Parallel Passions

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Grit, stamina, drive.

These and other qualities are required for star athletes to thrive. But they’re also key to success in the classroom.

The four high-achieving individuals featured on the following pages – which provide a glimpse into UCI’s 313 talented student-athletes in 18 programs – say there are parallels between their sport of choice and their majors and career plans.

“My [pursuits] on and off the court are constantly intertwined,” says Dante Chakravorti, a standout volleyball setter and senior in computer science.

“I think a lot of great athletes are really great problem solvers,” he adds. “They come together, agree on a methodology for learning, and then pose questions and root out the answers.

“When I’m on the court, I need to problem-solve quickly, with variables that are moving much faster than changes in the classroom. The only way to be successful in this is to prepare thoroughly through study and practice – just like in the classroom.”

Student-athletes develop a multitude of applicable skills, agrees Alexis McDonald, the assistant athletic director for academic & student services at UCI and a former volleyball player at the University of Washington.

“We continuously see their competitive drive and determined mindset transfer over from their sport to the classroom,” she says. “As a student-athlete, environments are ever-changing, and we often find that their ability to adapt to most situations sets them apart from their peers. Their adaptability shows in the classroom as they communicate, problem-solve and take on leadership roles in group settings. The development of these transferable life skills throughout their collegiate career better prepares them for life after sports.”

Read on for more insights from exemplary student-athletes.

Shelby Lee

Hometown: Carlsbad, California

Major: Public health sciences

Year: Senior

Sport/positions played: Soccer/midfield and defense

Significant athletic achievement: 2018 Big West Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year

Fun factoid: She was an avid baseball player in her youth.

Mantra: “Sometimes you’re on top; stay humble. Sometimes you hit a low; stay hopeful.”

Shelby Lee’s achievements on the soccer field are a product of trying to keep up with two older brothers who were super athletic. (One of them, Slater, 24, plays professionally for the Oakland Athletics baseball team.)

Lee, 22, has grown into a soccer talent with a passion for working to improve the well-being of student-athletes nationwide.

For the last two years, she has served as the Big West representative on the NCAA’s Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

“It’s been an amazing experience and has allowed me to travel far and wide all over the country,” she says.

Meeting three or four times a year, Lee and other committee members discuss the lives of student-athletes and provide feedback on rules the NCAA is voting on. Last summer, she was the only student-athlete to sit on a panel at an NCAA convention to address the need for coming up with a uniform time management plan for student-athletes.

“I was able to tie the importance of a stable schedule for student-athletes to their overall mental health,” says Lee, who also has attended a U.S. Olympic Committee summit on sexual violence in sports.

She sees a strong parallel between playing soccer and nursing – her career goal. For two summers when Lee was in high school, she tended to seriously ill babies as an intern in the neonatal intensive care unit of the Tri-City Medical Center in northern San Diego County.

“It’s the teamwork aspect of it,” she says. “Everything that I’ve learned [playing soccer] as far as being a teammate in general and learning how to listen has really helped me. When you’re on the hospital floor, when you’re switching shifts, you have to check in with the nurse that was on the previous shift. You have to get in tune with what the doctors are saying. It’s a very team-oriented job.”

So is soccer.

“I definitely don’t want to close the door on it yet,” says Lee, who is applying to nursing schools. “In a perfect world, it would be great to play a couple of months abroad. If my soccer playing could line up with my nursing school timeline, that would be amazing.”


Dante Chakravorti

Hometown: Glencoe, Illinois

Major: Computer science

Year: Senior

Sport/positions played: Volleyball/setter

Significant athletic achievement: 2018 Big West Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year

Fun factoid: He plays the old computer game “Minesweeper” at least once a day on his cellphone. He’s pretty good.

Mantra: “Leave it better than you found it.”

Dante Chakravorti grew up eating a lot of Indian food. He also spent a lot of time in Italy every summer. That’s because his father is a native of India and his mother is from Italy.

It’s no surprise, then, the 21-year-old is keeping a global perspective about his plans for after he graduates from UCI this spring. Chakravorti is going to try to pursue volleyball professionally in Europe for at least a year before embarking on a career as a specialist in data science and artificial intelligence.

“I will get an agent and try to find a team that fits well with me and play a season and either try to move up the ranks over there or come back here and start working,” he says.

Chakravorti’s mother named him after the great poet Dante Alighieri, whose The Divine Comedy is considered the greatest literary work in the Italian language. Chakravorti admits he hasn’t read it yet, although his mother has read him excerpts.

He’s fascinated by AI and how it can be harnessed for the good of society: “Machine learning is a wonderful tool that we can use to take advantage of the ever-growing presence of data. As the world becomes flooded with sensors and trackers, we can use artificial intelligence to extract meaningful patterns from an ocean of information.”

Chakravorti, who’s particularly intrigued by the mental health applications of AI, presented a paper at a seminar in Singapore on detecting and characterizing trends in online discussions of the issue.

“Mental illness is a widespread public health concern – especially among people my age – that affects many individuals on a daily basis,” he says. “Increasingly, people are turning to social media to talk about their mental health. The result is a rich dataset of authentic discussions from which to draw insights.”

Chakravorti relishes the brainwork involved in his sport and major. “Both require a lot of problem-solving,” he says. “I think that’s what computer science and much of volleyball is about: problem-solving.

“Every point is its own little puzzle. You have things that you can do, and your opponents have things that they can do, and you’re trying to figure out how to win more of those little puzzles than the other team.”


Brianna Villanueva

Hometown: Atascadero, California

Major: Public health policy

Year: Junior

Sport/positions played: Track and field/hammer and discus

Significant athletic achievement: Her personal records are among the top 10 of all time at UCI.

Fun factoid: She loves to bake, a passion that began in high school. Lemon bars are a specialty.

Mantra: “Everything happens for a reason.”

Growing up in Atascadero, in San Luis Obispo County, Brianna Villanueva loved to play softball. Understandably,
she was crushed when she didn’t make the Atascadero High School girls softball team.

Out of that disappointment, however, eventually sprang big achievements in another sport.

Darvell Cullors, who coached Villanueva on the AHS girls basketball team and had a daughter who competed as a Division I discus thrower, told the teenager that she had the body type to excel in track and field’s discus and hammer events.

Cullors was right. Villanueva developed her skills and got even better at UCI. In the 2018 Big West Challenge, she logged personal bests in the discus (155 feet, 8 inches) and in the hammer (157 feet). The marks rank among the top 10 in UCI women’s track and field history.

Both types of throws are highly technical and require lower-body strength. Villanueva says hurling a discus or hammer is akin to ice skating, in which competitors performing, say, a triple axel spin the lower half of their bodies around before whipping their arms around and launching.

She too recognizes similarities between her sport and career: “They involve methods to refine little things. For instance, my sport requires a lot of fine-tuning to improve technique, and many times in public health, you’ll need to fine-tune policies to find something that works for all communities or people involved. You can’t always get it perfect, but that’s what we strive for.”

Villanueva says she’ll wait until the end of her discus and hammer competitions during her senior year before deciding whether to compete in post-collegiate throwing groups as she seeks a master’s degree in public health or healthcare administration.

The weightlifter, who likes to clear her head by running, is interested in preventing the spread of diseases in lower income communities. “I want people to be healthy and live better lives,” Villanueva says.

She believes that not many people are educated in how to maximize their personal health and well-being.

“I’m looking to educate those people and increase their knowledge of health and what steps they can take to reduce their chances of disease in the future,” she says. “If I can help make a difference, I want to be able to.”


Jonathan Galloway

Hometown: Brentwood, California

Major: Criminology, law & society

Year: First-year graduate student

Sport/positions played: Basketball/forward

Significant athletic achievement: Big West Defensive Player of the Year for three straight seasons; most rebounds (927) in program’s history

Fun factoid: Being half Chamorro (Guamanian), he plays for Guam’s national basketball team every year, traveling around the world to compete. So far, he’s been to Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and China.

Mantra: “Control what you can control.”

A defensive specialist who emerged this season as leader of UCI’s history-making men’s basketball team – which notched its first-ever win in the fabled March Madness NCAA tournament – Jonathan Galloway loves to slap away shots and pull down rebounds.

Off the court, he’s pursuing a career in which he’ll also be a “stopper” – a crime stopper. The future police officer, at 6-foot-10, certainly has the physical presence to intimidate would-be bad guys.

Galloway, 22, who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology, law & society at UCI in 2018 and is working on his master’s, continues to nurture his hoop dreams beyond the Anteaters.

This past season was Galloway’s last year on the team (he redshirted as a freshman and so was able to play one year as a graduate student). His coaches have said that he’s definitely pro material.

“I’m trying to get an agent right now and play professionally for as long as I can,” he says. “I see myself in Europe.”

His father, Kenny, who died a few years ago, was a correctional officer in the Bay Area – where Galloway grew up – for more than 15 years. And Galloway has several other relatives in law enforcement.

“I just really want to work with the community,” he says. “That’s the appeal of it.”

Galloway interned for UCI Public Safety during the spring quarter of 2018. “I took a lot of bike theft reports,” says Galloway, who as an Anteater logged 13 steals on the court in the 2018-19 season himself. He says he enjoyed the daily interactions between officers and students.

“The men and women of that department use every opportunity they have to make a positive impact on the community,” Galloway notes. “This is something that reinforced my aspirations to become a police officer in the future.”

He says this year was so epic for Anteater basketball that it’s difficult to pinpoint just one defining moment.

“If I had to, I’d pick upsetting Kansas State during the NCAA Tournament. Once the buzzer went off, so many different emotions began to overwhelm my teammates and me. Being able to reach our goal of advancing in the tournament was special. That was something we set out to do before the season even started,” Galloway says.

“Having the whole university and the community of Irvine behind us made the win that much better. Accomplishing that with our team is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of UCI Magazine.