World-renowned physicist Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.”
After five years of playing college lacrosse, Pitt defender Therese Pitman brings just that to her new internship with the NCAA. With a firsthand understanding of the student-athlete experience, Pitman looks to shine a light on issues plaguing student-athletes across the country.
In their inaugural season, Pitt Lacrosse quickly found a sense of consistency in Pitman. Despite it being her first year playing with the team, coaches saw her as a leader given the fact that it was her fifth year playing Division I lacrosse.
Pitt head coach Emily Boissonneault said Pitman’s transition into becoming a leader in the locker room, and to Pitt as a whole, was a smooth one.
“We talk about Therese Pitman all the time,” Boissonneault said. “She’s an incredible leader, she really engaged with the University last year, she comes from a smaller, mid-major school. The special thing is that anyone can step up in any moment, and I think everyone on this team is capable of doing that.”
After stops at Binghamton and Siena, Pitman started all 19 games for the Panthers and played a major role in establishing a standard in the program’s inaugural season.
But despite her on-field success, Pitman’s impact on college athletics is perhaps still in the making.
In a time when mental health struggles among student-athletes continue to manifest themselves in tragic ways, people such as Pitman are looking to make life easier for those bearing the weight of collegiate academics and athletics.
Unlike many of her peers, Pitman’s relationship with lacrosse was relatively short. Growing up in Sherrill, NY, Pitman didn’t touch a lacrosse stick until tenth grade, when her friend convinced her to give the sport a shot.
Lacrosse came naturally to Pitman.
“A lot of people fall out of love with the sport they play because they’ve played it for so long,” Pitman said. “Because I haven’t, it’s given me the opportunity to fall in love with [lacrosse] and never fall out of love with it.”
While Pitman didn’t draw much attention from D-I schools initially due to her relatively new relationship with lacrosse, a connection to the Binghamton program got Pitman a foot in the door. She made an immediate impression on the coaching staff, and accepted her only D-I offer to play for the Bearcats.
About five years later, Pitman wore her No. 6 for the final time in blue and gold — a bittersweet goodbye to a school that had a profound impact on her life, despite playing just one season in Pittsburgh.
“It’s pretty cool to go from being told, ‘You’re never going to be able to play D-I lacrosse,’ to playing with some of the best players in the world,” Pitman said.
After their playing careers come to an end, it is well documented that many former student-athletes struggle to find a role in the workforce. After dedicating their lives to one sport, the institutions often forget about their former athletes.
For Pitman, her post-academic career will begin with focusing on that same problem and other issues many student-athletes face. After earning her bachelor’s degree in English from Siena and a Master’s in Public Administration from Pitt, Pitman brings both on-and off-the-field experience to her leadership development internship with the NCAA.
“I felt like I wasn’t done yet, especially since I picked up lacrosse so late,” Pitman said. “What I’ve learned is it’s not just about physically going and playing, it’s also about the mental and emotional side of it too.”
Much of her passion for the wellbeing of student-athletes is drawn back to the Cathy & John Pelusi Family Life Skills Program at Pitt, which, according to Pitt’s website, is meant “to prepare student-athletes for success while in college and for life after college.” The program provides resources for athletes to explore ventures such as future jobs and volunteer opportunities, along with other tasks such as building their resume.
“At Siena and Binghamton, I didn’t have the ability to walk into the Life Skills department and talk about what I want my future to look like,” Pitman said. “I always say that when I become an administrator in college athletics, whatever school I’m at I’m going to make sure has a life skills department.”
Danny Bonaventura has served the University of Pittsburgh since January 2020 and currently serves as the director of mentorship for the Life Skills Program. A former student-athlete at Robert Morris, Bonaventura has worked with Pitman and other Pitt athletes to help make the college and post-college experience as valuable as possible.
“We have a mantra … ‘Meet you where you are, see where you want to go and help you build a plan to get there,’” Bonaventura said. “All of that comes with providing the student-athletes an opportunity to succeed academically, succeed athletically and help them grow personally and develop so that they can have success during their time at Pitt and after they leave as well.”
Bonaventura said it was clear that Pitman was interested in working in collegiate athletics.
“Right in our initial meeting, she told me her goal was to work in athletic administration and become an athletic director one day,” Bonaventura said. “She’s very goal-driven and she shared that with me right off the bat.”
Pitman believes The Life Skills Department at Pitt embodies an ideology that she believes should become the norm across the country — allowing student-athletes to create their own experience, both during and after college.
For Pitman, this means a number of things — even something as simple as pursuing non-athletic passions.
A published author, Pitman said writing was a great outlet and gives her a medium of self-expression that doesn’t involve lacrosse — something that she says is a valuable asset for student-athletes of all sports.
“Every week I take my time to reflect on what the week was like and what I learned,” Pitman said. “I’ve used it as a piece to connect with other people.”
Pitman epitomized her vision of an athlete-centric culture in college sports even before accepting her internship with the NCAA. While at Pitt, Pitman helped organize various events within the athletic department, such as a Pride-themed game. She said the school’s willingness to listen to student-athletes is one of the most noticeable differences between Pitt and her experiences at previous institutions.
“At Pitt, it was like, ‘Hey, what do you want this game to look like?’ It made us so happy to be included,” Pitman said. “Creating opportunities for student-athletes to drive their own experience is so important.”
At the 2022 Panthers Choice Awards, Pitman received the Script Writer Award, which “recognizes a student-athlete who best embraces Pitt Athletics’ seven bridges achieving comprehensive excellence within the classroom, on the field/court of play, within our University community and within the city of Pittsburgh.”
Pitman will look to bring these qualities to the NCAA and to improving the life of countless student-athletes across the country.
“I care so much about the student-athlete experience.” Pitman said. “I want them to know that they’re not just athletes, and they can have a presence or a voice outside the field.”