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Jillian Berkman ’12 on Volleyballs and Neurons Archives

Jillian Berkman '12


Jillian Berkman ’12 has a lot of balls in the air. This co-captain of the NESCAC Championship-winning volleyball team and French and neuroscience double major writes of a recent weekend that took her to both the NCAA Division III tournament and a major neuroscience conference.

The Bowdoin volleyball team was about to depart for Springfield, Massachusetts, where we were going to participate in the NCAA Division III volleyball tournament-the first time the volleyball team had made it this far in Bowdoin history. While the rest of my teammates each backed their athletic bag, I was packing two. One bag was stuffed with my gear, sneakers and assorted athletic clothing, while a second bag was filled with several nice blouses, skirts  and a dress suit for my second destination-Washington, D.C., home of the 2011 Society for Neuroscience (SFN) meeting. A single weekend would be the culmination of my life as a student-athlete at Bowdoin.

As an athlete, I dreamed about playing in the NCAA tournament but never thought I would actually have this opportunity. In my four years playing volleyball for Bowdoin, we have improved as a team each year but we have never made it past the quarterfinals of the NESCAC Championships.

Jillian Berkman '12

To make a great story really short, we ended our season undefeated in our conference, hosted and won the championship, and received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which would occur on the same weekend as the SFN meeting.

Everything about the tournament was exciting and new to me-highly controlled practices restricted to exactly 60 minutes, the introduction of the athletes as we marched into the gym with the Olympic anthem playing, and the special ID badges announcing us as NCAA tournament athletes.

It was an amazing feeling to work all season with 12 other girls for a single goal, accomplish it, and now stand in front of the NCAA tournament banner, realizing we were competing on the big stage against the best Division III volleyball programs in the country.

We won our first-round game, but were then eliminated, 3-2, in a closely fought match with UMass”“Boston. I tearfully hugged my teammates goodbye as they headed back to campus and I headed for a new adventure.

After a car trip to New York City and a train ride to Washington D.C., I arrived at my Hampton Inn and Suites room 306 in Arlington, Virginia. Interestingly enough, I had just left my Hampton Inn and Suites room 304 in Springfield, Mass., the day before.

My living space transition would not be changing much, but day-to-day life was a 180-degree turn. From the minute I stepped into the conference center I realized I was not in Springfield anymore. Time to switch gears and go from processing players and attack angles to neuronal circuitry and molecular pathways. I was in heaven!

Science and volleyball have been two of my most important passions and emphases while at Bowdoin, and here I was playing and learning at a higher level than I had ever previously experienced for both of these interests in the same weekend. My first day at SFN, I mingled with some of the nearly 31,000 other neuroscientists from across the world and listened to many fascinating lectures.

Jillian Berkman '12 with her parents, Richard and Stacey, following the NESCAC Championship win against Middlebury.

What could be cooler for a college neuroscience major than being surrounded by hundreds of posters on neuroscience-some of which you actually understand-and mingling shoulder-to-shoulder with brilliant neuroscientists who were eager to discuss their research with you?!

Something that makes Bowdoin such a special place is that my academic and athletic lives work together. During my four years at Bowdoin,  I was never asked to choose one passion over the other. My professors have enthusiastically supported my athletic endeavors, while my volleyball coach and athletic director have supported my academic pursuits. This is why I chose to come to Bowdoin. This is why I love our school. Go U Bears!

2 thoughts on “Jillian Berkman ’12 on Volleyballs and Neurons

  1. Aniko Gaal

    Go U Jillian! What a truly culminating experience this weekend was for you! You are a great model of what can be achieved at a school that thoroughly supports the growth of its students academically, athletically, in all realms — isn’t this the ideal of a college experience. So happy for all your hard work through which you could achieve such fulfillment and success! Onward bound! Wishing you continued great success in all your achievements! <3

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