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Nayla Abney: STEM and Soccer Standout

Nayla Abney: STEM and Soccer Standout


Sports give you the opportunity to learn
some real life lessons about hard work, dedication, time management.
And you really make close friends and different relationships with people that
you may not have made before. You come out here and
everyone’s on the same playing field. You don’t have to worry about different
economic backgrounds or racial backgrounds
or cultural backgrounds. Nothing can stop you from getting better.
So you can really make it your own and go out and play something
that you enjoy and just focus on that. I was introduced to soccer because that’s basically what every kid did – at least once – in South Jersey. I would go to my garage, especially during the winter and just stand there and juggle
or go my basement and juggle. It’s satisfying: just you and the ball. My favorite subject was chemistry. But Caltech wasn’t on my radar because
at the time when I was applying for schools they did not have a (women’s) soccer team.
And I wanted the academic and the soccer. I already went out to MIT
multiple times, and I got into both early action, so actually it was a pretty stressful time.
Like, “Where do I want to be?” I got an email from Taylor saying that it was going to be our inaugural soccer year for Caltech And she came and had dinner with my family and Taylor’s a character, so we all just kind of fell in love –
a love at first sight kind of thing. This is the only school I applied to on the West Coast, and my mom was like
“No, you’re not going to California, not at all…” Coming out to Caltech for the first time was in January. I remember coming out of the airport and seeing the palm trees and she’s like, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind visiting California, especially in the winter.” They love it out here now,
and they especially love to see how I’ve adjusted here and made
friends that truly care about me. It’s a pretty special place,
considering how small Caltech is. When you’re working with your professors or in class,
they actually know who you are. It’s very easy to email them,
like “can I stop by your office?” Or just talk with them after class; talk
about their research or what you want to do. Being on campus with Frances Arnold
is definitely a unique experience. When everyone learned that she won the Nobel Prize, there was a little bit of excitement in the air. It makes you realize – “I am actually
in a place where important things are happening!” It puts you in a position to talk with
these people that are doing crazy things in their fields and to do that yourself one day. It’s just very humbling, honestly. Soccer is important because it teaches
me not to give up when something gets tough, or to go get some help from somewhere
or to look for other people. I mean, with team sports you have to rely on others. Oh I love the group of girls I play with. They’re just fun and goofy and a silly group, but at the same time, we’re all there to work and get better.
Especially since we all respect Taylor. She constantly reminds us – this is the foundation, these are the building blocks for something of our own to build and to create a lasting effect. It’s still intimidating sometimes,
but I am not afraid of the challenge.

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