After graduating from St. Stephen’s in 2016, Mallika Rao matriculated to Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., where she played on the Division III women’s lacrosse team.
Briefly describe what it was like to transition to the life of a college athlete.
The hardest part of the transition to being a collegiate athlete was learning to work in non-traditional settings. Studying on the bus or in hotel lobbies on away trips was very common. The easiest part of the transition was coming into a new setting with 30 people who already new you and always had your back. Being able to lean on teammates for advice was very useful.
What has been the most rewarding part about competing collegiately? Do you have a favorite moment from your college career?
The most rewarding part about competing collegiately was being able to take both my academics and athletics to a higher level. Being able to continue to be a part of the team has been an invaluable experience in college. Community, camaraderie and support are all aspects of athletics that I have always cherished. Being able to have those three pillars when moving into college was extremely beneficial.
My favorite moment from my college career was playing and winning our conference championship my sophomore year. Even though we had won conference in the past. The team we played had always been a competitive rival. Our team had gone through a tough season, including a rocky performance and narrow win against them earlier in the season. Playing in that game and winning by a close margin was surreal.
What has been the most challenging or the most surprising part about competing collegiately?
As a senior this year, having my last season being taken away from me due to the COVID-19 outbreak was the most challenging aspect of college athletics. No one could have really prepared us for that moment. The experience made me realize how fleeting your time on the field can be. As corny and cliché as it may sound, I truly would give anything to have my senior season back. You never realize how ill prepared you are for change until it happens so unexpectedly. Yet, standing in goal on our very last game and seeing my parents beaming back at me from the stands made me realize how impactful competing collegiately was, not just for myself but for my parents as well, and all of the other senior parents who moved mountains to see their children play their last game.
What’s one thing you learned at St. Stephen’s that brought you comfort, allowed you success, helped you adjust, or changed your perspective of college?
St. Stephen's allows you to try so many different things. You never have to be labeled as a jock, a nerd or an artistic kid. Taking this attitude to college allowed me to be a well-rounded person and grow through experiencing my passions instead of becoming confined to a stereotype.
Think back to your high school self. What advice would you give graduating seniors or underclassmen?
To graduating seniors, explore the world of your college outside of athletics and your team. Many athletes get stuck in their little team bubble. I promise you that there are so many interesting people outside of your team. The more diverse your friendships are, the more unique of a college experience you will have.
To underclassmen considering playing collegiately, take the leap. Email all of the coaches who reach out to you and keep your options open. Be open and communicate with them. If you decide this path isn't for you, that’s completely okay, but don't discredit any of your options before you explore them. As a sophomore at St. Stephen’s, I would never have guessed that I would play lacrosse in college. I am so grateful that I emailed the Rhodes coaching staff on a whim.
Academically, did you feel prepared to take on college-level work?
I felt that St. Stephen's had prepared well for what I faced freshman year at a liberal arts college. Being able to write and express yourself in a clear and concise way is the most beneficial skill one can have as they start college. It makes every class so much easier because conveying your point and crafting an argument comes organically. Another academic tool St. Stephen's gave me was the ability to approach teachers and ask for help. College classes become much easier to tackle if you are not afraid to speak with a professor in office hours.
Have you declared a major? If so, what are you studying?
I am a neuroscience major and an English and chemistry double minor on the pre-medical track.
Anything else you'd like to add? Cool summer plans? Awesome internships? Traveling abroad?
Rhodes set me up with an incredible experience at LeBonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis doing clinical research on epilepsy and functional motor disorders. I was able to present this research at the Child Neurology Society conference this October.
I will now be moving into the clinical research field for a year before applying to medical school.