Graduation Profile: Thriving as a student and athlete is all in the balance

Heather Bergmann throws a javelin
To say Heather Bergmann kept herself busy at KU is an understatement. She competed in track and field, helped her team win a national championship, completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a minor in psychology, and earned certification to teach. – photo courtesy Kansas Athle

Top scholar and national champion athlete Heather Bergmann may not know the meaning of downtime

Heather Bergmann faced a tough choice. As a student in the UKanTeach program at the University of Kansas, she needed to fulfill her semester of student teaching at a local school. That semester was slated for spring 2013 – track and field season. As a NCAA student athlete throwing javelin for the women’s team, she knew there was no way to balance both.

So, she did what anyone would do: add a minor to fill her spring schedule (she went with psychology to complement her bachelor of arts in chemistry), compete in javelin for the season (and win the NCAA National Championship), then student teach in the fall and graduate (with Highest Distinction and a teaching job lined up). Well, maybe her path wasn’t what anyone would do.

If that seems like a lot to handle, you must not have met Bergmann. Her commitment and goal-oriented personality make her strive for the best. Her time as a student athlete was marked by this determination.

“I pretty much didn’t have time to do anything except school and practice and competition,” Bergmann said. “But it ended up paying off. I was able to stay on top of my studies and do really well in track.”

That is probably a bit of an understatement. Bergmann threw javelin on the KU women’s track and field team that won the NCAA National Championship in 2013. She placed 6th in her event, helping propel the team to victory.

Winning a national championship is quite the feat in and of itself. For the KU women, it was even more than that. The team was the first KU women’s team to win a championship in any sport ever. The team got to meet President Barack Obama in March, and had their championship banner presented at a special presentation during the 2013 Late Night at the Phog.

“When we were honored at Late Night at the Phog and they had our banner drop and everybody gave us a standing ovation…I mean, I’m getting goosebumps,” Bergmann said. “You know, KU is such a basketball school, and that’s not anything to be ashamed of, but just to get a little recognition by everyone was really cool.”

Heather Bergmann poses with a Jayhawk
Heather Bergmann graduated in December 2013 and will walk down the Hill this May to celebrate. After graduation, she’s not slowing down. She will teach high school in Minneapolis, Kan., designing a new chemistry program there, and coaching track and field and women’s basketball. She’ll also work on a master’s from Emporia State. – photo courtesy Heather Bergmann

Bergmann accomplished all that while completing her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and earning her teaching license through the UKanTeach program.

Bergmann said she knew she wanted to be a chemistry teacher, but at first she was wary of the UKanTeach program. That changed quickly when she became immersed in the program. She said she enjoyed how personal the program was and that she got to know all her professors. Additionally, she credited the program for setting her up with a great student teaching position at Olathe North High School and helping her become an effective educator.

“I ended up owning this belief that you need to know both the content you’re going to teach and how to teach it. They really stressed that,” Bergmann said.

Although Bergmann completed her degree in December, she will take part in the Highest Distinction graduation ceremony through the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences this May. Her academic success at KU is reflected not only in that honor, but also in her numerous academic awards including NCAA Academic & Athletic All-American, Capital One Academic First Team & Second Team All-American, Academic All-Big 12 First Team, among others.

Taking in all those experiences from her time at KU, Bergmann said she would recommend KU to anyone considering where to go to college. Being from the small town of Concordia, she said it’s been an especially eye-opening experience for her.

Heather Bergmann outside the White House
Heather Bergmann and her national champion track and field teammates traveled to the White House in January to meet President Obama and shake his hand.

“The biggest thing that I gained here was my ability to think independently and see people for people, not what they’re labeled as,” Bergmann said. “[KU] is a place where you can broaden your horizons. I know that’s kind of cliché, but that’s what I was able to do. If you’re looking to get out of your comfort zone and do different things, this is the place to be.”

This fall Bergmann will begin teaching chemistry at Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kan. She’ll be designing the school’s new second year chemistry program while coaching women’s basketball and track and field throwing. And outside of work? She’ll be working on her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction through Emporia State University’s online program.

“I’ll be really busy to say the least,” Bergmann said.

Luckily, busy seems to be exactly where she thrives.