Sasha Gollish teaches alumni a lesson in persevering on and off the track

Running veteran Sasha Gollish is pursuing a PhD aimed at advancing engineering education with lessons from the track. (Photo: Leigh Tynan)
Running veteran Sasha Gollish is pursuing a PhD aimed at advancing engineering education with lessons from the track. (Photo: Leigh Tynan)

This story originally appeared on Engineering Alumni & Friends.

Middle-distance runner Sasha Gollish (CivE MEng 1T0, EngEd PhD Candidate) made Canada proud last summer when she captured a bronze medal at the Pan Am Games.

“It was magical,” Gollish said to a roomful of alumni at a Skule™ Lunch & Learn event on Jan. 13. “But the magic almost didn’t happen.”

Roughly 120 metres into her 1,500-metre race, her shoe nearly fell off, a situation she has found herself in before. In a split second, her inner-engineer took over as she analyzed the problem and its two possible outcomes.

“I thought, one, I can drop out of this race and everybody here will understand my disappointment,” Gollish said. “Or two, I can forget that my shoe came off and do what I do best and focus on the jersey in front — and that’s what I did. Up until about 1,200 metres I didn’t really know that my shoe wasn’t on properly. I was resilient —something I learned from engineering. I knew that I could survive the situation I was faced with.”

Gollish is the first to admit that it was far from the perfect race. But her passion for sport and perseverance led to one of the happiest moments of her life.

The experience also made her ask: Can the same appetite for success — through preparation, training and motivation — be fostered in an engineering teaching environment? She believes it can.

“Performance isn’t just found on the field,” she said.

Off the track, Gollish is studying with Professor Bryan Karney (CivE) in the Collaborative Program in Engineering Education (EngEd), where she is researching how to teach engineering students to use mathematics. Her PhD explores how coaching principles can transform the face of engineering education and prepare students to take on a marathon career of complex challenges. Much like athletic training, learning relies heavily on motivation, perseverance and engagement.

“Our conviction is that the internal processes that are essential to an athlete matter just as much when doing math, but historically we have not thought that way,” Karney said. “Sasha is remarkable in that she inhabits two worlds — the world of athletics and the world of engineering — making her ideally situated to help us educators create better courses and programs and, thus, better decision makers, and better engineers.”

Gollish said that if you talk to Olympic athletes about why they eventually quit training, they would likely say it was because they stopped having fun — a word Gollish believes has an equally important place in a teaching environment.

“My personal hashtag — I am of that generation, after all — is #alwaysplay,” she said. “I think it’s important to step back and be passionate about what you do in life and always have fun, and I think it’s really important to have fun in the classroom.”

Read about Sasha’s experiences on and off the track on her blog.