We asked Professor Dominic Morais a few questions to get to know him better.
by Susie P. Gonzalez
Just like a coach who works with individual athletes, Trinity University professor Dominic Morais realizes he must adjust instruction to meet the strengths of each student. A member of the sport management faculty, Morais is a former football player and strength and conditioning coach, two activities that helped prepare him for a classroom. A third skill that might be in his future? Improv comedy. To learn more, keep reading.
What do you like most about teaching Trinity students?
What I love about Trinity students is that they make me believe I chose the right career path. Sure, they are all intelligent, and they all work very hard. But what I really love about them is that they are curious, and they seek new opportunities and experiences. In my opinion, these latter characteristics are significant because the students choose to be that way. They choose to be open to new ways of thinking. They choose to explore who they are and ways to better understand our world. They choose to seek new knowledge and worldviews, which can often be uncomfortable or downright scary. Although sometimes they need some prodding because they are taking so many classes and/or they are involved in so many extracurricular activities, they choose to challenge their own perspectives. The energy they put forth to live a fulfilled life by way of new experiences is, in my opinion, the manifestation of Trinity’s mantra, “Discover. Grow. Become.”
How do you motivate your students?
If I want students to be engaged, or motivated, then it is my job to convince them that what I am teaching is important. This is a difficult question because I have to do this every class session, and it may be different every time. Upon reflection, I believe that I appeal to ethos and pathos in order to motivate my students as well. This may sound cheesy, but I give everything I have in my classes to make sure that students get as much out of the class as possible. This often means finding ways to transpose the specifics we learn in class to larger life lessons that the students can apply to their life outside the classroom. It also means going beyond curricular demands to show them that I care about who they are as people. As I tell my students, “I want you to feel that I’m with you rather than against you.” For instance, in every class I teach, I start by asking students to share positives with me. I want to set the tone of the class with positive energy, and I want to encourage the students to focus on the good in their lives, even when it can be difficult to find that good in the midst of a particularly difficult week that may involve giving a presentation, taking two tests, and writing a paper. I also ask for positives because I simply want to learn more about who the students are as people. Frankly, as I’ve realized when thinking about this question, I just care so much about the success of “my” students that I assume they will recognize my passion for their success, and they will respond to my belief in their abilities.
How did you get involved in your field of study?
Considering that I teach in the sport management minor, I have to mention that I became involved in the “institution” of Texas football when I was in seventh grade. I played throughout high school, and then I walked on to the Vanderbilt University football team right before the start of my freshman year. I never made it onto the field, but I earned a scholarship my senior year, and, although I didn’t realize it at that time, I was feeding a passion for strength training and fitness. I worked for approximately one year after I graduated, and then I decided I wanted to be a strength and conditioning coach. I was fortunate enough to secure a graduate assistant strength and conditioning position at Eastern Illinois University, where I earned a certification through the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. After about one year in that position, I realized that was not the career I wanted. Fortunately, a professor there informed me about my eventual Ph.D. adviser, Jan Todd, who, along with her husband, have made academic careers out of studying the history of exercise and physical culture. After earning my master’s degree in sports administration, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in this field and made the most of my time there. Through my studies I was able to bridge sport management theories involving primarily branding and marketing with historical examinations of the fitness industry. Although the sport management and sport studies (history, sociology, cultural studies, etc.) disciplines are often exclusive in many academic institutions, Jacob Tingle, who created the sport management minor at Trinity, takes a holistic approach to understanding the sport industry; I think this the best route. I feel very lucky to be at Trinity because, through that approach, I feel I am able to give the most to students and the university.
Can you talk about the move from coaching to teaching? Are there similarities? Differences?
I believe coaching and teaching share a number of similarities, which is part of the reason why I think my transition to teaching was relatively smooth. First, as I mentioned in a previous question, I’ve learned that it is extremely important for students and athletes to understand why they are doing what they are doing. For instance, if a soccer player understands that performing deadlifts in the weight room will help develop the backside of their body, which will subsequently increase their speed, then that soccer player will be much more motivated to focus on their training in the weight room. Similarly, if students understand that being aware of dominant ideologies in the sport industry can help them “do sport better” for themselves, their community, and perhaps even their children, then they will likely put forth more effort in class and be more engaged. That sounds like a win for everyone!
Regarding differences – and I recently learned this – I cannot be as intense while teaching. Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ve been ripping my shirt like Hulk Hogan and then lecturing on the importance of branding in sport. Although, now that I think of it, that wouldn’t be the worst way to wake up an early class. In other words, I need to be aware that not all of my students come from the same type of sport background that I have. Not all students will respond to the type of passion and intensity that I often bring to a classroom. Everyone will be different, and it is my responsibility, just like a coach, to understand this concept. It is also up to me to adjust my teaching so that each student gets the most out of their time in my classes. Thankfully, coaching has helped me develop a level of emotional intelligence that is very helpful in adjusting my energy and what I ask of the students based on their energy levels, where we are in the semester, if they have taken three tests that week, etc.
What is your favorite aspect of teaching? Least favorite? Why?
My least favorite aspect of teaching is giving grades. Call me a “snowflake,” but I’m not the type of person that likes giving people “bad news.” So many students treat their final grade like a life and death situation, and it affects me when I don’t present something “positive” to students. When a student is too worried about their grade, no matter the outcome, I think they risk undermining all of the effort, learning, development, and growth that they likely experienced during that particular assignment or semester. To be clear, I understand and acknowledge the reasons for grades, but sometimes it can really affect me if the student doesn’t give himself credit for all the work that semester, or, on the flip side, if a student prioritizes the final grade over the lessons learned during that class.
Conversely, my favorite aspect of teaching is when students forget about the grade, or the outcome, and lose themselves in the process, or the learning, of the assignment or class. When students do this, I can often see things “click,” in their heads. If I’m lecturing and I see a student raise their eyebrows and/or slightly open their mouth while listening intently, I get a rush! I can see this facial expression in my head while I’m writing this now! I love when a student’s way of thinking changes or when they realize something new. When this happens, I know I’ve facilitated individual growth, and, as I see it, I’m helping that individual grow, and hopefully take a step toward their own personal fulfillment.
Who inspires you and why?
I’m inspired by people who are courageous. My girlfriend inspires me. My brother inspires me. My parents inspire me. My close friends inspire me. My mentor Jacob Tingle inspires me. My colleagues inspire me. People I train at the gym inspire me. My students inspire me. All of these people inspire me because I’ve seen them face unknown, uncomfortable, or scary situations and continue on their path. All of these individuals have inspired me to be courageous. Whether that courage comes in the form of trying something new in class, broaching an uncomfortable subject with a loved one, facing the inevitable criticism that comes with publishing a paper or giving a presentation, or making a life changing decision, all of these individuals have inspired me to continue learning, experiencing, and growing so that I may continue on my own path of fulfillment.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Why?
This is a fun question! In college I was part of an improv comedy troupe called “Tongue N’ Cheek.” I absolutely loved doing improv comedy in college, and I think a profession in comedy, as an actor, would be really fun. In some ways I view teaching as a performance because students must be entertained, engaged, and wowed; so if my job was to make folks laugh as well, then I think that would be quite a fun profession.
I also think psychology would be a very interesting profession. I see this profession as helping individuals identify and overcome obstacles in their life in order to achieve their goals. I think that in some ways I try to help my students and the people I coach in the gym do that already, and it can be very rewarding. However, in no way do I view myself as even close to the same level as someone who has been trained and has studied for years in order to be a psychologist.
What is your favorite sound? Your least favorite?
My favorite sound is hearty laughter. That sound of pure, unadulterated joy is the stuff that a “good life” is made of. My least favorite sound is nails being filed…*shudder*
Where would you like to retire?
I would like to retire somewhere that I can see the majesty of the world we live in. That place could be a beach, or it could be in the mountains, or it could be here in the Hill Country of Texas. As long as I have a home gym and my partner too, then life will be good.