Most students and faculty would agree that the most appealing feature of Mount St. Joseph University is the opportunity for professors and students to build deeper connections on both personal and professional levels. Many of the professors at the Mount have experiences that transcend their classroom learning, which allows them to teach students about life, just as much as the course curriculum. One of these professors who has a very fascinating background is Associate Professor of Music, Ulli Brinksmeier.
Brinksmeier grew up in a rural part of Germany in the state of Westphalia, which is in Northwest Germany, near Hanover. The area she was raised in was so small that it didn’t have its own high school. This required Brinksmeier to take public transportation to the next town to attend school, a practice quite common in Germany. She describes German high schools as “liberal arts-oriented.”
At a young age, Brinksmeier showed promise as a talented swimmer, so much so that she nearly competed for Germany in the Olympic Games. For the 1972 Olympic qualifying meet, the German swimmers stayed with French families, but due to tensions between the nations and a potential language barrier, she didn’t have a very close relationship with her host family.
The day she was set to qualify for the Olympics, Brinksmeier slept in while recovering from a travel day and made it to the pool just in time for her race to begin. She started the race off very strong but she didn’t realize how shallow the pool was, so she hit the ground on her flip and ultimately missed qualifying to compete in the Olympic Games by half of one second.
Once her competitive swimming career was over, Brinksmeier turned her attention to the classroom. She began by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Music Education before completing her Master’s Degree in Harp Performance at the Julliard School of Music. When she moved to the United States, she began working in New York, then moved to Los Angeles, where she continued to perform, teach, and work for a harp company. She would later move to Houston, Texas, before settling in the tristate.
Brinksmeier began working towards her Doctorate Degree at Indiana University, but before she finished, the University of Cincinnati offered her a position, where she was the chair of the harp department for 12 years. Since then, she has not only worked at the University of Cincinnati and Mount St. Joseph University, but also Xavier University. Brinksmeier’s performing career ended years ago due to “repetitive motion syndrome,” so she now focuses entirely on teaching others her art.
In 1990 Brinksmeier joined the College of Mount St. Joseph as an adjunct professor, before becoming a full-time faculty member 20 years ago. Brinksmeier told me that her favorite thing about Mount St. Joseph University is the “small class sizes where I get to know everybody and I actually feel like I can help. I get bored easily, but every semester here is different.” Much like her high school that taught a liberal arts curriculum, Brinksmeier told me that Mount St. Joseph University “teaches you to become a critical thinker and problem solver.”
Brinksmeier’s story doesn’t end in the classroom, although that is the place she calls home throughout the week. As she begins to tell me about her latest passion, she points to a wall in her office that is already filled with medals. When she quit smoking four years ago, she began running to “clean out the lungs.” Her first race was the Jingle Bell Run 5K, which tracks through Downtown Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. On this particular day, the forecast called for freezing rain and miserable running conditions. She wondered if this would be her first and last competitive race. It wasn’t. She ran her first half-marathon two years ago, and last year she ran five half-marathons.
Her next half-marathon is the Oklahoma City Memorial Half-Marathon and she intends on running in Cincinnati’s Flying Pig, in addition to others. Who knows? Maybe she will begin running full marathons or even the Boston Marathon someday. Maybe she will find a new passion and pursue that rigorously. Whatever lies in the next chapter of the made-for-movie life of Ulli Brinksmeier, I’m sure it will be anything but ordinary.
Photo: Brinksmeier poses in front the medals she received for participating in multiple half-marathons.