GREENSBORO-Freshman Aleena McDaniel has spent her last month of summer vacation getting a jumpstart on her transition to becoming a student-athlete at North Carolina A&T. 

McDaniel, one of the eight new student-athletes joining the A&T volleyball team this season, was one of 20 students accepted into the biology department's Pre-Matriculation Program, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation. 

"On my visit, I was told it was a good opportunity to get on campus, get familiar with the professors and classes for the fall.  I was pretty excited when I learned I was accepted," she said.  McDaniel, who is planning on majoring in biology and with a minor in chemistry, was selected from a pool of applicants based on her high school grade point average, evaluations and her desire to advance in the biomedical field. 

A native of Indianapolis, McDaniel has been learning how to adapt to the life of a Division I athlete through this program, by getting a taste of what campus life and the biology department has to offer. 

The program is a four-week rigorous summer program in which participants take preparatory courses in math, chemistry, biology, and writing to help prepare students for academic success in their freshman year.  It helps them not only acclimate to the rigors of A&T academics, but also teaches students time management and study skills.  McDaniel has enjoyed the experience.

Participants also take field trips to other universities for hands on learning in biomedical research techniques and networking during the program.

In a few weeks, the added responsibility of traveling as an athlete will be attached to McDaniel's busy schedule as volleyball starts its season August 24 at a tournament hosted by Western Carolina. 

"[I'm looking forward to] just being on the court and traveling, and getting a feel for what it's like being a college athlete," she said.

McDaniel, a 5-foot-10 middle and right side hitter, has enjoyed the ability to get accustomed to balancing a schedule of classes and practices before the 2012 fall semester starts August 15. 

The Pre-Matriculation Program has also helped put McDaniel on the path to pursuing her career goal of working as a pharmacist.  Her interest in science, particularly biology and chemistry, grew in high school after taking several courses.  

"Science was the most interesting out of the other subjects," she said, adding that her interest in pharmaceutical science is tied to her interest in knowing more about the field her mother works in.  Patricia McDaniel is a pharmaceutical representative for Johnson & Johnson. 

McDaniel added that she plans to apply for the RISE (MBRS Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) program at the university, which supports minority students interested in pursuing terminal degrees in biomedical sciences. 

The RISE program, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the university, provides students with supplemental instruction in chemistry, biology and calculus. It also provides opportunities for research internships, seminars with leading scientists and opportunities to travel to conferences to present research, as well as GRE preparation.  

If selected to the program, she would be the second volleyball player in as many years to participate in RISE.  Bridget McCaskill, a senior libero on the 2011 team, was one of 17 students in the RISE program and double majored in biology and chemistry before graduating in May 2012. 

McCaskill's example has been a helpful guide for McDaniel.

 

"When I was on my visit, she gave us a tour of some of the buildings where we'd take science classes and gave us insight into how to play volleyball and be a bio major," McDaniel said, adding that McCaskill said balancing the science courseload and athletic demands was manageable.  "I'm up for the challenge." 

What will also help McDaniel in her adjustment this season is having other biology majors as teammates, including senior Andrea Evans, and junior Murphye Williams. 

"I definitely think it's great to be close to someone with the same schedule who understands work ethic and what needs to be done," McDaniel said.