Student Athletes

From lab coats to layup lines, Houghton student-athletes are majoring in science and sport


When women’s soccer and track standout Alyssa Figueroa begins the process of applying to medical schools next year, she will join a long list of Houghton College student-athletes who have pursued careers in the science and medical fields. She will also be adding a few more tasks to an already full daily schedule.

That’s nothing new to the junior from Piscataway, N.J., who says that a busy schedule is what has helped her to succeed both in the classroom and on the field.

“Sport has made me manage my time better. I was a three-sport athlete in high school. I never experienced school without sports until the spring semester of my freshman year. That semester I saw a decrease in my grades,” says Figueroa, who was named an NCCAA All-America Scholar-Athlete following the fall soccer season. “’I’m disciplined enough to know that the little free time I had had to be used intelligently. The more free time I had, the more time I wasted. The more time I had with practice, the more I was structured. Also, when I can use my physical energy, I have more focus. That’s why I joined track my sophomore year [to give me something to do in the spring semester].”

While her accomplishments have been impressive, Figueroa’s story is similar to the 38 other Houghton student-athletes who are currently majoring in one of the science disciplines or among the 650 science and math alumni who played sports at Houghton and are now excelling in their careers.

At Houghton, student-athletes have found a place where they are encouraged to pursue both their career aspirations in the sciences and their passion for sport. It’s not a choice of one or the other.

“At many schools, students are forced to make a decision between academics and athletics, between science and sports,” says Keith Horn, associate dean for natural sciences and mathematics. “At Houghton we have found a way to make it work. The relationship between the sciences and the athletic department is a distinctive of the program here."

Finding time to fit it all in is still a challenge, but volleyball student-athlete Chelsea Hafner looked for those little moments in the day to get her work done. “I definitely had my to-do list and I was always sure to get things done before it was due,” says Hafner, who graduated in December and has started the doctor of physical therapy program at Northeastern University. “If something came up I’d have extra time to work on it. I always made sure I knew where I needed to be and when I needed to be there. I made sure if we went on a long weekend trip that I would bring stuff I could work on on the bus or in the hotel. Make sure you are using those hours.”

Brennen Campbell’s involvement with the men’s basketball program means his schedule is pretty full from mid-October to mid-February. The sophomore Science Honors student appreciates how some of his classes involve larger hands-on projects that bring the real-world into the classroom. But many of those projects also bring deadlines that are weeks down the road. “Instead of having homework each day, we’d have things due in a week. You have to balance your time well. You can’t wait until the last day,” says the physics and business double major. “I have most of my classes in the morning, go to lunch, then go right to practice. Knowing the time I had throughout the day, I would plan to get things done in hour blocks. I knew I had to use an hour here or there to get things done.

Figueroa says that while hard work is important to her success, she owes much appreciation to her teammates, especially since several are also biology majors. “The upperclassmen have gone through the same thing as you. You see each other every day, you form close relationships. We start our practices with prayer and we have team devotions. It’s always a good source of encouragement. You have people to lift you up and encourage you.”

“Academics have to be first, but sports are often the balancers in life. They help a student release their energy, create lifelong friendships and create lifelong patterns of exercise and health,” adds Horn. “Athletics is a balancing factor and a great learning experience. Our goal is to create science professionals that will be balanced and ultimately incredibly useful in God’s kingdom.”