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Wednesday, June 7, 2023


Bott explains importance of student involvement in athletics

Chemistry professor Simon Bott pushes his students to wear red on Fridays.  |  Photo courtesy of Simon Bott

Chemistry professor Simon Bott pushes his students to wear red on Fridays. | Photo courtesy of Simon Bott

In the middle of his office, which is almost encased in books, chemistry professor and undergraduate chair Simon Bott sat down with The Daily Cougar to explain why a Brit like him is in love with UH and why you should be, too.

The Daily Cougar: Why are you so involved in athletics and supporting the University?

Simon Bott: I think it’s a great university. For years, it was this great little secret. The farther away you went from it, the better reputation it had. I first heard of UH when I was living in England — when I was 11. It had Nobel Prize winners, it had Olympic athletes, and so on. But when I finally moved to Houston, all I heard was this Cougar High crap, which is just so wrong.

The University needs the students to be engaged, needs them to show pride, needs them to slap on bumper stickers just so that people’s perception of the University actually matches the reality. We are this amazing university with a horrible, horrible image, and it’s only in the last few years with President and Chancellor Renu Khator that the image has started coming close to the reality. The students need that pride to help to create that improved perception, but the students also need that pride to graduate. Anything I can do to inspire that pride and get the students involved and engaged, the better it is for them and the better it is for the University.

TDC: What do you encourage students to do to make our Tier One academics match our pride? To make, as you said, the perception of UH match the reality?

SB: We’ve got to brag about our world-class departments, world-class faculty and world-class alumni. We need to broadcast to our students and educate our students about the people who have been here and the people who are here. If we keep telling students about the people who have been here, some of those will resonate with them and that will automatically create pride. Then, we just have to encourage them to be involved.

TDC: Why is it so upsetting to you to see someone not wearing red on Friday or wearing another university’s T-shirt?

SB: Not wearing red, that’s their problem. But if you walk around this campus with another’s school’s shirt on, you are advertising a rival institution. We have so many visitors to this campus who don’t need to be seeing some silly twit advertising a rival university. The perception it creates is: “Well, these are the students, and they aren’t proud to be here, so I want to be somewhere else at a better quality university.” So that is why I will still give someone a very hard time if I see them wearing a shirt like that — not in a nasty way, though, but I will point out to them that what they are essentially doing is potentially reducing everybody else’s degree in the eyes of a person who may not realize the truth.

TDC: Why is it important for students to attend the sports games?

SB: For students, it’s the fastest way for them to get that pride. If they put on the T-shirt, maybe paint their face up and then go and feed off that energy in the student section, it’s the fastest way to build that pride. Then, for the University, it’s our biggest marketing tool by such a long way.

When we hit the 2006 C-USA championship game, it was the only college football airing on that Friday night. It was wonderful because ESPN was covering it, and they did a super job showing the student section. So people around the country saw us winning and all these people going crazy. After that game, our admissions applications were up nearly 20 percent. And the more that the football team or basketball team or any team feels supported and loved by the students on campus, the better they’ll do. They will feed off the energy of the student section when they are cheering and yelling and singing.

TDC: What’s the best part about being a Cougar?

SB: Everything. It’s so exciting to be here right now. When I started going to this church that we go to in 2001, I thought it was an A&M church because that’s all you saw. And now it’s obvious that it’s a UH church. There are more UH alumni than any other school going to that church, but they were what I called “closet Cougars.”  They never said anything about it back in 2001. But now, because of how the perception of the University has changed, plus the reality, plus the new buildings and the excitement, they are proud to be UH alumni and will talk about UH now. That just sums up why it is so great to be here in the middle of it now. It’s hard to imagine that there is any university in the country that is growing in a better fashion and a faster fashion than we are right now.

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