The Tower Center sat down with Tower Scholar A.J. Jeffries to discuss his experience with the Tower Scholars Program and the SMU men’s soccer team. Jeffries is majoring in economics, history and public policy with minors in philosophy and public policy and international affairs. His directed research project is with Hunt Mexico looking at the cross-border electricity trade between the U.S. and Mexico.
You will be the first HCM Tower Scholar to graduate from the Program this December. How will you use the minor in your career?
My interests are varied, and I hope to indulge as many of them as possible en route to a fulfilling life. The beauty of the Tower Scholars Program is that no matter what I do, the lessons I take from it will be applicable. Over the course of the Program I did not learn specific, narrow information like military configurations on the Korean peninsula that bind me to a very small area of policy. Instead, I learned how to take a problem and analyze it in a number of ways to find solutions that would be viable in different circumstances. That problem solving, policymaking experience will be vital.
Working with role models like Dr. Victoria Farrar-Myers, former director of the Program, also provided an invaluable experience, as she showed me a model of professionalism that I hope to emulate over the course of my professional life. Finally, the connections I have made during my time as a Tower Scholar will give me a leg up in many industries, and the bonds I have formed with members of my cohort will make me part of an elite, eight-person class of top professionals across a variety of industries.
What role has being a part of the SMU men’s soccer team played in your college experience?
For me, being a student athlete is not part of the “college experience.” Really, all it did was limit the college experience. Instead of spending late nights studying or hanging out with friends, I had to go to bed early and be up for practice every morning. My schedule was busy enough that many weekend nights were spent at my desk trying to get ahead on homework. I am not complaining. Soccer is my favorite thing about almost every day, but the myth of sports participation shaping a “college experience” rings false. Sports are an addendum to the experience, offering knowledge and experiences that the college experience does not encompass.
What skills have you acquired as a competitive athlete that translate into your daily life as a student, and will soon translate into your life as a professional?
Discipline, perseverance, and adaptability. Discipline tends to be a trait that is frequently challenged in college. The myriad temptations offered by a college campus are hard to avoid, but as a soccer player I had to choose between having fun in the moment or being able to perform to the best of my abilities on the field the next day. On the field, discipline can mean not talking back to referees, while in the workforce it can mean not talking back to bosses.
After tearing my ACL five times in the past six years, I have needed a great deal of perseverance to keep playing. That same perseverance pushed me to keep working on classwork even when I was tired or frustrated, and it will drive me to overcome obstacles in my professional career as well.
Finally, adaptability is key on the soccer field. Over the course of my soccer career, I have played almost every position on the pitch, each time ready to take on the new challenge. After I graduate, that willingness to learn new things and the ability to use my skills in new fields will make me successful in any profession I choose.
Is there a specific accomplishment as a student athlete you’re most proud of?
My proudest moment as a student athlete is when people tell me they didn’t realize I was one. There is an unfortunate, pervasive stereotype about student athletes that we are a bunch of muscle-bound dunces; many people automatically expect less from us. It brings me enormous joy to defy those stereotypes, so if I have changed one person’s view of student athletes I am very proud of that.