‘Mental Athletes’ Stay in Shape at UT During Alumni College (Slideshow)

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As Alumni College participants munched popcorn and watched sports clips on an Alumni Center big screen last week, they could have been mistaken for couch-potato sports fans.

They were the opposite—mental athletes determined to keep their minds fit.

UT law professor Mitchell Berman played the sports clips as part of his “Musings on the Jurisprudence of Sport,” which explored why it’s harder to reverse an on-field football call than to convict a man of murder.

He was one of 13 leading lights from around campus who spoke to more than 140 UT alumni and friends on a range of thought-provoking subjects. Watergate, cancer prevention, counterfeit drugs, and energy options were among the hot topics.

Participants came from around the state (and even out of state) for the three-day program, which included the option to stay on campus in a residence hall.

For many, the experience was a bit like becoming students again—wandering the campus, making new friends, and learning about subjects they’d never considered deeply before.

Psychology professor James Pennebaker, for instance, spoke on the “Secret Life of Pronouns: How Our Words Reveal Who We Are.” In studying Americans’ use of language after 9/11, he said, psychologists found that use of positive emotion words dropped for four days after the attacks—then rose above the baseline for two months as people felt closer and more connected to others.

Kinesiology lecturer and personal trainer Dixie Stanforth discussed the ins and outs of eating healthier when a product labeled “low-fat” can have more sugar and even more calories than the full-fat version. “Label-reading,” she said, “is similar to driving in Austin, Texas—very, very tricky some days.”

Along with the lectures, Alumni College participants enjoyed receptions and dinners, toured campus buildings like the new Norman Hackerman Experimental Science Building, and even “graduated” the program in a special ceremony.

Participants like Jerry and Sylvia Wilkenfeld of Houston are on their 13th year of taking in Alumni College, and this year they brought their daughter, Joyce Wilkenfeld, too. Like all good lifelong learners, Jerry Wilkenfeld says, they’ll keep coming back.


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