DOING IT ALL
She earned a starting spot on Maryland’s women’s lacrosse team as a freshman --- scoring four goals in her first career game --- plays at an All-America level and has helped the Terrapins again roll into the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record.
Oh, and there’s also the matter of the perfect GPA while majoring in biological sciences, the teaching assistant gig that includes office hours flowing into practice, the back-to-back academic awards from the NCAA and a placement at Teach For America for the next two years.
How, exactly, does Zoe Stukenberg juggle it all?
“People ask me that question, and it’s flattering, but I like to remind everyone that everyone on a college campus is crazy busy and everyone in general --- everyone I know --- is so passionate about so many different things and working to get involved in as many ways as possible and make an impact in as many ways as you can,” the senior midfielder said.
It’s fair to say Stukenberg found a way to dabble in as much as anyone who will graduate in College Park this month.
The on-field accomplishments are only a sliver of what Stukenberg has accomplished in her four years on campus. This spring, she’s managed 44 goals and 22 assists in 19 games while earning the Big Ten’s midfielder of the year honor. The final stretch of her college career continues Saturday, when Maryland meets Stony Brook in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
But here’s the reality: There isn’t a large percentage of the student population at any school contending for All-America honors. The proportion of students carrying a 4.0 can’t be much larger.
And the overlapping area in the Venn diagram for those two traits?
“You have students that do well, but you have someone who’s a biology major, who’s potentially going pre-med down the road, that’s never had anything less than an A in her life, that’s insane,” coach Cathy Reese said. “Then to be an All-American lacrosse player and on the top five Tewaaraton list on a team that went undefeated in the regular season three years in a row? What? You’re insane.”
Clearly, not many people could pull it off. But the underlying secret why Stukenberg is successful is actually quite sensible.
“The key to my college career has been enjoying what I do,” Stukenberg said. “I don’t sign up for anything or stay involved in anything that I don’t love. The stuff I’m doing, I pour a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of passion into, but it’s not because I have to or I want it on my resume. It’s because I want to do it.”
Talent, skill and smarts all help, of course, but enthusiasm provides a boost of its own. Reese quickly discovered when she began recruiting Stukenberg that their conversations could last a while. While some high-end institutions also were interested, Stukenberg saw a perfect blend of quality academics and lacrosse at Maryland.
At A Glance
2017 Tewaaraton Finalist
2017 Big Ten Medal of Honor Recipient
4.0 GPA - Biological Science
Two-time Team Captain
64 draw controls
18 caused turnovers
Not long after Stukenberg arrived as a freshman, it was clear to Reese how much the newcomer rubbed off on teammates.
“The way her personality is, you can see how that translates onto the field,” Reese said. “She doesn’t do anything less than 100 percent in life. There’s nothing. You could probably even say she eats 100 percent. She does everything the best that she can.”
Yet with such a crammed day, it’s a wonder there’s time for sleep.
“She probably does that well, too,” Reese said.
Tracing the roots of Stukenberg’s twin passions is not a difficult task. Her mother was a diver at Johns Hopkins. Her father is also a Hopkins graduate.
The significance of academics, then, was always a given.
“My family just loves learning. It sounds corny, but we’re kind of nerdy people,” Stukenberg said. “I like to think of us as fun, kind nerds. That’s the best description I could ever have anyone describe me as.”
College coaches across all sports tend to look for three traits: Good athlete, good student and good person. Stukenberg checked all three boxes for Reese, so she was willing to make accommodations to allow the midfielder to try everything she wanted.
That was a driving force that ultimately helped make Stukenberg a Terp.
“I knew Cathy would allow me to pursue my passion for science, and she has been true to her word when she promised that 10th-grade girl that I could study biology and be in a lab and TA a course and I think they all thought I was kidding when I said that and I wasn’t joking,” Stukenberg said.
The TA work might seem the most surprising facet of Stukenberg’s college career. But she loved the experience while helping with an inorganic chemistry class (a course she had just completed) the summer after her sophomore year.
It helped pique her interest in Teach For America. She’ll spend this summer in Philadelphia preparing for a two-year assignment in Baltimore. The exact classroom assignment isn’t promised, though working as a 10th-grade biology teacher is a possibility.
“I learn the best when I’m teaching it,” Stukenberg said. “I understood that chemistry course that I taught better than any course in my entire life because I taught it. When I tutored my friends in calculus or whatever, it wasn’t me doing them a favor. In the end, I was the one that ended up benefitting more because when you teach something, you have to master it at a level you don’t when you’re just learning it.”
While that’s still to come, lacrosse is very much in Stukenberg’s present. And when she thinks about her time in College Park, the success she and her teammates have enjoyed over the last four years is a vital part of the equation.
Stukenberg doesn’t view it as an escape --- “I don’t feel like I have to escape from the rest of my life and if I’m ever at a point in my life where I do need to escape I’m doing something wrong,” she said --- so much as the chance to enjoy something that’s been part of her life since she was young.
“It’s such a shared experience and it’s so rewarding,” Stukenberg said. “I don’t know if there’s anything in my life that brings me joy the way a really good lacrosse game does.”
And as for what’s next? The biology degree and sharp mind have prompted many suggestions she could become a doctor.
Still, attempting to predetermine what’s to come is one thing Stukenberg doesn’t quite want to juggle. There’s quite a lot to savor for now.
“I haven’t the faintest clue what a day in the life of a physician is like and what kind of challenges they face,” Stukenberg said. “I don’t know if I’m well-suited for it. So I plan in these next two years to kind of figure that out. Maybe spend time in a hospital and meet with some doctors and figure out if it would be something I would be good at and I would be passionate about and I would like to dedicate my life to. If it is, I’ll go for it. Bring on the MCAT and let’s do it. But if it’s not, then I will find something I will be passionate about and will be good at.”