In a League of Her Own
DeCarol Davis is leading the way in academics and athletics, shining in each arena.
By Saira Moini
Top Female Student – AthleteDeCAROL DAVISSchool: U.S. Coast Guard AcademyYear: JuniorMajor: Electrical EngineeringCumulative GPA: 3.95Fall 2006 GPA: 4.0Sport: Basketball
It seems paradoxical, but by being the ultimate team player, DeCarol Davis, a junior at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, is leading the way in academics, basketball, student government — and even in transforming the Academy itself.
On the court and in the classroom, aboard ship or out in the local community, this Coast Guard cadet shines in every arena.
“DeCarol amazes us all. She’s off the charts academically, a league apart, yet she’s unbelievably modest and fits in to every team environment here,” says women’s basketball coach Alex Simonka, a retired Coast Guard commander who recruited Davis to the Academy.
Davis, the 2007 Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Sports Scholar of the Year, is a leader on USCG’s basketball and softball teams. She has been elected class president twice and helped establish the first recycling program on campus. Through her own initiative, she ensured that cadets studying leadership now also learn about the accomplishments and perspectives of Black women leaders in the Coast Guard.
“As a member of a group, I want to empower people, be their representative, make them great,” says the electrical engineering major.
The only Black woman in the junior class, Davis is ranked first among 237 classmates, with her GPA approaching 4.0. She has made the Dean’s List as well as the Commandant of Cadets’ List for Military Excellence, both top academic honors.
She was just named to the 2007 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District First Team for women’s basketball.
“On the court, DeCarol handles the ball well while also helping her teammates make their plays,” says Simonka. “She’s very focused on the group and is a calming influence.” This season, Davis averaged 8.8 points, 5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
“Basketball is an awesome game,” says Davis. “You work toward a common goal, learn how to motivate others. There’s a dynamic and a solidarity that you build together. I love how the game drives me, I love the group. And I feel the same way about being part of the Coast Guard.”
When injuries recently took her off the court, Davis cheered her teammates from the sidelines. She also continued a full schedule of out-of-class activities, including tutoring her peers in calculus and chemistry, participating in the cleanup of surrounding New London, Conn., neighborhoods and building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Davis also coaches a local high school softball team, plays in the regimental band and sings in a gospel choir.
The second-class cadet recently developed and produced an engineering outreach play for local schoolchildren called “The Little Engineer,” which has been commended by the Society of Women Engineers.
“In my 22 years at the Academy, DeCarol is the only cadet I’ve taught who is equally strong in the humanities and the sciences — as well as athletics and the arts,” says Dr. Faye Ringel, a professor of English who is now Davis’ graduate scholarship advisor. “She’s extraordinary, and she’s extremely courageous, intellectually fearless. She has a strong moral and ethical compass. In my honors literature classes, DeCarol inspires her classmates by asking the difficult questions. People admire her and listen to her.”
A native of Virginia, Davis says she draws inspiration and strength from her religious beliefs and her family.
“My parents and older sister, who’s completing her Ph.D., are phenomenal,” she says. “My mother is a librarian and a strong Black woman, very wise and willing to sacrifice for me. And my father, who’s a retired Marine, has taught me to challenge, to stand up for things. They allowed me the freedom to develop my own thoughts, yet made it clear that succeeding in school was my ‘job.’ So I’ve always felt the need to prove myself.
“They grew up in the South, experiencing the civil rights movement, and they raised me with a sense of urgency and responsibility,” Davis continues. “I have high regard for what others have done for me and feel obligated to be part of that bridge.”
Her concerns range from energy and the environment to issues of peace and justice. This summer, Davis will conduct research on employing Smart Meters for tracking electrical energy usage. In graduate school, she plans to study environmental science policy and management, then perhaps head to law school. She envisions applying her learning and talents within the Coast Guard or in the U.S. Department of Energy.The idealistic Davis is the Academy’s pick this year as an applicant for the Truman Scholarship and Rhodes Scholarship.
Simonka remarks that the cadet has grown into an exceptional military leader at the Academy. He predicts that “DeCarol will be a great leader for all of us one day.”
Past Arthur Ashe Female Sports Scholars of the Year*
2006: Sarah Lowe, University of Florida, Basketball: Is in Costa Rica on a Fulbright Scholarship researching the Central American Free Trade Agreement, her proposed project.
2005: Sharonda Latrice Johnson, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Track & Field
2003: Kara Lawson, University of Tennesee-Knoxville, Basketball
2002: Carlla Johnson, University of Maryland College Park, Gymnastics
2001: Danielle Slaton, Santa Clara University, Soccer
2000: Christiana Nwofor, Oberlin College, Track & Field
1999: Shannon Brown, University of Wisconsin, Soccer
1998: LaTisha Shaw, Stevens Institute of Technology, Soccer and Track & Field
1997: Natasha Taylor, West Texas A&M University, Basketball
1996: Christina ThomasKutty, Tulane University, Basketball
1995: Michaelene Tetteh, Arizona State University, Track & Field *Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar Award was not presented in 2004
Track and field standout Isaac Matthews says he has worked hard to overcome the myth that he can’t both be a dominant athlete and at the top of his class.
By David Pluviose
Top Male Student – AthleteISAAC MATTHEWSSchool: University of Maryland, Baltimore CountyYear: SeniorMajor: Mechanical EngineeringCumulative GPA: 3.88Fall 2006 GPA: 4.0Sport: Indoor & Outdoor Track and Field
Any highlight reel documenting the accomplishments of Isaac Matthews both inside the classroom and on the track would make for a true crowd-pleaser. Though holding down a 3.88 GPA as a mechanical engineering major would be a full-time endeavor for most students, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County senior still finds time to serve as treasurer for the school’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. He’s also a motivational speaker for NASA Sharp students, a mentor and tutor to high school and middle school students and a concert cellist. And he’s a member of an NAACP outreach program to encourage and motivate minority youth.
Matthews’ passion to excel is also evident in his performance on the track. Matthews finished seventh in the 800-meter run at the 2005 America East Indoor Championships; finished eighth in the 800 at the 2004 America East Outdoor Championships; and among other accolades, he was named a Toyota Athlete of the Week in 2003.
Matthews also holds a Meyerhoff scholarship at UMBC. The Meyerhoff program was specifically designed to populate high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields with minority scientists who are both world-class scholars and social-conscious mentors, says LaMont Toliver, the program’s director. Toliver likens Matthews to a modern-day renaissance man.
“When you talk about a prototype for a scholar-athlete … if you were searching for a well-rounded intellectual with the potential to be the Paul Robeson of our time — he’s that well-rounded. He’s an accomplished cellist, athlete extraordinaire, scholar, a leader within the UMBC community as well as the Meyerhoff community. You expect this coming from the director, but if it were not true, I wouldn’t say it. I think the world of him,” Toliver says.
Matthews gets similar kudos from the head track and field coach at UMBC, David Bobb. He says Matthews “epitomizes the student-athlete because he always puts academics first. It’s just a joy to see a young man do what he has done in the major that he has done it. It’s always a plus to see someone handle and balance academics and athletics.”
Matthews says he brings a holistic approach to his roles as athlete and scholar. Though some say athletics has the potential to detract from classroom performance, Matthews says he excels in the classroom due in part to the welcome diversion that track provides.
“I don’t think I could do well in academics without having an outlet such as track to give me [relief] from a lot of the stresses that are involved in academics,” he says. “Of course there are stresses in athletics, but those stresses, I think, keep me and my body sound and my mind sound as well — it gives me that balance that I need.”
However, what’s most striking about Matthews is his aversion to discussing his achievements in favor of discussing his passion for mentoring those following in his footsteps. As a young Black student, Matthews says he has struggled to shatter stereotypes that say he can’t both be a dominant athlete and at the top of his class.
“For me, it started off with teachers saying a ‘B’ is good. If you get ‘A’s, they don’t think you’re Black anymore. I feel like I did good work. I deserve an ‘A.’ I expect an ‘A,’” he says.
“It becomes an issue like being academic either pulls away from you being Black, or pulls away from you being a man — it’s very difficult. It’s something you face just because of the social construction of our nation and even the world,” he continues. “There are more Black doctors than there are basketball players, but you don’t see the image that ‘OK, you should go be doctors.’ You see the image of ‘You make quick money’ playing basketball. It’s one of those things that’s perpetuated in urban settings and worldwide. As the numbers increase, as you have more Black engineers, professors, that image can be defeated by the numbers.”
Matthews speaks with a sense of purpose when he talks about mentoring young African-Americans to achieve their full potential, not just on the court or the track, but on college campuses and in cutting-edge industries. He relates a story about mentoring two young Black males who immediately passed him off as a bookish “geek” upon meeting him. When Matthews queried them about their hobbies and future goals, their aspirations revolved around playing basketball, something they assumed Matthews wasn’t interested in.
“So I said, ‘Let’s play basketball.’ We played and I pretty much spanked them,” he says. “It’s funny the look that they gave me, ‘How do you do that? How do you play basketball and do well in school?’
“What do you mean how do you do it? You can do both. It’s not uncool to do well in school, as a matter of fact, when you get older, it’s going to be a cool thing to do, having opportunities and being able to do a lot of things you want to do. You may not like school, but it’s a tool. Mechanics don’t really say, ‘I love this tool,’ they just love to fix cars. And school is the tool to be able to do whatever you want to do.”
Matthews declines to “take credit for anything that I’ve done, just because I feel like I have a responsibility to at least be a role model or a leader for those who may not have role models or leaders.” And it is this quality, Toliver says, that sets Matthews apart from his peers as the 2007 Arthur Ashe Jr. Male Sports Scholar of the Year.
Past Arthur Ashe Male Sports Scholars of the Year*
2006: David Castillo, Florida State University, Football: He has been accepted into Florida State University’s Medical School and will begin classes with the new term this summer.
2005: Chris Hill, Michigan State University, Basketball
2003: Nathan Irvin, University of California, Riverside, Track & Field
2002: Ben Foster, Wofford College, Football
2001: Archie Craft, Langston University, Football
2000: James Greer, Howard University, Football
1999: Kareem Abdul Jabbar Jr., Western Kentucky University, Basketball
1998: Patrick Stephen, Northern Illinois University, Football
1997: Kelvin Saulsbury, Rust College, Basketball
1996: Jacque Vaughn, University of Kansas, Basketball
1995: David Simmons, Coe College, Wrestling
*Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar Award was not presented in 2004
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Division Director, Division of Graduate Education
National Science Foundation
Dean of the College of Social Work
The University of Tennessee Knoxville
Dean of the Tickle College of Engineering
The University of Tennessee Knoxville