From April 6-12, the NCAA celebrates Division III Week -- seven days devoted to the accomplishments of the student-athletes in D3. The goal of the celebration is to raise awareness of Heidelberg and other D3 schools across the nation.
This story is second in a five-part series highlighting the student-athletes at Heidelberg University. It was written by Kyle Stover, Assistant Director of Athletic Marketing & Information.
For more information on Heidelberg's D3 Week activities, visit the D3 Week homepage.
For Heidelberg University softball player Mikaela Mitsch, math was not always the easiest subject nor her favorite activity. The process that she went through to develop her math skills created the passion that she now has, turning her into the problem-solver on the field and in the classroom..
Growing up, Mitsch was forced to work on multiplication tables during recess time on numerous occasions. That extra work, however, began to pay off as the years went by.
"As I was getting to sixth grade, I still didn't like it all that much, but it started becoming easier for me," said Mitsch.
Her progression happened over those years and as her skills developed, her teachers took notice. After the sixth grade, they realized that she was well ahead of her classmates, so she skipped seventh grade math and continued to advance from there.
In high school, one teacher in particular left an impression on Mitsch that eventually became one of her inspirations to become a teacher. His efforts to help her through problems set her on the path to problem-solving.
"I had a teacher, Mr. Matthew Adam, who was my favorite teacher. He also coached basketball. If I didn't understand a concept, he would have me come to basketball practice with him," said Mitsch. "I would sit off the court and do the problems I was having trouble with. He would come over and help me and go right back to coaching."
In elementary school, Mitsch received detentions for not paying attention and being a disruption in class. Understanding the need for extra help motivated her to share the lessons learned with others. Adam's individualized guidance helped Mitsch understand what areas she needed to work on and how to persevere.
"Knowing that I had a lot of trouble with math makes me want to be able to help students with the same difficulties," said Mitsch. "I understand their frustration."
Intending to major in math education, Mitsch wanted to go to a smaller school for college -- but she didn't know where.
"I didn't want to go to a big school, because being from Chicago, everything is bigger. I didn't want to just be a number," said Mitsch, who initially did not want to visit Heidelberg. Eventually her father convinced her. On that visit, her eyes were opened to the welcoming Heidelberg community.
"When we got to campus, one of the football coaches was standing on the corner out in front of Fireside Cafe and said to us, 'You're here for a visit? Welcome to Heidelberg!' really nicely, and we don't usually get that back at home," said Mitsch. Her father and she were blown away by that simple gesture. There, she fell in love with the campus, eventually leading to her decision to attend Heidelberg.
Since her arrival at the Berg, Mitsch has excelled both on the softball field and in the classroom as a mathematics and adolescent and young adult education major.
Her experience in the education program at Heidelberg has confirmed her desire to teach. One particular part of the program that has sparked Mitsch's interest is the student-focused style of teaching.
"Dr. [Brian] Haley is one of my favorite professors on campus just by what he teaches," said Mitsch. "He doesn't think that tests are what you need to learn. He thinks that you need to learn theories and why things happen."
The knowledge she has gained through her education at Heidelberg has only fueled her desire to teach and apply what she has learned. Through student teaching, she has seen a glimpse of the way classrooms operate, and she believes that she can make an impact on the learning and development of generations to come.
"It is kind of frustrating because you are taught such high ideals here, but out in the field you don't always see the same," said Mitsch. "It makes you want to try to help and better the school environment."
Because Mitsch experienced many of the struggles that her students have with arithmetic, she understands how to guide them through those situations and has confidence she can make a difference in their lives.
Her continued growth while at Heidelberg has also come on the softball field, where she has been able to apply her learning and mathematical prowess as well. As one of five juniors on a team with no seniors, Mitsch has been thrust into a leadership role.
"I see it as problem solving," said Mitsch, an Academic All-OAC honoree. "All of the juniors have our own kind of role, and I think mine is trying to be able to figure out what we need when we're going to practice and things like that."
The application of her education has also translated to communication between players on the field. As the starting catcher, Mitsch has to be able to understand her pitchers and be able to deliver the right message.
"I've learned a lot from freshman year to now. I had a hard time talking to (teammate and pitcher) Paige (Atterholt), because we are totally different people," said Mitsch, an all-region performer in 2013 and 2014. "Now, we get each other and understand what each other needs."
As an NCAA Division III student-athlete, Mitsch has a busy schedule every day. Balancing athletic responsibilities with academics is not an easy task for any student-athlete.
"It's being set on what you need to accomplish every day and it teaches you time management, which is what you need for later on, no matter what job you get into," she said.
Mitsch has translated all of this into her student teaching as well as tutoring of other Heidelberg student-athletes. Success, however, is subjective, and to Mitsch, the success of her teammates and students is paramount.
"Success is when everything comes together at every position," said Mitsch. She sees it in a similar sense when it comes to the classroom. "A success to me would be if a student was failing and you worked hard with them and they were working hard to get their grade up to a D+ or a C-. It doesn't have to be an A+ every time, as long as they are improving."
And solving problems.