A Delicate Balance:
When the Gator Soccer team won the National Championship last year over perennial title-holder UNC, all eyes focused on UF and its outstanding women's athletics. Whether you talk about soccer, volleyball, basketball, swimming, tennis, track or any of the other Lady Gator teams, UF shines, and has for years. Lady Gator sports have amassed too many SEC championships to list, and consistently give strong NCAA performances. UF team members go on to the Olympics and professional play. But beyond the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, Lady Gators also happen to be some of UF's most valuable students. Below, three Lady Gators talk with Alumni CLASnotes about the special challenges of balancing athletics and academics.
CLAS junior Angie Olson loves a good mystery. "Ever since I was little, I've been fascinated with detective work and cop shows." So when women's soccer coach Becky Burleigh invited the Lake Mary native to join UF's soccer program, the opportunity to major in the top-notch CLAS criminology program made her decision easy. "My criminology courses are so exciting," says Olson, who hopes to become a private investigator after graduation. "I've always wanted to do this kind of work."
Research Methods, Angie's favorite class, has offered her the chance to hone and practice her detective skills. This semester, for example, she conducted a study on the so-called "talking floor" of the CSE library. "We observed the actions and conversations of students studying on this floor to look for clues about their motivations; to determine, for instance, whether they were there to study or to socialize."
This kind of hands-on work, however, can't replace the thrill of contact sports. Angie calls her team's 1998 National Championship victory game the highlight of her career with the Lady Gators. Unfortunately, Olson was forced to watch the historic match from the sidelines. After tearing her ACL tendon, she was red-shirted last season in order to undergo surgery and physical therapy. Though she'll play again this spring, the optimistic athlete admits, "Once away for a while, you really miss it."
Like many student athletes, Olson's schedule is packed, and as a result, she has learned the value of acquiring good time management and organizational skills. "The busier I am, the more I accomplish. I keep lists and check things off each day to get everything done." Team travel can mean missing classes and exams, but fortunately, the Athletic Association and the CLAS Academic Advising Center offer valuable support. "Our academic advisors are wonderful. They help us iron out any scheduling conflicts at the very beginning of the semester. As long as you're organized, instructors are very accommodating, too."
Olson attributes her success to hard work and determination. But her ability to work well with others and to handle stress may have as much to do with her spiritual growth as with her intellectual growth. Despite her demanding schedule, she attends a Fellowship of Christian Athlete's (FCA) Bible study dinner every week. The future P.I.'s commitment to the group is no mystery. "It's really helpful for me to get this other perspective of my fellow athletes off the field," she says.
If the name of a town says anything about the people who live in it, it's easy to see why Niceville, Florida native Candace Cunningham would be recognized for her kindness as much as for her athleticism. "She's the 'team mama'," says basketball coach Carol Ross, "They appreciate her nurturing and her caring personality." Cunningham laughs at the description, but it's obvious the feeling is mutual. "Coach Ross is like my mom--I can tell her anything. She's really supportive of me. My teammates are like my sisters."
Cunningham's willingness to give extends beyond the court and into the community where she volunteers what little time she has. "I really enjoy community service. I helped with the Special Olympics, which was really fun. Last year I went to a school for students with discipline problems and talked to them."
She currently volunteers for Step by Step, a program that provides mentors for at-risk youths. Apparently, her altruism is rubbing off. "The Athletic Association requires each of us to volunteer two hours per semester, but our team averages 20."
Cunningham starred on her high school squad where she holds the all-time school record for rebounds and blocked shots. Since coming to UF in 1997, she has concentrated on improving her strength and conditioning. Considered an invaluable member of the squad, coaches expect Candace to see more action as she continues adapting to physical play. "When I gain a little more weight, I'll have more playing time," she explains. "I'm really looking forward to getting out on the court again."
But Cunningham is making the most of it. She credits her solid work ethic and determined attitude to her experience on the UF team. "It's a great opportunity. I don't just learn about basketball. I learn discipline, time management, and how to work under pressure. I get a lot of life lessons from being on the team." Described as "an intelligent player" who "brings depth to the forward position," Cunningham successfully balances her intellectual and athletic activities. "I've always been an athlete. In high school I'd go to class, practice, then go play. I always had to balance it out, so I think I'm pretty good at it."
That training, coupled with Cunningham's natural pragmatism, has evidently prepared her for the challenges of college life. A sophomore majoring in criminology, Cunningham admits she could have gone anywhere to play basketball. "I chose UF because of the academics. That's the most important thing to me," she says.
If Cunningham's present seems well-designed, her future is even more so. "I'm going to graduate from law school, be part of a law firm, do that for eight to ten years, get my own firm, then run for judge. I've been wanting to do that since the seventh grade."
When asked what brought her to the University of Florida, Illinois native Katie Townsend laughs and replies, "the weather." Then the CLAS track athlete admits her real reason for coming to Gainesville had more to do with academics. "I was recruited by several schools, but Florida was the one university I'd have wanted to go to even if I didn't run track," she says. "I knew I'd receive a quality education and have a lot of opportunities here."
A discus and hammer thrower, Townsend feels fortunate to be a Lady Gator athlete. "It has given me a chance to meet many people--I have track and field friends all over the country. Playing sports at this level has also shown me that hard work and perseverance pay off," a lesson that has obviously spilled over into her academic life at CLAS.
Katie was attracted to CLAS right away: "I knew I would get a broad base of knowledge in Liberal Arts and Sciences," she explains. She eventually chose to major in geography because it incorporated many of her interests, including economics, travel and international relations. But the major has also exposed her to new and unexpected areas. "I've pursued far more physical science courses than I thought I would," she admits, "and I've ended up loving quantitative analysis, a subject that originally scared me to death."
Because she came to UF with a number of college credits earned in high school and was red-shirted her freshman track season, Katie has two years of eligibility left despite her academic classification as "senior." This puts her in the unique position of being able to maintain her athletic scholarship throughout a two-year master's program. Katie's current research on prairie grass, which she plans to take to the annual CLAS Undergraduate Research Symposium, will eventually form the subject of her senior honors thesis. She hopes to continue this and other work on the preservation and restoration of native ecosystems at the graduate level.
Katie credits excellent teaching for her success in CLAS. She mentions specifically Mike Binford (featured in the Fall 97 Alumni CLASnotes), who introduced her to the high-tech skills used in Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing. Impressed with Townsend's ability, Binford has already signed on as her graduate advisor.
Despite her commitment to athletics and academics, Katie has found time to become active in other campus activities. She is the vice-president of the geography club (The Gamma Theta Upsilon honor society), and she gives campus tours as a member of the Florida Cicerones. "Leading tours actually expands my knowledge of Florida geography, as I learn where a lot of places in the state are from tour participants." How does she manage it all? Like the other Lady Gators we spoke with, Katie insists, "it's all about time management. I'm busy, but I have a lot of fun."
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In this Issue:
Note from the Dean
Spotlight on Research
Around the College
Glad to Be Back in Gator Country
Faculty in the News
Alumni CLASnotes is published twice a year by the University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for its alumni and friends. Please send all correspondence to the Editor, 2014 Turlington Hall, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611 or e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dean, Willard W. Harrison
Senior Director of Development, L. Carter Boydstun
Associate Director of Development, Jennifer Denault
Editor, M. Jane Gibson
Assistant Editor, Ronee Saroff
Designer (Print), Summit Design, Inc.
Technical Assistance (Web), Jane Dominguez
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida is the largest college on campus, with 668 faculty members and the teaching responsibility of more than 17,000 students. CLAS offers 36 degrees in 22 departments and is home to 31 centers and institutes including The Center for Excellence in Teaching, The Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research and The Center for African Studies. CLAS occupies more than 500,000 square feet in 21 buildings.