Nov. 9, 2018

Future MPP Student, Jocelyn Willoughby: Lawn Resident Juggles Basketball, Books and Service

Stanford University, Northwestern University, Vanderbilt University, Duke University and the University of Notre Dame were just a few of the schools Jocelyn Willoughby was considering before deciding that the University of Virginia was the only place for her.

Sealing the deal? A belief that UVA would help her grow off the basketball court just as much as on it.

“It was looking at the combination of athletics and academics and saying, ‘Can I really have the experience on both ends?’” Willoughby said. “I felt that UVA offered that the best out of all the schools.”

Three years later, Willoughby – a third-year student from East Orange, New Jersey, who will be graduating in May (a year early) before starting her master’s degree at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy – said she couldn’t be more pleased with the decision.

Willoughby, the daughter of an accountant and a math teacher, has immersed herself in University life. From living on the Lawn and serving as a peer adviser in the Office of African-American Affairs, to serving as a fellow in the Meriwether Lewis Institute for Citizen Leadership and being a student member of the NCAA’s Women’s College Basketball Oversight Committee, Willoughby – who was recognized for earning Intermediate Honors at the recent Fall Convocation – doesn’t have much free time.

But recently UVA’s second-leading returning scorer this season found some for UVA Today.

Q. What’s living on the Lawn been like?

For Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn, third-year UVA women’s basketball player Jocelyn Willoughby – who lives on the Lawn – dressed up as … herself. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

A. It’s been a really good experience, especially being an athlete and being able to branch out and learn about different traditions and events that are going on that other people are really involved in.

African-Americans and slave laborers were the ones who built this University, so that’s been a really cool and humbling part of living on the Lawn.

Having black prospective families come in and ask me what’s it’s like – being able to speak to that experience a little bit and make the space more inviting has been really cool. 

Q. How did you decide to become a global studies major?

A. In looking at different majors when I first got to UVA, I knew I was interested in anthropology or sociology, but I wanted to try and make it a little more practical. Global studies was just perfect because it had politics, economics, sociology and anthropology that you can kind of pull together and make your own major. I realized how flexible the program was and relevant to current times. I knew it would be a good major because it kind of has the human aspect to it, but also the practical piece.

Q. What was it like being a Meriwether Lewis Fellow?

A. That was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve had at UVA. Our specific project from our cohort was to look at the second-year slump, which is a national trend. Students transitioning from first to second year often find that transition to be the toughest. Looking at UVA, we found it was for a variety of different issues.

We looked at how we could possibly reduce some of the stress that second-years face. We came up with some pretty innovative solutions that we got to pitch to different deans and stakeholders at the University. Now some people are continuing with the project to see what can actually be implemented.

Q. Have you had a favorite class at UVA?

A. So far, it’s probably been “Race and Ethnic Relations.” I took it this past summer with professor Rose Buckelew. I just felt it was a very timely and relevant class. It really just changed my perspective on how I see the world. It’s been really cool to see how it relates to my other classes and things that I’m studying.

Q. One thing people don’t know about you?

A. I’m a beginner knitter. I have a scarf I started a few weeks ago. It’s just relaxing and enjoyable.

Q. What do you enjoy most about being a UVA student?

A. The thing that’s becoming more apparent now is how many cool people there are around. We have so many students who have just done so many cool projects and have lived abroad and done such great research projects. Being able to hear and learn about the different experiences that people at UVA have is inspiring.

Q. Favorite book?

A. One of the most recent ones I’ve really enjoyed is called “The Defining Decade.” My dad gave it to me to read. [UVA associate professor and clinical psychologist Meg Jay wrote the 2013 book, whose subtitle is “Why Your Twenties Matter – And How to Make the Most of Them Now.”]

Q. What’s the basic premise?

A. If you wait until your 30s to start working on a lot of things at the same time, you’ll be super-stressed out and won’t have as fulfilling of a life as you had hoped.

If you start in your 20s, being strategic in a sense, not floating aimlessly and finding balance in working toward goals, then in your 30s you’ll actually be able to enjoy life instead of being stressed about all the little things.

Q. In that vein, do you know what you want to do after your basketball days so that you’re not “floating aimlessly”?

A. I have an idea, kind of. I would love to continue playing after I graduate. I’m not sure if I want to go into politics, but between my global development studies and politics, I’m thinking non-profit work might be of interest to me.

Over fall break, [UVA Athletic Director] Carla Williams put together a trip to New York for student-athletes to see the non-profit world and the different branches that you can go into. I said, “OK, maybe that’s something that would interest me,” because it’s very related to social justice work, which is important to me.

Q. Seems like you may have some stuff in common with Malcolm Brogdon. Have you ever met him?

A. No, that’s one of my goals! [Smiling] I told the men’s basketball staff that when he comes back, please introduce me, because I know he’s doing some really cool philanthropic work and have heard a lot of great things. I would love to talk with him.

Q. Do you have a favorite place on Grounds?

A. I just like quiet, kind of low-key spots. … I’ve really enjoyed my Lawn room because it’s so conveniently located. Between classes, I can grab a meal, take a nap if necessary or do some homework. And it’s also a social space.

Q. How has each of your parents inspired you?

A. My mom has always given me timely wisdom and has been really supportive, no matter if things are going well or not. She’s always there for advice and telling me to keep pushing.

My dad has always pushed me and challenged me and encouraged me to not follow the crowd, to ask a lot of questions and to be grounded in what you believe. My dad always says that you don’t have to wait to learn or know something just by being taught by someone else. If you really want to know, you can research. Just having that constant curiosity and thirst for knowledge is something he’s instilled in me.

Q. You’re now in your second year of serving as a peer adviser in the Office of African-American Affairs. What has that been like?

A. It’s been a really cool experience, just to be able to mentor incoming students and figure out classes and help them with their transition throughout the University. Being able to maintain contact with previous advisees and ask them how they’re doing and what things they’re involved in has been really cool. It’s been one of the ways I’ve been able to branch out into the University and meet new deans, faculty and other students. It’s been a great experience.

Q. What’s it been like serving as one of the two student members on the NCAA’s Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee?

A. The experience has been really cool, just to see how the sport we have today has evolved. A lot of the legislation and rules of the game are run through the committee. Seeing how college athletics operates from the back side has been a really cool experience. My specific role has been giving student-athlete input when we’re looking at proposals.

Q. One piece of advice for future UVA students?

A. I think, for me, even though I’ve done a lot of things – I think at points I can look back and say, “OK, I probably needed to do less and really just focus on balance.” So one of the things I really enjoy doing is just relaxing and reflecting. I listen to music, do some journaling and try to stay in touch with family and friends and just re-charge because the day-to-day can be a little exhausting with basketball, school, extracurriculars. So finding time for yourself is important.

This article originally appeared in UVA Today.