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Monday, March 27, 2023

Instead of my usual conservative ranting about taxes and regulation, I have decided to write my final two columns on what I’ve learned here at UF.

While tuition is going up seemingly with no end in sight and merit scholarships are being all but eliminated in favor of need-based aid, we still have a tremendous resource at UF that is overlooked by most students: our faculty and staff.

Ever since I was a wide-eyed student at Preview, professors and academic advisers have shaped me. I remember I was going to take Honors Physics and Arabic my first semester so I could solve the world’s energy problems. After talking it out for a few minutes with my adviser, I realized that the world problem I wanted to solve was not going to be fixed by doing basic problem sets and learning how to say hello in another language, so I changed my path to political science.

After taking Macroeconomics with David Denslow and getting to speak with him after class, I decided that I had a new passion filled with questions of incentives. The experiences I gained from helping students as a TA and doing research for Denslow nurtured the love for economics that I have today.

Because I walked up and spoke with my professor while others were going to the next class, I gained a valuable mentor.

I felt at that point in my sophomore year that graduate school was in my future. I worked hard to take the right math classes to get into the top schools. Unfortunately, I was not exceptionally talented in higher-level math and had to make up for it by going to countless office hours.

Still, I was not deterred because I had a goal that I had to achieve. As I got more involved with research, I was fortunate enough to work with Larry Kenny, who helped me combine interests in political science and economics to ask questions about voter power and legislative behavior.

Even though all the signs pointed me toward an academic career, as a junior I experienced major failure for the first time in my life. I took a section of Advanced Calculus I, which showed me how little interest I had in the high-level math required of a graduate student.

Many thought the class was unfairly graded (an equivalent section had a 20-percent cutoff for a C while mine had a 65 percent cutoff), and I withdrew from the class along with more than a dozen other students from a starting group of 20-plus.

My identity as a hardworking person was shattered because I had messed up despite trying my best. I went back to my advisers and professors with whom I had developed relationships, and they kept me sane and made me aware that I had to figure out what the meaning of my failure meant.

I am convinced that while some failures are meant to be overcome, others are best used for redirection.

I became more involved with the statistics undergraduate program at UF and had the good fortune to meet Ron Randles, who taught one of my junior-year classes. His passion for teaching convinced me to major in statistics.

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As I was lost in the academic wilderness, I went to the library to see if I could find anything that would help me discern my direction in life. Due to my modest technical background in economics and statistics that I had gained from my professors, I was able to appreciate the books about investing I stumbled upon.

These books led me to get professional licenses and hunt for jobs in my newly discovered passion. Without mentors and advisers such as Regan Garner, Kevin Knudson, Sheila Dickison, Ron Randles, Dave Denslow, Larry Kenny, Paul D’Anieri and countless others, I might have settled for less than going for my dream and not letting failure get in my way.

Get to know your professors. Do research with them, work for their classes and go to office hours. The relationships you develop will sustain you and carry you to success beyond your wildest imagination.

Travis Hornsby is a statistics and economics senior at UF. His column appears on Mondays.

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