Patriot League 20th Anniversary Profiles: Natalie (Hand) Hausknecht



Jan. 3, 2011

Name: Natalie (Hand) Hausknecht
Institution: American University
Sport: Volleyball
Position: Outside Hitter/Def. Specialist
Graduation Year: 2004
Degree: B.A., Middle Eastern Studies
Did You Know?
Earned Marshall Scholarship

Twice named to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll (2001-02) in the sport of volleyball, Natalie (Hand) Hausknecht was named Second-Team Academic All-America after helping American to the 2002 Patriot League title.

A team co-captain as a senior, Hand recorded more than 500 digs during her final two seasons (2001 and 2002) with the Eagles, as they won all 28 League matches, two Patriot League championships and posted a 52-12 (.813) overall record.

She accomplished even more off the court, as by the end of her freshman year, she travelled to Syria for a self-study tour. Three years later, she had studied in four different Middle Eastern countries, in every geographical region of the Arab world, and was the first AU student to get the chance to study at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE.

Hausknecht interned for Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, worked as a research assistant for publications, served as a teaching assistant for political philosophy and government courses.

After earning a Marshall Scholarship and studying in the United Kingdom, she is a PhD candidate at the University of St. Andrews and an Executive Director/Co-founder of the Institute for Kurds.

Q: What factors helped in your decision to attend American as a student-athlete?
A: American has an unrivalled position in the Nation's Capital and an extraordinary honors program. In the Honors program, professors design an "out-of-the-box" curriculum that allowed students to be actively incorporated into their current research projects and develop a real passion for their field. Going beyond the classroom, students can gain experience through internships in Congress, think-tanks, corporate headquarters, or top-notch research facilities.

Q: Who were your sports idols growing up and why?
A: I loved to watch our local Willamette University (Salem, Ore.) volleyball team growing up. The girls were always really sweet and I considered it a great honor to get each one of their signatures on my program. I always particularly loved the gutsy players - the one's who never gave up on a ball.

Q: What was your proudest on-the-field accomplishment?
A: As a team, winning three consecutive league titles. As an individual, getting subbed into a tied game against Long Beach State as a freshman and successfully 'tooling' Tayyiba Haneef from Long Beach State. [Note: Haneef was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic silver medal-winning squad]. I just remember thinking she had an entire foot of height on me and when I went up all I could see was hands. Now every time I watch her play in the Olympics I tell my husband that I am 1-0 against her (even if it was pure luck)!

Q: What was your proudest academic accomplishment?
A: Winning the Marshall Scholarship is definitely a huge accomplishment. To know that you are selected from such a distinguished group of accomplished individuals was a great feeling. When you meet your fellow award winners and hear what they had done, it was surreal. I think I spent most of orientation before heading to the United Kingdom wondering if someone had made a clerical error when they told me I'd won. I am also extremely proud of graduating with a 4.0 grade point average from the honors department.

Q: How were you able to balance the demands in the classroom with the demands of being an athlete?
A: At first I found it very intimidating, but in many ways, student athletes have advantages over their peers in being forced to manage their time and prove themselves. In one core course my freshman year, I had to miss around 30% of classes for road games and I remember the professor (who was fresh out of the Clinton White House) telling me on Day 1 that he would fail me for that many absences. He was unwilling to negotiate. I was intimidated and certain I would be on the next bus back to Oregon when grades came out. I told him I had no choice though - I had to stick it out and that was the only time the course was offered, so I'd just have to work that much harder than the other students when I was there and he would have to give me what he thought I had earned at the end of the semester. It was the challenge that drove me. I worked like crazy all year to prove he had the wrong impression about student-athletes. He gave me an A, the only one in the class to my knowledge.

In order to maintain my academic studies, internships, study abroad aspirations, commitment to my team, and social desires, I had to always have a plan of action. That kept me focused on my goals.

Q: How did your experience as a student-athlete prepare you for life after college?
A: The discipline you learn in juggling multiple commitments is very applicable to managing a successful career and family. I know I came out of college with a round-the-clock work ethic that many of my peers lacked. It helped me get ahead both in graduate school and in the office, without having to sacrifice my most valuable time with my kids.

Q: If you could go back to college and compete one more time, where would it be and against whom?
A: Against Long Beach State at "The Pyramid." I always love a large, oppositional crowd. It makes winning more fun!

Q: If you had to offer current student-athletes some words of wisdom what would they be?
A: Go for it all - explore what options your success on and off the court could have for your future. I never could have imagined the doors that opened for me because of my participation in college athletics!

Q: Do you still follow American University athletics?
A: Yes! Perhaps not as actively as my Dad, but I try to make it to a few games a year.

Q: Looking back, what does it mean to you to have been a Patriot League student-athlete?
A: While it can be difficult at the time, there will be a lot of opportunities in life to feel very proud of the accomplishment of being a Division 1 student-athlete at academically rigorous schools. Most people will never understand the discipline it takes to excel in both arenas. That experience gives you an advantage long after it ends.

Q: Can you talk about your professional career and describe your duties and position?
A: After leaving American politics in 2004, I went to work as a consultant in the Office of the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. I have had the amazing opportunity to witness the Kurds in their efforts to rebuild Iraqi society and construct a democracy from the ashes of their authoritarian past. I am very humbled to have been an eyewitness to their journey.