WESTFIELD, Mass. – Two Westfield State University student-athletes, swimmer Carly Thibodeau and football/track athlete Corey Pooler were recently named as President's Award for Excellence in Leadership along with four other Westfield State students.
Thibodeau swims the butterfly events for the Owls women's swimming and diving team and will help lead the team into the New England Intercollegiate Swimming and Diving Association championship meet this weekend.
Pooler is the primary kicker for the Owls football team in the fall, and added track and field to his resume this winter, finishing second in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference in the 600 meters in the recent indoor championship meet.
The President's Award for Excellence in Leadership was created in 2007. To be eligible for the award, students must have a grade point average of 3.3 or higher and exhibit an impressive range of both university and community service activity.
Pooler said he got interested in community service by following in the footsteps of his parents.
"Neither of my parents had a chance to go to college, but they are always quick to help others in the community," he said. "My dad has coached and my mom volunteers with youth sports, and we volunteered with Challenger League baseball."
Pooler has gone on two service learning trips through Westfield State, going to Nicaragua twice, which piqued his interest in serving in other areas. He has also gone on two other independent service trips to Guatemala.
"The J-Term trips were really cool, and after the first one I wanted to do more. They aren't that expensive to do through the college, so I save the money I earn in the summer to help pay for the trip."
He's expanded his role with service, as he ran the Boston Marathon last year while raising money through a GoFundMe page, which he entitled "Pooler Fights Poverty."
"None of the money goes to my trip, it all goes to educational supplies, water filters, other basic needs and toiletries for the people we visit on the trips," said Pooler. "We donated $1,000 to each of the non-profits involved with the trip, and we help support a single mom and her three children in Guatemala."
"I'm not involved in a ton of clubs on campus, or president of them," said Pooler. "But I thought the community work I did outside of Westfield would fit in," with the scope of the President's Award.
A Middleboro native, Pooler is a Mathematics major who hopes to teach high school math after graduation.
While he ran track in high school, he had been away from the sport for several years before joining the team this year after talking to Owls head coach Sean O'Brien, who also serves as the defensive backs coach on the football team.
"I saw him run and talked to him about coming out for track," said O'Brien. "After the first couple of weeks I wasn't sure that was a good decision, but he's improved leaps and bounds and track-wise wound up second overall in the conference. It must be good coaching," he added with a grin.
"I love the competitive nature of track," said Pooler. "It's probably the sport that's the fairest to everyone, same conditions for all. I love to be competitive."
Pooler walked on to the football team as a sophomore, after his father encouraged him to try kicking after having played soccer in high school.
"I literally went out and bought a football at WalMart, and thought I might try out a year later. I was kicking on the field, and Hinschie (football assistant coach Tom Hinsch) saw me practicing, and the next thing you know I'm filling out paperwork and getting equipment and I played right away."
Pooler doesn't connect too many dots between track and football.
"It's a different vibe, kicking is more relaxed," said Pooler. "In track, I over think everything, and think about the start, where I'll move in the race. In kicking you want everything to be the same every time."
"Kicking is almost like an individual sport," said O'Brien. "Hopefully the confidence he is developing in track carries over to the field next fall. He's developing that toughness."
"She does a lot on campus and swimming is just one of many activities for her," said longtime Westfield State swim coach Dave Laing of Thibodeau, who will swim the 50, 100 and 200-yard butterfly events this weekend at M.I.T.
"She's dedicated, and learning more each year as a she swims," said Laing. "She's willing to take on different races when we need someone in an event like she has with the 200 fly. She's a good teammate as well."
"I love New England's – the atmosphere, the energy and excitement," said Thibodeau. "It's so much fun because it's intense and everyone is pumped up, and our team usually does well and everyone swims their best times."
Thibodeau said that the 200 fly is "more of a focus for me this year, definitely a challenge that I am doing my best to meet."
She's also meeting the challenge in the classroom and the Westfield State community.
An Economics and Environmental Science double major with a minor in Spanish, she was recently recognized at the Athletic Director's 3.0 Ceremony and Reception as one of a handful of Owls athletes who achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average in the fall semester.
"I hope to go on to graduate school in an Environmental Economics program, and after that enter the workforce as an environmental consultant to help companies use energy more efficiently, conserve resources, and disposes of wastes more sustainably," said Thibodeau.
On campus, she also served as the president of Lamda Sigma – the sophomore class honor society last year.
"We worked with children at risk and raised $500 for Camp Sunshine (for terminally ill and disabled children), and read to kids at the Boys and Girls Club.," said Thibodeau. "We were able to get national honor status and were recognized as the most improved chapter. I also work as a student ambassador and we have worked with the Banacos Center on campus, Our House (a shelter home in Westfield) and the White Oak School."
The Westfield State student ambassador program selects high achieving students who help out with a variety of events on campus and in the community, interacting with alumni and the general public to help them learn about happenings at the University.
"I try to block out time, and know that I only have so much and try to use it to the best of my ability," said Thibodeau when asked how she balances her academics and activities. "I get up early and try to get some work done before I go to classes. In season, I am more productive, I know I need to get work done in the free time I have, but when the season is over I have more time to procrastinate."
In winning the President's award for leadership, Thibodeau said ""I was really honored. Shocked and surprised. It's a tough applicant pool, and some of the best of the best at Westfield.
"She's very dedicated to her studies and her work," said Laing.
"In high school I started getting involved (with community service)," said Thibodeau, a Mendon native who attended Nipmuc Regional. "It's the best way to meet people, and make the most of my experience, and it's made a huge difference in my experience at Westfield."