Student Government Association President and OLLU women’s soccer captain Rachel Dziuba recently completed a remote internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of the TExAS FAST grant.
A Biomathematics and Environmental Science and Sustainability double major, Dziuba worked from San Antonio with a data scientist in Washington, D.C., Dr. Gianna Short, to create a model to use climate change projections to predict loan risk for borrowers.
“The first step in this was to model climate factors on crop yields,” she said. “We worked with weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and crop yield data from the USDA and created maps, plots, and regression models using RStudio.”
Dziuba learned coding and immersed herself in the data science field. She received a stipend through a USDA grant awarded to OLLU.
“Working with Dr. Short was amazing as well,” Dziuba said. “She was a really great person to learn from and work with, and I definitely learned a lot during this summer. This internship was extremely rewarding because I learned so much about coding and got some insight about what I want to do in the future, mainly including incorporating coding and science together.”
Most agree that being a college student is hard work. There is the demanding coursework, plus the independence and the responsibility that all go toward success beyond high school.
Some may also agree that playing sports in college is even more challenging. Being a student-athlete means one has to juggle practice schedules, traveling and playing games with attending classes and classwork. Student-athletes at OLLU and most universities must maintain at least a 2.5 GPA to be eligible to play and retain their academic aid and scholarships. Plus, student-athletes who are on scholarships can’t afford to fall behind in their schoolwork.
Two students who are athletes at OLLU have chosen to add a third element to their college experience – the role of a student leader.
Liliana Briseno, who finished out her four years on the soccer team in the fall, is a First-Year Connections Executive Leader. She has been involved with the Student Leadership and Development (SLD) sector at OLLU since February 2020.
Completing her second year on the soccer team in the fall, Rachel Dziuba is the Student Government Association (SGA) president. She has been part of SGA since the fall of her freshmen year as the Director of Records and Finance and then as the Vice President.
Both student-leadership positions for Briseno and Dziuba are paid. They work up to 14 hours a week during the school year and up to 25 hours during summer.
Briseno’s duties with First-Year Connections include introducing and connecting students to campus resources and services, developing a sense of belonging among the university community, providing experiential learning opportunities to support the holistic development and transition to college life and acting as a supportive resource aiding OLLU’s strategic plans for recruitment and retention.
Dziuba mainly focuses on being a voice for the student body, providing an avenue for students to get involved through student organizations. She does this through attending meetings as the SGA representative and working with her team to plan events, e.g., town halls and Club Rush. She also attends the Board of Trustees meetings as the students’ representative.
She says that she was looking for an on-campus job. Dziuba said, “There was an opening in SGA. I really enjoyed the people in the office, and I was glad for the opportunity to represent students, especially during the pandemic.”
Briseno had an off-campus job for a while, but she realized that her work schedule was not working for her, so she started to look for an on-campus position. “That’s when I received an email about SLD hiring. I went to an informational where I spoke with the SLD assistant coordinator, and soon after that, I applied for the position.” Her skills in talking to people were vital, and she “didn’t mind putting myself out there when the situation called for it; it felt like this position would encompass all of that and more.” At the informational, she felt welcomed and encouraged, and she knew she wanted to be around that kind of environment.
Having excellent time management was a plus for Dziuba, juggling athletics, academics and student leadership. “I try to write everything down that I have to get done to keep track of the meetings, work, and practice hours. It keeps me organized.” She also tries to plan out her schoolwork and spread it out across the week so she doesn’t leave it all to the end of the week. “Additionally, I use practice, games, hanging out with teammates and yoga as stress relievers,” Dziuba said.
For Briseno, it is all about prioritizing different deadlines or agendas depending on what is going on during the week and making sure that she communicates to all parties when any conflict comes up. “It also helps to have had teammates (Dziuba, Tess Pitcher, Kyleigh Spree-Kolos and Olivia Eagleson) work with me because we all can relate to each other,” Briseno explains.
Briseno has been a Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) Scholar-Athlete throughout each year at OLLU. In 2018, she was named to the RRAC All-Tournament team, and in 2018, 2019 and 2021, she was named her team’s Champions of Character representative. Her career stats are as follows: 65 games, one goal, two assists, 28 shots and 21 shots on goal. She currently has a 3.875 GPA.
Head Coach Arthur Salazar said, “Lili has been a great asset, not just to the soccer program but also to our campus community. Her willingness to help others and her work ethic have allowed Lili to succeed while being respected among her peers throughout the OLLU community.”
Dziuba has also received RRAC Scholar-Athlete recognition throughout her time at OLLU. In 2020, she received RRAC All-Tournament honors and was the team’s Champions of Character representative. So far, her career stats are 30 games, 16 shots, and six shots on goal. Dziuba’s GPA is 4.0.
“Rachel has an amazing approach to things,” Salazar commented. “She is always positive and supportive toward others around her, and she is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be successful on and off the soccer field. Rachel has been a fantastic representative of the soccer program and OLLU community.”
Briseno’s biggest challenge has been accepting that sometimes she won’t always have everything figured out and that that is okay. Through her experiences, she has built many relationships with so many different people. “Building a web of relationships between athletics, academia, and the SLD office has made me feel like I truly belong; I am grateful to have the support system that I do.”
Dziuba said she has to remind herself that everything will pass in terms of an injury or a time with many significant due dates or even a really bad practice or game. “Being able to just shake things off and learn from it has been a challenge through a lot of my life, but I definitely think that taking on these professional, academic, and athletic roles have helped me to understand that everything has a way of working itself out in the end.”
She credits the relationships she has made as her best reward. Dziuba explained, “I have been able to get to know my teammates, coworkers, classmates, professors and even some administrative staff. These relationships mean so much to me, and it’s such a blessing to have the opportunity to build those relationships.”
With success on so many levels that both Briseno and Dziuba have achieved, they both credit the support they have received from the community. Briseno said, “the support I receive from my professors, teammates, and staff is always above and beyond, and I am truly grateful for that. My professors are the GOAT (Dr. James Hall, Dr. Stephen Salako and Dr. Brenda Guerrero, just to name a few). Even when I am struggling to understand something, I know I can always knock on their office door, and they will help in any way they can. They have always been super understanding and flexible regarding my traveling schedule. My teammates have always felt like sisters to me. The camaraderie that I discovered when I first joined the team my freshman year has never left, and I feel so lucky to be a part of something so special. My bosses are awesome! Both Cat (Catherine Fragoso) and Scarlett (Scarlett Alonzo) are always interested in what I have to say, always giving me the best life advice while at the same time teaching me invaluable skills for when I enter into my profession.”
Director of Student Leadership and Development Catherine Fragoso said, “I commend Lili on her dedication and adaptability. When many individuals re-prioritized responsibilities, Lili leaned into her student leadership position and adapted to a Covid-19 pandemic, changes in higher education and changes in the onboarding of new incoming undergraduate students. Her attention was focused on serving the new students as best as possible to make their college transition a positive and memorable experience. Lili has a constant smile, she’s approachable, and she is a positive individual who genuinely cares about students at OLLU. She is a joy to work with as she leads with ease and grace, motivating others around her to greatness.”
Briseno also recognized the role Head Coach Salazar and Assistant Coach Natalie Stahmann have played in her life. “Art and Natalie have always shown their support on and off the field, and I very much appreciate all the work they do behind the scenes for their players.”
This semester, Dziuba had hip surgery, and the few weeks upon her return were hard for her, not just physically but also mentally. “My teammates were super helpful and supportive every time I reached a new milestone (like walking with the crutches). The staff and my coworkers in student leadership and development also understood when I would have to call out because I was in too much pain, and they are really supportive and caring when it comes to my recovery process.”
Dziuba appreciated her math and science professor Dr. Stephen Salako for her directed study class.
“Dr. Salako was very aware of how I was feeling, and he didn’t want to have me do too much in terms of walking, so he made class online for a couple of weeks. The coaching staff has also been very encouraging with my progress in my rehab.”
Fragoso said of Dziuba, “Rachel is a brave young woman who started her higher education journey during Covid-19 and began working for SLD at the same time. She has unwavering dependability and a desire to make a difference at OLLU. Rachel demonstrates professional composure and maturity that has been a blessing to witness as she listens to her fellow students and makes decisions that positively impact the campus community.”
Briseno and Dziuba’s advice to others who might want to follow in their footsteps is similar.
Briseno said, “I would tell them to take a leap of faith and just do it and put yourself out there. I’d tell them that now is the time to try new things and the best way to discover what you do and do not like is to apply and try it out.”
Dziuba commented, “They should do it. It seems like a lot on your plate, but it really just helps you connect to the school. You can gain a deeper understanding and love for OLLU by being involved and making a difference.”
Briseno plans to graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She is still deciding on her plans after graduation, but she did apply and was accepted into the master’s degree in School Psychology program here at OLLU. She is also interested in pursuing physical therapy school.
Dzuba plans to stay and play her fifth year while being a part of the master’s program for Non-Profit Management. Then she plans to get a master’s degree in Water/Environmental Sciences from another university. She will graduate in the spring of 2024 with a Bachelor of Science in Biomathematics and Environmental Science.
Fragoso concluded, “It has been wonderful to work with both ladies in their respective areas. I have seen such growth from both young women. But then they brought such humble maturity to the table that makes my job easy in providing them personal leadership development.”
The university commends Liliana Briseno and Rachel Dziuba for their success. Their accomplishments prove that student-athletes can be academically successful and effective as leaders on campus. Briseno and Dziuba have been highly focused on a vision and have maintained a realistic strategy for success. Through their struggles and conflict, they have learned to think strategically and shift course when necessary.