Game Changer
By Elizabeth Shestak (HS'03), Carnegie Mellon Today, January 2011

Ava MurpheyLike most freshmen, Ava Murphey makes many new friends at Carnegie Mellon. She also becomes an integral member of the women's soccer team. Yet, despite her well-adjusted start to college life, the beginnings of an all-too-familiar feeling take root-a combination of restlessness, yearning, and energy. It's the same feeling that prompted her to spend a high school summer in Costa Rica, where she helped build a library with the Experiment in International Living Program.

During her sophomore year, that restless urge remains, and it can't be quelled by bike rides off the Pittsburgh campus. Looking for advice, she turns to her older brother, Kelley, a college graduate who spent a year in AmeriCorps. He tells her that the year off from his college education was the "most influential and rewarding experience" of his life.

Her mind is made up. To truly value her time at Carnegie Mellon, she needs a year outside the classroom. But what will her parents think? When they come to watch her play in a soccer game, she decides to break the news to them. After the game, back at her parents' hotel, she blurts out her wishes. At first, her father says nothing. His silence worries Murphey, but she continues laying out her plan. Taking her brother's advice, she had done a bit of research and learned from a friend about Soccer Without Borders, a nonprofit that brings soccer to underprivileged areas. What Murphey found particularly appealing was its Girls in the Game program, which focuses on introducing soccer, and all the positives that go along with organized sports, to chicas-little boys play futbol throughout Latin America, but girls are often dissuaded. Her dad finally speaks. Her plan sounds meaningful, productive, and educational. It's okay with him.

To pay for the trip, Murphey needs to raise $5,000 to cover airfare and living expenses in South America for 10 months. She does so by running a charity car wash, selling T-shirts, and hosting fundraisers at her parents' home.

So, this past fall her soccer teammates were youngsters who live in Solola, Guatemala. Next fall, she'll return to Carnegie Mellon, and women's soccer. Coach Yon Struble says he will gladly welcome her back: "Ava is a determined, hard-working player, and we certainly missed her on the field this season. But I know she will have an incredible experience abroad, and we're looking forward to having her share what she learns when she rejoins us next year."