Carnegie Mellon University
May 10, 2023

Student Athlete Reflects on Time at CMU

By Marissa Pekular

Helena Spencer is graduating this spring with a degree in information systems (IS) and minors in human-computer interaction as well as societal & human impacts of future technologies (SHIFT).

While Spencer is excited for the next chapter of her life to begin — working as a technical consultant for Chicago-based consulting firm Pariveda — her graduation is bittersweet as she departs from the Carnegie Mellon University women’s soccer program, her team for the past four years.

Growing up in a military family, Spencer moved from coast to coast, living in states including California and Virginia. She eventually found her home in Pittsburgh with her admission to CMU. From the beginning, she was excited to start her collegiate soccer career and pursue IS.

To Spencer, her teammates felt like family. As a first-year student, being a part of the team helped her to settle into the new campus environment and with time their bond grew. Eventually, these friendships helped her though challenging times.

“Looking back, I enjoyed my time at CMU,” Spencer said. “If I had to go back and do it all again, I definitely would.”

Spencer has been playing soccer for most of her life, starting in third grade. Since her final season came to an end last fall, she is looking forward to new opportunities within the sport, but still misses her team, coaching staff and experiences within the soccer program.

As many student athletes can attest, juggling a sport, coursework, extracurricular activities and a social life can prove to be a very difficult undertaking. For Spencer, playing soccer kept her academically disciplined and organized, providing structure to her busy schedule.

“[Soccer] not only kept me on track and structured, but also allowed me to meet people and form relationships I probably would've never had the chance to do if I wasn't on the team,” Spencer said.

Off the field, Spencer was involved in multiple campus programs and initiatives. During her sophomore and junior years, she was the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council. In this role, she promoted the CMU student-athlete experience by organizing communication on behalf of the campus athletic community, elevating relevant concerns of individuals or teams and implementing campus events. She also was a member of the University Leadership Student Advisory Council where she advocated for improvements to be made on campus, bringing together leaders of all student government groups.

While balancing her academic, leadership and team responsibilities was challenging, these experiences helped to shape Spencer into the hard-working person she is.

Spencer is graduating this May, but that does not mean she is retiring from soccer altogether. She hopes to still play at the semi-professional level in the near future. Soccer is her passion, and she wants to play it for the sake of having fun.

As she looks forward to graduation, Spencer gave some advice to incoming student-athletes. 

“While your teammates are going to be your close friends and usually end up turning into family, try to find friends outside of your team whether that be within your major or other clubs,” Spencer said. “It’s important to have other outlets and people to rely on throughout your time at CMU.”