Written by Student Assistant Sarah Cornell-Maier
TACOMA, Wash. – When she first came to Pacific Lutheran University, senior Sydney Otey had no idea just how far she would come in the next four years. Standing just a few weeks away from graduation, the Hispanic studies and sociology major is gearing up for her second trip to the NCAA Division III Women's Rowing Championships while also earning acceptance into the prestigious Fulbright Scholars Program.
Otey, who came to PLU for the academics as well as study away and global emphasis options, joined the PLU women's rowing team in the fall of her first year, not expecting to stay on the team for four full years.
"I didn't think I would stay because of the early mornings," she admitted, "but it turned out that I really liked it a lot."
Even with the added stress of early morning practices and weekly additional workouts, Otey is one of the few student-athletes at PLU who has maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout her four years, a feat that would not have been possible if it weren't for the support she received from her team and her sport in general.
"Academics and athletics here at PLU have been good counterbalances to each other for me. It helps because I'm really passionate about both of them but in different ways," she said. "If I'm feeling really stressed about academics, or if I have a lot of homework, I can go to practice and use that as a way to focus on something else, and allow myself to decompress. And then if I'm stressed about rowing, I can distract myself by focusing on schoolwork, and that helps me to balance everything."
Otey's academic achievements have all helped her get to where she is now. Otey, a Hispanic Studies and Sociology double major, was just accepted to be a part of the Fulbright Scholars Program.
The Fulbright Scholars Program is a government-run program with the goal of cultural exchange. The program is fairly prestigious, with only around 1,900 US Students receiving grants each year. Over the years, PLU has produced over 100 Fulbright Scholars, a high number for such a small school.
There are two different paths for Fulbright award recipients- research and English teaching assistants. Otey will be taking part in the latter, helping to teach English to people in Mexico.
"I applied for a program in Mexico- I still don't know where exactly I'll be. I studied abroad in Oaxaca, so I have experience in Mexico, but I think it would be really amazing to experience other parts of the country. There's a lot of need for cultural understanding between the US and Mexico, especially now, which is a big reason I chose to go to Mexico," she said.
As Otey's post-college plans have become clearer, she still appreciates the impact that PLU Athletics have had on her life.
"I feel like with rowing, the cool thing is that it's such a team-oriented sport- you're always doing things for some bigger purpose, and I think that focus on team and community has spread to other aspects of my life," said Otey. "Trying to find people who will support me and be my community has really helped me with my determination- when I feel like I'm supporting others, I'm more likely to work hard."
Earning the Fulbright is just the latest in a laundry list of academic and athletic accolades for the Billings, Montana native. Otey was named CoSIDA Academic All-District and All-Northwest Conference earlier this year, while last season earned the Elite 90 Award at the NCAA Championships, given to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site. Otey additionally was part of the PLU varsity eight that captured NWC Crew of the Week on three occasions this spring.
Otey and the rest of the nationally-ranked Lutes varsity eight boat will compete one more time this season, trekking across the country to West Windsor, New Jersey, for the 2017 NCAA Division III Championships on May 26 and 27.