Today we feature Rowan Global graduate student and student athlete Kristiina Castagnola (she/her) from Voorhees, NJ (Camden County). Off the field, Kristiina is a commuter studying for an MA in Higher Education and works as a graduate assistant for the College of Education. On the field, she has become one of Rowan’s most decorated student athletes ever after transferring from Penn State. Here she discusses her season and graduate assistantship as well as how she balances school, work and athletics.
Congratulations on your record-breaking season! How did you celebrate when you found out you became Rowan’s all-time leading scorer?
Well, the day that happened was also Senior Day, so there was already a nice big tailgate afterwards. It was like the perfect day for it because there was already everyone there — a lot of extended family, a lot of friends that you don’t usually see.
The amount of accolades you’ve earned during this season is absolutely impressive — is there one which you’re particularly proud of?
I think out of everything, definitely the National Player of the Year, just because it’s something I’ve been working towards since I got here. That one was like the icing on the cake after everything.
How do you feel now that the season is over?
I mean, pretty good. Of course, we came up a little short, but I think overall I’m okay with it. [I’m] really content, really proud of the things we accomplished this season and over the past four years.
I imagine that during the team’s fantastic season, it felt a bit like a family — was it like that?
Oh yeah, 100%. I mean, we’re all so close. We all text in our group chat every day. I’m pretty sure at like 3:00 this morning it was blowing up from people studying, and people are still talking for sure. Rowan field hockey is my family, so it’ll be a lifelong thing.
How important is the team’s chemistry to achieving the success you’ve all achieved this season?
I think you don’t get to have really successful seasons like that without being close with your teammates. And that doesn’t mean that you like every single person or there isn’t a time where you’re annoyed with people, because that’s just family, honestly. But I think you don’t get to those places without being close and being a tight knit unit.
How do you guys keep that chemistry going? Does it just happen naturally?
Kind of. Because, one, you’re getting a group of people together that all [have] the same goal and you all have the same passion and the same love for a specific sport. So I think it really plays a big role in how close we could be and how successful we became as a program.
Do you think you’ll continue to be active with field hockey in general after you leave Rowan?
Yeah, I definitely want to coach. I’m going to be a volunteer assistant in the spring for the team, and I definitely want to give back to field hockey as much as I can. I mean, I love it, and I couldn’t imagine it not being in my life.
Do you think that change in role will come with any new challenges?
I’m excited, there’s probably going to be a lot of different challenges — one, I’m going from playing with the girls I just played with this fall to now coaching them, which is going to be a hard transition because a lot of them are my friends. But I’ve coached before so I don’t think it’s going to be too much of a hard transition. I think it’s just that change between being teammates to now, hey, I’m going to tell you what to do now.
If you could give advice to other students trying to balance school and extracurriculars, what would it be?
I think just making a schedule. My big thing is, I buy a big calendar every summer before the school year starts and I just write everything down as much as I can, just so I’m prepared. The good thing is, between school and sports, you usually get your schedule ahead of time. That’s the great thing about a syllabus and a season, you know when everything’s going to happen. It’s really rare that things change.
Also, a big thing is being willing to reach out to your coach, saying, hey I need to do this and I might have to practice earlier, maybe I have to miss today because there’s this huge project that I have to get done. And then, the same to your professors — asking for extensions and not being afraid to ask for help, because I think that’s the biggest thing that really helps you out the most.
When did you start playing field hockey? Did you play any sports before field hockey?
When I was in seventh grade, so when I was 13. So, a bit ago. Yeah, I tried every sport under the sun. If there was something to be played, I picked it up and tried it to figure out which one I liked the most, so then field hockey just won out.
Have you always enjoyed sports and being active?
Yeah, 100%. I mean, both my parents were athletes. And then, my older brother, when he joined sports, I was like… Alright, me too! I’m joining the team.
Were your parents both collegiate athletes, or recreational?
My dad wrestled at Springfield College and my mom just kind of played recreationally — she’s from Finland, so she got into things like ice hockey. That’s the one thing I never did, and I wish I did!
Do you have any inspirations that keep you motivated, sports-related or otherwise?
I think, in general, it was just kind of like my family. I just felt so much pride coming from such an athletic family that I just wanted to carry it on, and we all pushed each other. If I think of a pro sports person, I think of people like Serena Williams, Mia Hamm.
I think the biggest thing from Mia Hamm, actually both of them is, you’re playing for that little girl who just wanted to play something. I think that in itself is a huge inspiration, because you’re just trying to make little you, if they could ever see you now so proud.
Was it your goal even as a kid to be a collegiate athlete?
Yeah, I think the second I had a concept of what college was, I was like “I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna play in college!” So yeah, for sure, I just wanted to play at the highest level.
Have you had any mentors here at Rowan?
Yeah, 100%. My coaches were huge mentors for me. [Also] the support staff at Rowan, like Penny Kempf. She used to be the head field hockey coach, and now she’s one of the assistant athletic directors. They all had really fabulous careers, and they kind of paved the way for me to be able to do things here. They helped out a lot whenever I was in a pickle, not sure what to do — they always led me in the right direction. But they never gave me the answer — they always wanted me to get to that point on my own, which I thought was really great because they gave me the tools, but they weren’t just like, here’s the way to do it. Which was awesome.
Do you feel supported here at Rowan?
Yeah, 100%. Everyone is always in your corner. One thing I really love about Rowan is that you’re not just a number here. As big of a school as it is, I feel like there’s constantly people willing to support you. Whether it’s your professors, people locally in the town that aren’t even involved in the school, support staff within different departments — everyone just wants you to do your best, and you can feel that the second you get here. I love it, because it’s this nice, tight-knit community.
Could you tell us about your graduate assistantship — what it is, and how your experience has been?
A graduate assistantship is a job [for] graduate students where you get the opportunity to work and get experience in the field and different areas across campus. It really allows you to get an idea if that’s maybe something you want to do, career-wise. Usually, they’re almost like a paid internship. It helps pay for school, which is great because along with me playing field hockey, there wasn’t a lot of time for me to have a job outside of school.
Last year I was a resident director. So I worked with housing, which was a great experience. You learn the background of something [that] I think I took for granted as a student who lived on campus. The amount of things that go into making it [possible] for me to live there. So it was really cool.
This year I’m a graduate assistant here in the Dean’s Office for the College of Education. Essentially I’m doing communications and alumni development. I create content, make posts, different types of flyers [and] posters that are posted around the building. I manage all the TV screens in the building. I’m constantly editing and changing the website and fixing different pieces of it, so if you see anything done on the College of Education website, that’s me! And then, I help organize events and just wherever else [they] really need me within the college. And, of course, this is the college I’m getting my master’s in. So I was like, you know, it’d be great — because now I’m a little bit more involved in the college and in my program a bit more, but also at the same time getting the experience I wanted that’s technically not related to what I’m getting my degree in.
I think it’s really important to do something like this if you have the opportunity to in grad school. Because, again, you get these different experiences and it’s kind of giving me an opportunity to figure out what I want to do in my life in higher education, because that’s what my master’s will be in.
What got you interested in doing a graduate assistantship?
I got my undergraduate degree in Communication Studies, and I’ve always liked creating content [but] never got a job where I could see if I liked it more than just a hobby. Especially in our generation, everyone’s on social media, so you’re kind of interested in it [by default]. And I loved the graphics from athletics, so I was just like, I need a way to try it and have someone guide me through it. And then I think I just wanted to see what it would be like in a department that wasn’t athletics, just because I’m so immersed in that.
What are your personal aspirations going forward?
I definitely want to work in a university. The big goal at the end of all this would hopefully be head field hockey coach. I think just after trying all the different departments, I still just have this nagging feeling of wanting to be a field hockey coach and be involved in field hockey still. So, even though I’m trying these different fields, I think it just helped me figure out exactly what I wanted. And then hopefully years down the line, I’ll get to be an athletic director, because that’s like the end all be all goal. But that doesn’t happen for several years.
What do you enjoy most about your graduate assistantship?
Definitely the people. These are people I truly would have never met. They’re just so helpful and so resourceful with so much knowledge. They’ve been in this office doing this work for so many years, and they’ve been just so willing to share it. I think it’s really made all the difference.
I think the other thing is just the new things that I’ve learned that I didn’t even think about learning. Like, I know how to set up a website for the most part but I never knew how to, almost like code a little bit, do those smaller things, and I never would have learned that without the help of my advisor along with the other people in the office.
How does balancing your assistantship work with your commitment to field hockey?
I think the best part of all with this assistantship is how much they were willing to work with me. They worked my hours to where I would work Monday, Tuesday [and] Thursday in person until 2, 2:30. I don’t have practice until 3:30, and all I have to do is walk a couple feet out to the field and practice. And then, the days I had off were the days I had games. And they’re like, “Do not touch your computer. Do not do any work. Just focus on field hockey.” And I think that ability they had to give me the opportunity to just have the time, they really set me up for success. Without that, and without my professors being so understanding, and of course my coach — it’s like a lot of give and take between the three groups — it allowed me to be able to do really well on my job, be really successful field hockey-wise, and come out with really good grades for this semester.
Do you feel that Rowan has provided you with a lot of opportunities?
Yeah, 100%. Rowan has had me already networked with so many different individuals that I never would have met without being here. I mean, between the Bullards who helped me get this graduate assistantship to my coaches helping me meet different individuals throughout the school. On a different level, I think when you tell someone you go to Rowan and you’re going to graduate from Rowan, a lot of people, especially locally, they know about it and they know someone who’s gone to Rowan, or they might’ve themselves, and I think it just helps you a lot networking wise. Between jobs or, like, finding people that have answers that you don’t have right away. So I mean I’m really grateful for it.
Any advice for students pursuing a graduate assistantship?
I think my biggest advice is don’t be afraid if you don’t know anything about it, because everyone applying for it probably doesn’t have an idea of how to perform the skill or the job, and most supervisors, they don’t care about that. They just like someone eager to learn — maybe you have a little bit of knowledge in the field, but that’s the point of the graduate assistantships. They’re there to teach you. So just don’t be afraid: if you think something looks interesting, just apply for it. You never know until you get the interview.
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Joseph Conte, junior community and environmental planning major