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College of Education Scholar Athletes Excel in Classroom, Pool

NC State is awarded the ACC Women's Swimming and Diving Champions in Atlanta, Ga., Thursday, Feb.16, 2017. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, the

Two College of Education  students recently helped the NC State women’s swimming and diving team to its first ACC championship since 1980: Rachel Muller and Ky-Lee Perry.

Rachel, a senior in mathematics education, placed third in distance freestyle and sixth in the 500-yard freestyle races, and was part of the second-place squad that set an NC State record in the 800-yard freestyle. Ky-Lee, a freshman in middle grades education, was part of three relay teams — the 400-yard freestyle relay, 200-yard freestyle relay and 200-yard medley relay — that won ACC titles. She also took home the conference title in the 50-yard freestyle and placed second  in the 100-yard freestyle to earn All-ACC honors.

Both will compete in the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships that begin Wednesday, March 15, and conclude Saturday, March 18.

We spoke with Rachel and Ky-Lee about their swimming careers, why they’re pursuing teaching careers, and how their experiences in the pool and classroom influence each other.  

Left: Freshman Ky-Lee Perry. Photo: Karl L. Moore

How did you get into competitive swimming?

Rachel: When I was about four or five, my parents signed me up for summer swim league, because my older sister was swimming. At the end of the year, there was a county championship meet for anyone who was a top-50 swimmer in their event. My family was on vacation at the time, so we missed the meet, but my parents were told that I had the potential to be a good swimmer. They encouraged me to get involved in year-round swimming, and that has stuck with me throughout the years.

Ky-Lee:  I started out taking swim lessons just to get the basics down, like how to do turns. My swim instructor told me that I had potential and that I should try out for a few teams. When I was 11, I tried out for and finally joined a team, but swimming wasn’t my first sport. I played basketball and that was my priority, but once I started getting better at swimming, I had to make a choice. I chose swimming and I’m glad that I stuck with it.

What drew you to education?

Rachel: Since I was a little girl, I’ve enjoyed doing math. I could do math problems all day long, and want others to feel the same way I do about math. Understanding how the subject works and how it can be useful later in life is important, and I’ve known that math education is something that I’ve wanted to pursue for a long time.

Ky-Lee: I really love working with little kids. When I was younger, I’d always babysit my brother, and I enjoyed being able to teach him and other children something new. That is a great age, and young children are eager to learn from you and follow your example.

Why did you choose the NC State College of Education?

Rachel: I have a twin sister, and a lot of people think that we’re identical, but we’re not — we have very different personalities. I’m competitive and have been involved in sports for a long time, and she is more carefree. But she’s also studying education and wants to pursue preschool and elementary education. When we were younger, we would pretend to be teachers and it was always something in the back of our minds that we wanted to do. Our aunt is also a teacher, so it runs in the family. Then in high school when I had two outstanding math teachers, I knew that I wanted to pursue teaching.

Ky-Lee: I’m interested in working with children and teaching them all kinds of new concepts. I tend to read out loud whenever I read, like I’m teaching a class. I love interacting with children, and I want to pursue elementary/middle grades education, focusing on subjects like history and literature.

What lessons have you learned from swimming that you use in the classroom?

Rachel: Swimming has really helped with time management for me. I can’t wait until the last minute to do something, because I don’t have all the time in a normal day that some people do. I’m going to practice twice a day for two hours and lifting weights for an hour. I’ve learned to find balance, and I think this will help me be better organized and better with time management. Having some sort of structure is important.

Ky-Lee: I agree. If I know that I’m going to be busy the following week, I like to get ahead of my work so that I’m not rushing to do anything at the last minute. I want to be able to perform to the best of my capabilities, and swimming helps me do that in class.

Senior Rachel Muller. Photo: Karl L. Moore

What have you learned in the College of Education that’s helped you become a better athlete?

Rachel: I have learned that with teaching you have to be flexible, because you never know what is going to happen in your classroom. That has really carried over into swimming. You’re never going to  have a perfect meet, and you’re going to have to be flexible and put a bad swim behind you. You need to be a good teammate so that you can support others and say “You can do this. I didn’t have a great swim, but I’ll be here to cheer you on.”

Ky-Lee: I’ve only been an education major for two semesters, but I would have to agree. Time management, flexibility and helping your teammates when they need you the most are incredibly important.

How do you think swimming will help you as teachers? 

Rachel: I think that swimming and what I’m learning in the classroom will mesh together and I’ll bring what I’ve learned from swimming and the College of Education to create the best possible classroom. Swimming has made me more disciplined and hardworking, and I want this to rub off on students in my classroom. If I work hard, they’ll see that I’m disciplined and will learn from me.

Ky-Lee: As an athlete you learn so many valuable lessons, like how to be a good leader and a teammate, and wanting what’s best for each other in and out of the pool. By bringing these lessons into the classroom, you’re teaching students how to be the best they can be. You’re showing them that they have potential and can succeed if they work hard.

What do you hope to do with your education degree once you graduate?

Rachel: In the fall, I’ll start student teaching, and then find a job from there. Now that I’ve spent time in school, I’ve realized I really enjoy eighth and ninth grades. I want to reach children and help them have that “a-ha” moment where the find out they really understand and enjoy doing math, because I’ve had that moment before.

Ky-Lee: I’m a freshman, so I still have a little ways to go, but I’m looking forward to doing my student teaching and then finding a position teaching children in younger grades, hopefully teaching English.