and expert on the physics of baseball, who told students about the impact his research has had on the sport. He was joined by undergraduate research assistant Charlie Young, whose interest in sport analytics led to both his association with Dr. Nathan and a full-time post-graduation position with the Houston Astros. His advice to students: Show passion, commitment, and confidence.
  • Alumnus Tony Khan, senior vice president of football technology and analytics for the Jacksonville Jaguars and vice chairman and director of football operations for the English football team Fulham FC, who recently launched All Elite Wrestling. He told students who are going into sports-related businesses not to lose their own sense of fun.
  • Lawyer, entrepreneur, and U of I graduate Carmen Rossi, founder of 8 Hospitality Group, a restaurant, hospitality-development, and management company. He told students his passions are people and problem solving. When he’s undertaking a new project, he said, “I hunt for people who are better and more skilled than I am. I like joint ventures.”

The Sapora Symposium is named for Dr. Allen Sapora, a pioneer in recreation education and research who played a key role in establishing the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at the University of Illinois. A Founding Fellow of the Academy of Leisure Sciences, Dr. Sapora was a Fellow of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administrators and the Society of Park and Recreation Educators. In 2015, he was inducted by the National Recreation and Park Association into the Robert W. Crawford Hall of Fame for lasting contributions to the advancement of recreation and parks.

Get a Day One recap here.

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