Seniors Lead Willamette Swimmers in the Classroom as well as in the Pool

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University men's and women's swimming teams include seven seniors who are providing leadership not only in the pool, but also in the classroom. As the Bearcats prepare for the Northwest Conference Championships, set for Feb. 8-10 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash., it is the intelligence and competitiveness of the seniors that sets the standard for the rest of each Willamette squad.

“There’s seven of them (seniors),” said Willamette Head Coach Al Stephenson, “so it’s a huge part of our team. The different roles and the different capabilities that they’ve shown … mentoring, handling their homework, leadership qualities ... kind of exemplify the whole team.”

With the NWC Championships just a few days away, this is an important week for the Willamette swimming teams. As squad members prepare for their individual events and relay races, they are inspired by the seniors, whose leadership has extended beyond fast-paced heats, rapid flip-turns and personal-best times to include success in the classroom. The seniors have set a great example for this year's underclassmen and future members of the swimming teams.

In the pool, the team has three captains -- all seniors -- who provide the motivation and teamwork that helped nearly every swimmer achieve career bests this season. The captains are Greg Henselman (Corvallis, OR/Kamiak HS), Shannon Gima (Alameda, CA/Lick-Wilmerding HS) and Brittany Thiemens (Bellevue, WA/Bellevue HS). Encouraged by the captains, most of Willamette's swimmers have lowered their times in recent weeks, as they began to focus on the NWC Championships.

"The seniors have shown the dedication to see the time drops that we’ve seen," Stephenson noted. “They’ve set the bar as far as what the expectations are … they understand my thinking process better than the freshmen or sophomores.”

Stephenson also noted that the seniors have faces various types of adversity, whether missing a semester while studying in a foreign country or battling back from injuries. Regardless, they continue to provide leadership and to practice and compete with determination.

“They’ve all overcome something because they love the sport, because they want to compete,” Stephenson said.”

What makes Willamette's seniors even more special is their commitment to success outside of the pool. The senior class includes three student-athletes who have studied abroad, plus three other student-athletes who plan to attend graduate school.

“They have shown the capacity to understand time management … realizing that they may not reach their full potential as athletes, but understanding the importance of an education to the rest of their lives.”

As juniors a year ago, Lindsay Mumm (Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS), Bridget Sutherland (Everett, WA/Everett HS) and Chelsea Hollingsworth (Portland, OR/Woodrow Wilson HS) each spent one semester studying abroad. Mumm studied in Nicaragua during the fall semester, while Sutherland went to Ireland and Hollingsworth traveled to Australia during the spring.

Mumm went to Nicaragua through a program with the School for International Training. She studied Spanish and Nicaraguan history and culture in a classroom setting and also conducted interview with youngsters in Nicaragua to find out about their community awareness and political awareness.

“It was incredible,” Mumm said. “I’m much more self-confident now. I was able to connect with people, even though I came from a different mindset.

Mumm will travel to Chile in March of 2009 to participate in a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship program. She will study in a university setting and will coordinate community service projects involving local Rotary Clubs in Chile.

Hollingsworth also mentioned the advantages of meeting new people from different cultures. She was a resident student at the University of Western Australia, where she studied in classes, immersed herself in the local culture and traveled to various scenic and historical locations. The University of Western Australia featured students from Australia, as well as Africa and the Far East.

“There were large classes,” Hollingsworth said. “We had to find our own motivation as opposed to the smaller classes at Willamette.

“It was great to be in another culture,” Hollingsworth added. “I was able to meet a lot of Australians. And, it was nice that they spoke English.”

Henselman, Pete Kahn (Billings, MT/Billings HS) and Thiemens all plan to attend graduate school after completing their bachelor's degrees at Willamette. Henselman is currently majoring in Classical Studies and Mathematics. Kahn is majoring in Physics and Spanish, and Thiemens is completing a major in Exercise Science.

“I’m probably going to Oregon Graduate Institute (OGI) in Portland,” Kahn said. “I did an internship their last summer." He plans to work toward a doctorate in Environmental Science and Engineering.

Kahn has faced some particular challenges as a student-athlete because of science classes relating to his major in Physics. Even so, he’s managed to maintain his academic standing while competing for the swimming team.

“The hardest thing for me has been trying to balance the labs with practices,” Kahn acknowledged. “I need to have a schedule and stick to it … get all of my homework done right after practice, so I don’t have to stay up late and can be ready to practice the next day.”

Thiemens also indicated how important it was to manage her time.

“Al (Stephenson) told all of us since our freshman year that we’re here for academics. It just takes enough will power … to make sacrifices when you need to in order to do well in your classes. We have someone in almost every major (on the swim team). So, if you’re having trouble, it’s like having your own private tutor.”

Henselman was one of just two Willamette students selected as Presidential Scholars last spring. He received a $2,500 academic scholarship to assist with a research project during the summer of 2007. His research involved "Extending the Diagnostic Applications of Graph Representations," and was sponsored by Erin McNicholas, assistant professor of mathematics at Willamette. As a Presidential Scholar, Henselman also has received an additional scholarship to cover tuition for one semester or to help with graduate school expenses.

“It’s a tremendous honor for Greg,” Stephenson said. “Obviously, he’s very intelligent. He’s very articulate, very passionate about his studies … passionate about everything he does. He’s just that kind of person.”

“It takes about half a year to prepare," Henselman said regarding the process of writing a research proposal as part of applying for the Presidential Scholarship. “It helps to have a faculty advisor. First, I had to research the problem thoroughly. My Willamette experiences up to that point went into the process. Everything really came together.”

Henselman’s research involved the study of polygons, multi-sided figures that can be as simple as a square or as complicated as a shape with hundreds of sides. Henselman sought to find appropriate mathematical approaches to determine the characteristics of shapes created by connecting the sides of polygons with even-numbered sides (2, 4, 6, etc.)

Although his research was complicated and time-consuming, Henselman said the experience was valuable and left him with an even greater interest in mathematics.

“You do first-hand research and you encounter all of the problems that as an undergraduate you don’t deal with,” Henselman said. “A big part was coming up with language to say what I was talking about.”

Thiemens indicated that she plans to work toward an advanced degree in physical therapy. She has already advanced to the interview stage with one graduate program and is waiting to hear back from another.

“I hope to be starting this fall … three more years” she said. “My only regret is that we can’t have our eligibility start over. I’d love to swim again.”

Brittany Theimens, an Exercise Science major, is seeded fifth among all entries in the women's 100-yard freestyle at this weekend's NWC Championships.

Brittany Theimens, an Exercise Science major, is seeded fifth among all entries in the women's 100-yard freestyle at this weekend's NWC Championships.

Willamette's seven seniors were honored prior to WU's final home meet of the season on Jan. 19.

Willamette's seven seniors were honored prior to WU's final home meet of the season on Jan. 19.

Chelsea Hollingsworth studies abroad in Nicaragua.

Chelsea Hollingsworth studies abroad in Nicaragua.

Greg Henselman was one of two Willamette students named Presidential Scholars last spring.

Greg Henselman was one of two Willamette students named Presidential Scholars last spring.