She could have taken an easier path, but the former Penn volleyball star Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan elected to embark upon a more difficult journey... and its rewards will last a lifetime.
As one of the driving forces behind three straight Ivy League titles for the Penn volleyball team, Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan was no stranger to seeing her name in print. Now the former Quaker standout is preparing to continue seeing that happen... only this time in bylines.
Kwak-Hefferan -- now a first-year graduate student in the prestigious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago -- is pursuing her Master's Degree in Magazine Journalism in preparation for a career as an environmental journalist.
Writing is far from a new pursuit for Kwak-Hefferan. In addition to her success as a decorated volleyball player, she spent time as a general assignment reporter and a columnist for the Daily Pennsylvanian while an undergraduate.
One column she penned as a junior had Kwak-Hefferan defending her decision to enroll at Penn as a high-caliber athlete.
"Why be a Penn athlete when you could take your pick from any number of jock-friendly schools vying for your attention?" she asked in the article. "To put it plainly, we're good. Not just good as in competitive, not just good as in we give ?em a run for their money, good as in we win."
Kwak-Hefferan's article was in response to the attitudes of many of her high school teammates in Wheaton, Ill., who took an easier path at the more "jock-friendly schools." Kwak-Hefferan chose the more difficult path.
"It was kind of a generic response to a reaction I seemed to get a lot," Kwak-Hefferan said, reflecting on the article. "I don't want to overstate it, because I know many people DO realize how great the Ivy League teams are, but it was kind of something that was always on my mind."
While Kwak-Hefferan was jokingly accused by her editor for producing propaganda for the sports department, her fellow athletes and coaches appreciated her words. But she wasn't spouting hyperbole with her high praise of her teammates. Her team had the resume to prove it.
In Kwak-Hefferan's tenure, Penn volleyball had a 42-7 Ivy League record and claimed conference titles in 2001, 2002 and 2003. In her senior season, she was the unanimous coaches' choice as the Ivy League Player of the Year and even received honorable-mention All-America honors. The three-time first-team All-Ivy selection left her mark as the school's all-time leader with 1,298 kills.
While dominating the court and covering campus issues, Kwak-Hefferan excelled in the classroom as well. Like spiking around a block or predicting the actions of an opposing hitter, she learned to hone her skills in the difficult task of balancing athletics and academics.
"It wasn't always easy, but I made it work," Kwak-Hefferan said. "I got really good at managing my time and I never procrastinated or anything. Sometimes there were days where I'd have to sacrifice free time or relaxing in order to get everything done, but usually I was able to fit everything in and still be able to catch my breath."
Not only did she make it work, she rose to rare heights as a three-time Academic All-Ivy selection and two-time Verizon Academic All-American. Kwak-Hefferan was also one of 29 female student-athletes in the nation to receive an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship in 2004, which is now being put to use at Northwestern.
Kwak-Hefferan chose to return to school -- and to refine her journalism skills -- after finding difficulty to break into the field without a degree. In her perfect world, the outdoor enthusiast would love to spend nine months of the year as a freelance writer for a nature publication, such as National Geographic, and the other three months as a park ranger.
Either way, expect the hard-hitting Quaker to make her mark.
— Josi Carlson