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Lapping the Field: Shannon Scovel Wins the President’s Award

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American University President Neil Kerwin and the President's Award recipient, Shannon Scovel.
American University President Neil Kerwin and the President's Award recipient, Shannon Scovel.

When she was initially applying for colleges, Shannon Scovel was thorough. In a part college tour-part fun excursion, Scovel and her mother visited 22 different schools. After arriving at American University, she observed some student character traits that she hoped to emulate.

“I was so impressed by everyone on campus,” Scovel says now. “And I remember thinking, ‘This is very fast-paced. People are so passionate. I hope I can be that accomplished by the time I graduate.’”

Years later, she’s passed that test with flying colors, earning the top distinction for undergraduate students at AU. Scovel is this year’s recipient of the President’s Award, given to a graduating student whose accomplishments are truly exceptional and reflect AU’s highest ideals.

“It was all such a whirlwind. I didn’t actually think that this was something that I could win,” she says.

Student-Athlete

Yet, looking at her résumé, getting this award is less surprising than how she managed to navigate such a loaded schedule. She was on the swim team for four years—eventually becoming team captain—and she’s set to graduate with nearly a 4.0 GPA. She also worked at The Eagle and served as editor-in-chief in 2015-2016.

In her view, athletics fueled her scholastic achievements. “I think swimming really helped. I had a team, so I was accountable to them. I was doing my academics for me, but I was also doing it for the team,” she says.

The Patriot League publishes everyone’s spring semester GPA, and AU Swimming and Diving Coach Mark Davin incorporates academics into the team culture. “There’s a sense of pride in doing well in the classroom,” she notes.

Going the Extra Mile

For Scovel, it wasn’t just about getting A’s. She’s learned how much she enjoys learning. “That’s something I didn’t know about myself. I didn’t realize I was that academic-minded. I knew I liked school, but I didn’t know that I’d definitely want to continue with it after college,” she says.

She’ll now go to Scotland on a Fulbright scholarship, pursuing her master’s degree in gender studies from University of Stirling. Scovel will continue to focus on her primary interest: media representation of women in sports.

She wrote her AU Honors capstone on that same subject, and she interviewed 25 women and men about sports media—from writers and editors to scholars and athletes. She even got some email insights from Olympic gold medalist swimmer Missy Franklin.

School of Communication Assistant Professor Christine Lawrence, who was Scovel’s adviser for the capstone, praises her discipline and commitment. “She’s just what you want someone in journalism to be. She’s persistent and is willing to call anybody to get the information that she needs,” says Lawrence. “She did remarkable work on that project.”

Why are women underrepresented in sports coverage? Among other findings, Scovel points to the fact that about 91 percent of sports editors are men. “Until that number goes down, and there’s more equality there, we’ll never see more coverage of female athletes,” argues Scovel.

Scovel can now be a part of that change, and she lauds AU for helping her on that path. Adjunct Professor Don Markus helped her decide she wanted to be a sportswriter. And SOC Professor Rodger Streitmatter’s “Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Media” class had a formative impact on her. “That was the first course where I realized that I can use journalism to advocate for gender equality, without being an activist,” she says. “I can just use my writing to showcase inequalities.”

She also got job experience interning with Sports Illustrated and USA TODAY. And AU connections opened up other opportunities, like reporting from the Washington Wizards locker room and a recent trip to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“It’s just things that you can’t possibly read about in a brochure. They’re such unique things that are offered by professors who just really care and want to put you out into the real world,” she says. “SOC and AU have been so good to me. I can’t even express enough gratitude.”

Scovel will earn her bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in political science. She’d love to do longform Olympic sports reporting, and she’s contemplating a future in academia.

The Long and the Short of It

In a sense, AU was the culmination of a dream she had since she was seven years old. Her parents were athletes at University of Maryland, College Park—her mom was a gymnast and her dad was a wrestler. Growing up in Cary, North Carolina, Scovel also yearned to compete at the collegiate level, and she’d found her sport of choice in the swimming pool. “It’s a sport that really requires you to dig deep and push yourself, and I thought that was so thrilling. So I kept going with it.”

At AU, she swam the distance freestyle, and she seems to have taken the long view throughout her life. But she didn’t divert her eyes from the tasks right in front of her.

When she recently got the call that she won the President’s Award, she was walking to her public speaking class for her last assignment. She was ecstatic about getting the award, and she called both her mother and father to share her moment with them. But Scovel didn’t have time to celebrate, and she kept the conversations brief. It was time to go to class, to give that one final speech.