Albion College senior Lauren Rao is accustomed to being on the go. After all, she juggled the demands of being a varsity diver, singing with the a capella group Bella Voce, and being a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority in addition to the hundreds of clinical hours needed to complete her athletic training major.
Rao will receive her degree from Albion College in May, but her schedule isn’t likely to let up any time soon because she will begin the 13-month master’s program in athletic training at the University of Virginia in June. With her decision to matriculate in a rigorous program, Rao follows in the footsteps of some of Albion’s finest athletic training alumni – Lindsay Drewes, ’05, Mark Feger, ‘11, Micaela Kelso, ’05, and Jenny Sims, ’08 – who went to Charlottesville for graduate school.
“From my conversations with Jenny, [the program at the University of Virginia] is like Albion but more intense,” Rao said. “I’m quite proud to say I’m following in the footsteps [of Albion alumni].
“Jenny told me it will be the hardest year of my life, but it will be worth it,” Rao said. “I hope to reflect positively on the Albion athletic training education program so that more students can follow in my footsteps.”
In addition to completing the coursework for her master’s degree in just a year’s time, Rao will serve as a graduate assistant athletic trainer for a Division I athletic program at either Virginia or the Virginia Military Institute. She will also write a thesis.
The compressed program at Virginia allows graduates to enter the workforce a year earlier than students in typical programs, but Rao may not forge a career solely as an athletic trainer. She pointed to Feger and Sims, who are currently working toward Ph.D. degrees, and says adding research and teaching piques her interest.
“I have found my time here in the cadaver lab as a teaching assistant in anatomy to be one of the most rewarding experiences,” Rao said. “It is easy to connect one thing to another because everything is made for a reason, and there is a rhyme or reason to why [body parts] were named. Because I am able to memorize these reasons, I can pass that knowledge on to the students. If it works for these students, I think I could be successful as a teacher.”
Rao noted the athletic training major was attractive because of its status as an allied health profession and it would keep her close to her passion for athletics.
A Troy native who comes from an athletic-oriented family, Rao is proud to claim herself as the first member of her family to complete four years as a varsity athlete at the collegiate level.
“I’m especially proud because diving is such a long season,” Rao said of the collegiate campaign, which stretches from October to February. “It’s been long and hard, but I’m excited to say I made it through it.”
“I’m more proud of what I’ve done for the people around me than the things I personally have accomplished,” she added. “I’m proud of my GPA, but what I really hope to take away are the friendships and the connections I’ve made with the athletes I’ve served as an athletic training student.”
While competing in diving could have made it difficult to log the clinical hours required to sit for the National Athletic Trainers Association Board of Certification exam, Rao easily met the quota. Working baseball doubleheaders in the spring of her junior year and being able to work in the athletic training room before her 7 p.m. diving practices made it easier, she said.
As graduation nears, Rao reflected not only on the student-athletes she has served as an athletic trainer, but the faculty who have pushed her academically and will allow her to gain respect as she begins her career.
“[Professors] Bob and Carol Moss are known throughout the country, and since I’ve been taught by them, people already respect me,” Rao said. “The addition of Scott Michel to the program as a professor has been tremendous. Scott has pushed us so hard, not just academically, but emotionally to be the best we can be.”