Still shining in her studies

by David O'Brian
Binghamton Sports Information

Synopsis: After a stellar career with the Binghamton women's basketball team, Rachel Laws has continued her academic success in working towards her Ph. D at Michigan State.

Four years ago, Rachel Laws spent a good deal of her time traveling. As a senior guard on the Binghamton women's basketball team, she went to Boston, Hartford, Baltimore and Kansas City during the winter months. Laws was wrapping up an undergraduate career that contained much success both on the court and in the classroom.

This past winter, Laws was once again on the go, this time to places such as New Orleans, Atlanta and Vancouver. While her athletic career has ended, her educational endeavors have not. She is working on her Ph. D. in African American and African Studies (AAAS) at Michigan State University and has traveled to many different conferences in her field of study. Laws recently made a presentation at one of those conferences and is now fully immersed in writing her dissertation.

Simply put, Laws has remained ambitious and successful long after graduating from Binghamton.

Success On and Off the Court

Laws arrived at Binghamton after a successful high school career at Cheltenham High School, located just outside of Philadelphia. She moved into a starting role at Binghamton midway through her freshman year and never looked back. By the time she graduated in 2006, Laws was a three-time, America East All-Conference selection and ranked fifth all time in program history with 1,246 points.

"Being a part of the Binghamton basketball program meant and means so much to me," she said. "It always will. I became a better basketball player and person while there and made life long friendships."

One friendship that has remained strong long after college is that with Shea Kenny, who transferred to Binghamton prior to Laws' junior season. It didn't take long for her to realize who a special player and person Laws was.

"Rachel always left everything she had on the court and it was hard not to be inspired by her," Kenny said. "Not only was she a great player, but a great leader! All around Rachel had everything and gave everything to the team and was a wonderful teammate."

At the same time as she was excelling on the court, Laws also was making great strides in the classroom. She was named to the America East Conference Academic Honor Roll all four years and was inducted into the National Collegiate Athletic Honor Society in her senior year. To Laws, being successful in academics and athletics is something she was able to do based on her desire to stay disciplined.

"Being an athlete absolutely helped me with my academic rigor," she said. "When you live as a student athlete, your life is on a schedule daily. I was able to successfully balance basketball and academics, but it's important to say that I wanted to do that. Not all college athletes are willing to commit to their academic success as much as they do their athletic success."

Laws credits much of her success to her parents, Dan and Myra. They provided her with the support and encouragement to become the student-athlete she could be.

"My parents sacrificed so much of their time supporting my sister and me athletically, academically, and socially from young ages," she said. "We were raised to become well-rounded young adults and I can't possibly thank my parents enough for both just always being there. I've also gotten tremendous support athletically and academically from my extended family as well…I'm truly blessed to have the family that I do."

Like Kenny on the court, there were several Binghamton professors who were impressed with Laws as a student. Dr. Michael West is a Professor of Sociology got to know her early on before she had chosen her major.

"Rachel took two of my courses while she was a student here," he said. "She was a very good student, earning in both classes just about as high a grade as is possible in my classes," West said. "What I found was that she shattered preconceived notions. Not being a basketball fan myself, it was well into the semester of our first encounter that I discovered she was a basketball player on an athletic scholarship."

Dr. Isidore Okpewho is a distinguished professor of Africana Studies. He too remembers Laws for the serious nature in which she took her studies.

"Despite her athletic commitments at Binghamton University, Rachel took her work very seriously, attending classes regularly and punctually and showing an admirable depth of commitment to her work," he said. "She participated effectively in class discussion and her class presentation showed a seriousness of purpose and willingness to explore the subject assigned (to) her."

Life After Binghamton

In her first two years, Laws leaned towards majoring in biology but after her sophomore year, she decided to major in African-American studies. It wasn't until she was a senior, however, that she knew what exactly she wanted to pursue after college.

"My senior year at Binghamton, I wasn't quite sure what discipline I wanted to get a PhD in," she said. "I applied to schools for Sociology, Anthropology, History, and African American & African Studies. My Binghamton Professors of Africana Studies, Dr. Michael West and Dr. Isidore Okpewho, recommended that I apply to Michigan State's AAAS Program and after reading about the program online, I did just that. I especially liked that MSU's AAAS Program requires its students to complete a domestic internship and international internship."

For the next three years, Laws focused on her course work. Like West and Okpewho at Binghamton, she found professors at Michigan State who challenged her to become a better student.

"I'm so happy that I chose to pursue a PhD at Michigan State," she said. "The AAAS Program has challenged me intellectually, helped me grow as a person, and most importantly provided guidance from professors who are invested in the success and growth of Black Studies and its future scholars."

With her class work completed, Laws is now working on her dissertation. As a former athlete, she decided on a topic that combines both her athletic and academic interests.

"I am working on my dissertation entitled, 'The Black Female Athlete: Image, Perceptions, and Narratives (South Africa & the United States).' It is both interdisciplinary and comparative, as it looks at the lives and treatment of Black Female Athletes in South Africa & the U.S. through images, films, media, and personal narratives," she said.

Laws has been furthering her educational career outside of the classroom as well as in it. She has been working with the My Brother's Keeper Mentoring Program ever since she started graduate school and has been the Program Coordinator for the Program for three years. Laws has also been to South Africa twice, completing an internship (2008) and a Curatorial Fellowship (2009) at the Nelson Mandela National Museum.

As of March, Laws has attended six conferences around North America, all of which are geared towards her field of study. She recently returned from the 34th Annual NCBS (National Council of Black Studies) National Conference in New Orleans. She also attended the 32nd NCBS Conference in Atlanta, GA (2008); the 93rd Annual ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History) Convention in Birmingham, AL (2008); the Black Religion and Spirituality (BRS) Initiative's 3rd Annual Conference (2008) and the Michigan State University Sankofa Black Studies Graduate Student Association Symposium (2008). In Vancouver last month, Laws attended and presented at her first international conference, the Inaugural International Conference on Sport & Society.

"I have really enjoyed all of my conference experiences, but especially those that have taken me to new cities," she said. "I had never been to Atlanta, Birmingham, or Vancouver before. Any moral human being will be deeply moved by the amount of U.S. History the city of Birmingham holds and Vancouver is truly as beautiful as the Olympic broadcasts made it out to be."

Remembering the Past

Although Laws has been deep into her educational endeavors, she remains in touch with several former teammates from Binghamton. This past October, she went to New York City to support Kenny as she ran in her first NYC Marathon.

"I found a life long friend with Rachel," Kenny said. "She supports me in everything I do and that was just supported more by the fact that she took that trip to NY to show her support in the marathon. This really meant the world to me because of how important running the marathon was to me. To be able to see Rachel and hear her as I ran gave me that extra boost and adrenaline to complete one of my lifelong goals."

Kenny, who now resides in Myrtle Beach, has little doubt that Laws will continue to be a success after finishing her doctorate.

"All that Rachel has accomplished and continues to accomplish at Michigan State is truly remarkable and an inspiration," she said. "She has been able to see the world and yet expand her mind and learn so much. Rachel is going to accomplish really great things in life. I have no doubt about it."

While it has been nearly eight years since he first met Laws, West feels the same way as Kenny does.

"The young woman I remember was determined and, I have no doubt, will go far if she retains that spirit," he said.

Once her dissertation is completed, Laws intends to explore several different options for her first job with a doctorate.

"After completing my degree program, I plan to start a career in African American & African museums," she said. "My dream job is to work in the Educational Department of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (which is set to open in 2015). Or I'd like to be a Professor of English or Sociology at a smaller university."

No matter where she goes after completing her program at Michigan State, Laws will always be grateful for the role Binghamton University played in her life.

"During my four years at Binghamton, I really started to find myself. I figured out what I wanted to do after basketball and that was really important for me to do," she said. "I had been an athlete my entire life and it's hard to think about life without competitive sports. Binghamton allowed me to mature mentally and emotionally as a person, not just athletically."
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