On the first day of class, Curt Tomasevicz likes to begin by giving his students a little insight into his educational background and what makes him qualified to teach engineering at the University of Nebraska.
For starters, he has a bachelor’s and masters in electrical engineering with a minor in astronomy from the same university. He’s also currently working on his PhD in biological engineering.
“Then I briefly mention that I spent 10 years on the U.S. national bobsled team and went to three Olympics, and now I’m here teaching you,” he said. “Sometimes I can kind of see some of them looking at each other like, ‘Is he kidding?’ They don’t always completely believe me.”
It is 100 percent true, however, as his students quickly learn.
Tomasevicz, 37, was always interested in math and science growing up and worked for an electrical engineer in high school. When he started at Nebraska, engineering became his major as he also played football for the former Big 12 powerhouse from 2000-03.
In 2004, Tomasevicz joined the U.S. bobsled team and became a push athlete who would go on to push for legend Steven Holcomb in both two-man and four-man sleds. They placed sixth in four-man at the 2006 Olympics, then won gold as part of the “Night Train” four-man sled in 2010 and finished sixth in two-man the same year before Tomasevicz ended his Olympic career with a bronze medal in four-man in 2014.
At that point, he said, a career in teaching wasn’t necessarily at the front of his mind. After a motivational speaking engagement at the university where he talked to students about setting goals and living their dreams, however, a former professor approached Tomasevicz and asked if he’d be interested in teaching a sports and engineering class.
Tomasevicz is now one of many being celebrated today as part of World Teachers’ Day.
The Shelby, Nebraska, native now teaches engineering 101, engineering ethics and engineering economics, and he pulls a lot of his knowledge and experience in not only bobsled and skeleton but other sports into his lesson plans.
“So for example when I’m talking about something in physics like momentum and conversion of energy, I’ll talk about curling stones and how when they collide with each other very little energy is wasted; it all goes into the collision itself and transfers into the movement of the other stone,” he said. “Or I’ll talk about speed and acceleration. So I’ll talk about downhill skiing, bobsled and skeleton and how gravity is the only real propulsion outside of the push, but as you’re going downhill you can figure out a lot of examples and problems that way.”
He’s even had former bobsled engineer Bob Cuneo Skype in to talk about the process of designing a sled and all the challenges that engineers need to be able to solve.
So how does standing in front of a room full of college students compare to standing at the top of a bobsled track at the Olympics?
“Honestly, I think I get just as nervous — if not more so — teaching just because when you’re competing you’re not looking your audience in the eye,” he said. “They may still be judging you, but you’ve prepared so much for that moment that there’s not much more you can do at that point. Interacting with students, I have to have that play between us I guess and go from there.”
One thing Tomasevicz has found challenging, he said, is keeping up with technology. It’s not that he’s an old man, but in the 10 years that he was out of the academic world, so many new devices and tools were developed that students can use that it’s changed the way they learn compared to when he was a student.
“I don’t make them memorize as much as I had to because now they can just pull out a device and instantly look up that information,” he said. “That’s not to say they don’t need to be as prepared, but now the expectation that they be able to apply that formula or knowledge should go even further.”
Tomasevicz is getting ready to turn in and defend his dissertation on “comparison of drop jump and resisted squat jump,” he said, looking at the power output of athletes as they drop from different heights with varying weights, as well as the potential of risk of injury with the different applied loads. He hopes that by December he’ll have his PhD, and he would love to continue on in the academic world, perhaps on a tenure track for teaching.
Even with his success in his new chapter, however, Tomasevicz said he still misses bobsled and all that comes with being an athlete during the Olympic cycle.
“This year is going to be kind of tough to sit back and watch, but I’m part of the selection committee so my role is still pretty active,” he said. “I have a voice in who’s going to the Olympics so I follow it really closely. In two weekends I’m going to Lake Placid to help pick the national team and from that we’ll pick the Olympic team, so I’m still pretty involved. A lot of my former teammates are still competing or back competing.
“I can’t say my body misses the training, but my psyche definitely misses the competition and the rush of the Olympics.”