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NIU Today | Field trip: Project FLEX visitors spend day at NIU to witness their possibilities

Getting around the registration center
The FLEX Group is taking tours of the Rec.

Today’s topic was, appropriately enough, confidence and self-efficacy.

In other words, associate professor Jane Jacobs She told her students at KNPE 310: Psychological Aspects of Sport and Exercise, mind energy. Or, she explained, visualize one’s ability to successfully perform a particular task.

“My favorite theory of all time,” Jacobs said. “It teaches you how to believe you can do something. What’s more important? Nothing.”

Among the many unfamiliar faces in her classroom on the afternoon of November 9, were half a dozen graduate students from Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education Plus four people who have no connection to NIU whatsoever.

One of them wore a gray Calvin Klein long-sleeved T-shirt and blue ripped jeans. Another was wearing a black shirt with red pants. The others were non-uniformed employees of Illinois Youth Center in Warrenville, where the first two were imprisoned.

For the two young men, the day on the NIU campus was a reward for their active participation and good behavior in the Project FLEX Of course, these results are directly related to their belief in themselves.

Launched in fall 2018 By Jacobs, colleague and office mate Zachary and Alexander’s family and graduate student Tim Mack, the FLEX (Fitness Driving Experience) project offers young people structured physical activity within the facilities, aspirations, and resources to lead a more productive life outside once their sentences are completed.

By May of 2019, three young men had earned the privilege of their first project trip to campus.

Coming to DeKalb Give this month’s pair tours of the Huskie Athletic Facilities, Rec Center and Omega Delta Fraternity House. They had endless portions of lunch at New Hall. They played hoops at Anderson Hall Gymnasium.

But their favorite part of the day, they say in the debriefing session, came in class.

Easily blended with regulars, learn from Jacobs about Pandora’s four states of self-efficacy: performance accomplishments, indirect experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal.

Performance achievements are the best indicator of future behaviour. Nothing breeds success like success.

Reciprocal experiences – forming ideas about personal abilities by observing what others can achieve – are almost as powerful. Feedback and encouragement to verbal persuasion are less powerful, while perceptions of feelings during emotional arousal can alter confidence levels and are therefore the weakest predictor.

Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs

Students demonstrated their understanding by looking at pictures of different situations and, in consultation with partners, held up color-coded cards to express which of the four situations play out. Jacobs said there are no wrong answers if they are logical and well defended, and some students have already held two, three, or even four cards at a time.

The professor also explained the “vicious cycle” of self-fulfilling predictions, fueled by an endless march of beliefs that fuel expectations that influence behaviors that lead to outcomes—a process likely familiar to people in correctional facilities.

Jacobs later handed over to Gabriel Bennett, a Ph.D. student at NIU’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, who divided the classroom into nine groups—all guests included in random groups—for an ice-breaking activity.

Quickly answering “hot seat” questions about dream vacations, favorite foods and more uncovered bonds and raises eyebrows among strangers of different ages and backgrounds, providing another glimpse into life, culture and possibilities on campus.

Graduate Student Timothy Mahoney, who is following MA in Kinesiology and Physical Education Specialist in sports and exercise psychology, he is the coordinator of the FLEX project Soul Patrol.

Developed with the growth of Project FLEX at the Illinois youth facility in St. Charles, Swole Patrol offers twice-weekly one-to-one personal training and leadership development for six qualified clients and stays fit through good conduct.

Timothy Mahoney
Timothy Mahoney

Mahoney, who came from his native Deerfield to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of New England in May 2020, glimpsed this possibility during his first semester on campus. He was taking KNPE 310 when he introduced Team FLEX in the class.

“I remember trying to sneak into Project FLEX on the same day,” Mahoney said.


“Just an opportunity to work with young people, providing them with the life skills they need to use an outside facility once they are done,” he said. “I’m really fortunate to have some great mentors, and people really need that, so hopefully I can for someone.”

He looks at young people from a ‘strengths’ model: “I think it’s the situation, not the person. It’s important to give people a chance to succeed rather than just judging them at face value.”

Now an official member of the FLEX team, and as a coach for the Saint Charles basketball team, Mahoney discovers facts about youth, himself, and the importance of being “honest” with others.

“I’m learning how similar we all are,” he said. “When you work with incarcerated juveniles, at the end of the day, they’re just kids. They’re still just teenagers. They still like to joke around, and we have a lot of fun.”

“Personally, I am learning how sport can affect us outside of competition,” he added. “I think I am a very confident, open person, and interacting with young people has really reinforced my views of myself and changed some of the ways I see leadership. Leadership and respect are earned, not given.”

FLEX Fall 2021 Crew
FLEX Fall 2021 Crew

Mahoney, who has played lacrosse “nearly my whole life,” including at club level at NIU, plans to work with athletes as an applied sports psychologist: “The mental side of the sport has really exploded in the past few years,” he said. “It’s only right for the next generation of athletes to have the resources to succeed on and off the field, and I believe I can contribute.”

The knowledge and skills gained through FLEX will prove useful.

“There’s always something different every day we go into the facility, whether it’s working with someone to overcome some kind of anxiety about setting a new personal record in the weight room, or cheering for a player who’s lost two free throws in a row,” he said.

We’re always working on ‘How can we improve this?’ What can we do? What little tips and tricks can I mentally give you that will give you an edge over your opponents? “

It is impossible to calculate the strength of the November 9 campus visit to achieve this goal.

“Coming here gives them a great perspective on something they might have heard about but don’t know firsthand,” Mahoney said. “As much as life at NIU can be talked about, there is no such thing as bringing them to campus, giving them a taste of what it’s like to eat in the dining hall and experience the classroom environment. It’s a truly unique opportunity. It gives them a taste of what could be.”

Seven hours after their arrival In DeKalb, the two young men and their companions from Warrenville gathered around a table in Anderson Hall to reflect on the day.

It was a time to relax, and in the next hour it produced smiles, laughter, and photo shoots with disposable cameras,” said Wall Alexander, assistant professor of physical education.

Anderson Hall Pool
Anderson Hall Pool

Questions were plentiful. The answers were revealing.

For example, since they both declared a 74-minute class to be the best part of their visit, one called it “the fun.” It’s been a long time since he’s been in the classroom. It wasn’t what either of them had imagined in a college classroom, of an old professor lecturing students to sleep.

But the lesson is clearly compromised. Reflecting on the self-fulfilling prophecies of Jacobs, someone relates them to his negative thoughts at night while incarcerated and how those feelings might determine how he approaches the next day.

They talked about the pizza and Cinnamon Toast Crunch they had in the dining hall. They talked about whether they could see themselves as undergraduates, and if so, consider themselves their majors. Someone said criminal justice.

They talked about the conversations they had with NIU students, the stories they might tell their peers when they returned to Warrenville and the advice they would give to selected visitors for their next field trip on campus in the spring: “Bring some shoes that don’t hurt your feet.” “Ask questions.”

They talked about what they would change on today’s agenda: More classes, please. Learn about the application process for admission and financial aid.

Debrief at the end of the day
Let’s Talk: Debrief at the end of the day.

They heard what their escorts and FLEX alumni assistants enjoyed about that day. Watching them simply walk the campus. chance to have a meal with them. to play basketball with them. To see their interactions with college students. To see them immersed in the moment without the walls of Warrenville literally and figuratively.

“Do you feel different?” Jacobs asked.

One replied, “I feel different.”

“How do?”

“I feel like one of you.”


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