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Standout athletes shine on the court and in the classroom

Being future-focused is what brought both Nicolas Szerszen and Luisa Schirmer to The Ohio State University. These fourth-year standout varsity volleyball players with aspirations of playing professionally each knew that they also wanted to be mechanical engineers.

Luisa Schirmer, credit Walt MiddletonLuisa Schirmer, credit Walt Middleton“The combination of athletics and academics were both highly competitive here at Ohio State,” says Schirmer. “With that I knew that I would be pushed but also have a wealth of resources to help me succeed.”

Szerszen agrees. “I got a scholarship for volleyball and knew Ohio State had a good engineering department and volleyball program.” Choosing to attend Ohio State “was obvious to me.”

Both Szerszen and Schirmer not only balance the demanding workload facing many students approaching graduation, but they also juggle rigorous athletic schedules.

“It is really about knowing what you need to learn and focus on and how effective you can be with your schedule,” says Szerszen. “Most of the time I start assignments due around a week earlier in order to have time to go over it before I submit it, correct an error or even go to office hours to ask questions about the part I don’t understand.”

“The biggest key I learned in the four years of being a student athlete is time management,” says Schirmer. “Being a part of two very demanding groups requires you to prioritize and focus more than you have ever had to before, a very valuable life lesson.”

With the support of professors and coaches, these two have proven their success on the court and in the classroom.

“Our philosophy is always that academics come first for Ohio State Men’s Volleyball players,” says Head Coach Pete Hanson. Echoing these sentiments is Geoff Carlston, head coach of Ohio State Women’s Volleyball. “We have a team GPA over a 3.5 [average] and many of our players are in very challenging majors. Strong academics are very much a part of who we are.”

Nicolas SzerszenNicolas SzerszenBlaine Lilly, associate chair for undergraduate programs in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering describes the complementary match between engineering and athletics. “People are sometimes surprised that we have varsity athletes in our engineering programs, given how much time and effort it takes to play sports at such an elite level,” he says. “The truth is, our student athletes tend to be among our best students because they are already highly disciplined when they arrive on campus. Luisa and Nic are both quite outstanding athletes and students, and it’s not unusual to have athletes in class,” he notes. “They’re both a credit to our program and to the university.”

That engineering and athletics go hand-in-hand is no secret to these two athletes. The finesse and articulation used in engineering are also essential on the volleyball court. “Because of engineering, I am able to analyze my play and have an analytical mindset to becoming a better athlete,” says Schirmer.

Even group work takes on a whole new meaning when Szerszen looks at it through the athletic lens. “In engineering you do a lot of group work where you can be the leader of your group, or be the follower and listen to the one that has a better knowledge than you,” he says. “I think the team spirit is pretty similar in both sports and engineering.”

The determination and consistency often attributable to successful engineering also seems to keep Schirmer and Szerszen ahead of the game.

“Luisa is a fierce competitor and one of the most driven individuals I have ever coached,” says Carlston. Hanson similarly describes Szerszen. “Nic is the catalyst of our team,” he says. “He is our best attacker, best server, best passer and one of the most consistent and competitive guys on our team.”

But for all their recognition, both Buckeyes remain modest and look to the future. Volleyball is currently a very large part of each of their lives, and at the same time Szerszen and Schirmer realize the significance of being equipped with a mechanical engineering degree from Ohio State.

“My time at Ohio State has been extremely rewarding and I hope to continue to take advantage of it. Even though it has been a huge time commitment, it has been 100% worth it being a student athlete as well as a student in the engineering community,” says Schirmer, who has taken the semester off to play professionally. “Once I am satisfied with all the volleyball I've played, I hope to return to engineering and one day get my MBA to supplement my mechanical engineering degree.”

Szerszen says he’s still undecided about the route his future will take. The France native aims to return to Europe after graduation, where he too plans to continue to play volleyball, then possibly be able to dedicate time to developing his engineering career in the future. His final advice? “For engineers: use units if you’re lost!”

Additional honors for Szerszen include being a two time First Team All-American (2016, 2017) and the NCAA Player of the Year (2016). In 2017 Luisa was named as an AVCA All-Northeast Region honorable mention. She is currently playing professionally for the Belgium Asterix Avo Volley.


by Holly Henley, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Communications,