You might say that professional tennis player Ruan Roelofse has served up a love-love online learning experience through Indiana University East.
In tennis, that’s like a perfect 6-0, 6-0 victory.
In tennis and education, that’s like hitting an ace with his senior project.
The online business student from Cape Town, South Africa, co-wrote a children’s book for his honors thesis — a work that was released this January.
The book is a short biography, taking Roelofse from childhood to a long professional career. His accomplishments include playing in Davis Cup matches and winning four ATP Challenger doubles titles.
The book, which is aimed at third-grade level, also touches on learning basics that range from math and spelling to working hard and eating right. It also includes some fun facts, such as Cape Town and Richmond are 8,305 miles apart.
“Learning with Ruan” is co-authored by Tim Scales, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Center for Economic Education and senior lecturer at IU East.
The book is available starting this January with a cover price of $16.95.
Roelofse’s story starts at age 4 with his parents — An-mare and Leon — suspending a sock that held a tennis ball off the roof of their home so he could learn how to strike it.
Roelofse progressed quickly under the tutelage of his mom. He started playing competitively at 7 and won his first tournament at 10.
The 31-year-old has been playing as a professional through most of his adult life. He lives in Atlanta and plans on moving to Florida in January.
His world includes travel, tight budgets and practices for up to seven hours each day. He also likes to play golf, to hike and to visit coffee shops. In fact, his entrepreneurial dream is to run his own coffee shop after his career is over.
Roelofse’s world also has included taking online classes at IU East.
Last summer, he took the Personal Finance class led by Scales.
Roelofse enjoyed the experience so much that he emailed Scales a couple weeks after the class ended to ask if he would mentor him on his senior honors thesis.
Scales suggested applying for Kickstarter, a funding mechanism that he advises often as a teaching tool.
Say what? Roelofse first thought. “I had never done anything like this before … until Tim and I started talking about Kickstarter.”
The online funding concept exists to help bring creative projects to life. For more information, visit kickstarter.com.
Roelofse’s first project idea was to raise about $10,000 to hire a coach — something he’s never been able to afford.
That was refused by Kickstarter, as are many requests following a review process, according to Scales.
The two then discussed other creative ways to experience Kickstarter.
“Tim and I were exchanging ideas,” Roelofse says. “He asked if I had ever considered writing a book.”
The answer was no. But that quickly turned into a yes when Roelofse considered how his experiences could help teach good values to children: “We went from there,” he explains. “I like working with kids.”
Kickstarter said yes, too, to the book idea that would tell a positive life story while also offering educational components.
The book zoomed from idea to reality in about a month. Roelofse raised more than $1,000 above his goal of $2,300. His experience is a “great way to learn about Kickstarter,” Scales says. “With the new experience and knowledge, he can apply for another.”
Roelofse wrote text, gathered photographs and connected almost daily by phone or with Zoom with Scales, who compiled the pieces and worked with Kids At Heart Publishing of Milton, Indiana.
Scales had met owner Shelley Davis before at an open house. “It was a perfect opportunity for Ruan and it worked out perfectly to help a local business,” Scales says.
The book material came together smoothly. “I just asked him a few questions and he would give the information. It started leading into the story,” Scales explains.
“The initial ideas were easy,” Roelofse says. “The experience has been good for me.”
He credits Scales with pushing him to be creative and to make the book happen. “Tim has been really good to work with,” Roelofse continues. “He gave very good advice and was very impactful.”
The positive feelings are mutual: “Ruan has gone above and beyond with his project,” Scales says. “His learning has exceeded all expectations and the project impact is yet to come.”
They received a proof of the book in the second week of December. They presented their book at a virtual academic conference held January 6-8. Now they plan to take it into classrooms.
Roelofse values the connections he’s made through the online program: “It’s been enjoyable,” he says, but he misses connecting with faculty and students in person. “I wish it wasn’t all online.”
He is looking forward to May, when he plans to visit the campus in Richmond, to attend graduation, to visit with Scales and a few elementary school teachers with the book. He is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a minor in entrepreneurship.
Roelofse is another example of IU East’s highly successful connection with professional tennis organizations — the ATP for men and WTA for women — that help pay for players to take online classes.
Graduates include ATP professional tennis player Rajeev Ram, and eight WTA tennis players, including Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens.
Scales said many of the players know each other even if they live in different parts of the country — or world.
“It’s a small world,” he says. “They are super-dedicated, but have to be flexible. Each of them is excited to share in the teaching and learning experience.”