Alyssa Heintschel and Carley Shannon have chosen to further their academic careers — and they've earned some assistance in doing so. 

With the help of the NCAA, the pair of Ball State student-athletes will be attending graduate schools for an affordable price, as they were each selected for prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships. They will each receive a $7,500 scholarship toward the graduate degree program of their choice.

The NCAA awards up to 175 postgraduate scholarships each year across all divisions, allowing student-athletes to attend an accredited graduate program. The candidates are evaluated on their academic and athletic achievement, campus involvement, community service, volunteer activities and demonstrated leadership.

Ball State University, Photo Courtesy

“It’s just such a reward for all of the hard work and dedication that I’ve put into my last four years,” Heintshel said.” I know soccer took up a big chunk of my time, but at the same time, my academics were really important because I knew I was in a competitive major.”

Heintschel, a chemistry pre-med major, just finished her senior season with Ball State soccer as a goalkeeper. A two-time Academic All-American, the Oregon, Ohio, native capped her last season as the winningest goalkeeper in school history with 35 career victories. She recorded a 0.77 goals against average in her four years as a Cardinal, which set a school record.

Aside from the work Heintschel dedicates to soccer and to the classroom, balancing everything became a skill of its own.

“It was hard at times, it really was. Especially when we’d get in season, traveling all the time, practicing all the time,” Heintschel said. “I felt like I sometimes didn’t really have time to breath with all the things I had to do. But like I said, I knew what was important to me and what my priorities were, and was always making sure that I was staying on top of things and took everything as it came.”

Heintschel, a three-year team captain, led Ball State to a pair of Mid-American Conference regular season championships and three West Division titles in her four years. She was also one of five players in the country named to the Senior CLASS Award First Team for women’s soccer.  

Putting the scholarship to use, Heintschel was accepted into med school at Oakland University in Michigan and will start classes at the William Beaumont School of Medicine in the fall.

Because she says she has “a personality that is conducive to work with little kids,” Heintschel has a plan in the works for when she finishes med school.

“I see myself probably going into some type of pediatric specialty,” she said. “I might change my mind down the road and I’m open to the possibility that I might find something I’m better suited for, but for now, I think that’s where I see my fit.”

Ball State University, Photo Courtesy

The other awardee was Shannon, a student-athlete who earned four letters as a player for Ball State field hockey, while boasting a 3.99 GPA as an exercise science major.

Shannon filled out the scholarship application already planning to attend graduate school at Ball State to further her education in the exercise physiology program. When it came to applying for the scholarship, it was a rigorous process.

“You had to make this whole list of voluntary things that you’ve participated in over the last four years,” Shannon said. “You had to add up every hour that you’ve done, and make a list of your academic and athletic awards and achievements. It took a long time and there was also a personal statement that you had to write that explained who you were and what this scholarship means to you.”

Shannon was in the office of one of the professors who wrote her a letter of recommendation for the application when she found out she had won the scholarship.

“I was just kind of checking my email and it was from like just someone’s name, it didn’t say like the NCAA,” Shannon said. “I had to read it like a couple of times to make sure it said what I thought it said. It was real exciting to just be able to share that moment with her.”

Shannon also earned the scholarship through her performance on the field hockey field. She served as team co-captain as a junior, and an All-MAC Second Team selection as a senior, Shannon led the Cardinals with a total of nine points last fall on three goals and three assists.

The midfielder from Williamsburg, Virginia, was named Academic All-MAC and was chosen as a MAC Distinguished Scholar Athlete in each of her final three seasons.

However, Shannon doesn’t have to retire her field hockey cleats just yet.

“Instead of playing [next season], I’m going to be volunteer coaching,” Shannon said. “I’m still going to be in the program and am helping coach in the spring, and I’ll do it for two years. I’ll have two and a half years of experience, so I’m really excited to be able to stay with it.”

Shannon’s enthusiasm for field hockey also shows in the drive she puts toward her school work. Come fall, Shannon will take on the task of balancing the two, just like she did during her undergraduate degree.

“I’m going to be doing a lot of research things, but I’m not exactly sure of what I want to do after these two years,” Shannon said. “I have two years to figure it out, but I love coaching and I don’t mind the research part. I guess we’ll just see in two years, where life takes me.

Heintschel and Shannon were chosen by the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship Committee, which includes faculty athletics representatives, athletics administrators and a conference commissioner.

Ball State had three student-athletes earn postgraduate scholarships last year. They were awarded to a trio of male athletes made up of swimmer Tanner Barton, tennis player Matt Helm and baseball player Caleb Stayton.

“Alyssa and I both got it in the fall … two women,” Shannon said. “I know the last three were men, so it’s a good change. “

Ball State has grabbed five of the nine NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships awarded to student-athletes in the MAC over the past two years. As Heintschel and Shannon start their new journeys after graduation this May, the pair appreciates the steps they’ve taken to earn the scholarship in more ways than one.

“I think it has shaped my personality, shaped how I handle things and how I perceive things,” Heintschel said. “It’s given me a work ethic that I think a lot of people don’t have the chance to develop without having this huge part of your life consumed by something else.”

Michelle Kaufman contributed to this story. 

Contact Kara Biernat with comments at karabiernat@gmail.com or on Twitter at @karabiernat.