Convocation Profile: A chat with Brenna Mattiello

For the past five years, Brenna Mattiello has been a stalwart on the Pandas’ soccer team. She wrapped up the 2019/2020 season as team-leader in goals (5), co-team MVP and the recipient of the Tracy Davidson Leadership Award. The Bachelor of Kinesiology student was not only a leader on the soccer pitch, but in the classroom as well earning Academic All-Canadian status in her first four years as a University of Alberta student-athlete. 

Brenna’s journey as a student-athlete comes to a conclusion on June 12th as she joins the rest of the University of Alberta student body for the first-ever virtual convocation ceremony. As she gets set to pursue a career in medicine, she reflects on her time at the U of A and takes stock of what she has achieved over the past five years, not only on the field and in the classroom, but how her experiences have helped her grow as a person.

What brought you to the University of Alberta and the Bachelor of Kinesiology program within the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation (KSR)?

I was first scouted by the Pandas soccer program when I was in grade 11, so that was a big deciding factor on committing to the U of A. Growing up in Edmonton, I also knew that I wanted to be close to home
 during my undergrad years, so the choice was easy!

Originally, because of my passion for sport I was very interested in pursuing a career in physiotherapy or athlete therapy. However, over the course of my degree, my goals and career path have since changed as I discovered my excitement and passion in other areas. 

Your sister also was in KSR in the Bachelor of Arts in Sport, Recreation and Tourism program. What was it like to experience post-secondary with your sibling?

I only attended university with my sister for a year before she graduated. Although she did not play for Pandas soccer, she is truly one of the reasons why I ended up playing soccer in the first place and eventually making my way to the Pandas team. She is a terrific player and remains playing competitively to this day. Growing up I saw her play and I wanted to do the same. Although our university years didn’t overlap much she has made my undergraduate experience one of the most amazing. She has been one of my biggest fans and definitely the most aggressive. I could always hear her the loudest on the field and she was never afraid to embarrass me and make it known how proud she was of me both on and off the field.  

Tell us about your journey as a student-athlete. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome these challenges?

For these past several years, a huge part of my identity was associated with being a student athlete. Although stressful and exhausting at times I really did love every minute of it. It was challenging my first year but I found strategies that help me to manage the workload while balancing practices, games, and travel with school. It wasn’t always the most fun to be studying on a cramped bus for eight hours, but it kept weekend traveling interesting! 

Being a part of varsity athletics also meant that I had a large group of people knowing exactly what I was going through—trying to succeed both in sport and academics. Not just within my sport but you make amazing connections with other athletes who you wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. I am so grateful that with athletics I have found some of my closest friends. 

I would say the biggest struggle would be staying mentally strong through all of it. Sometimes it is hard to stay positive when you aren’t getting the results you want or if you suffer an injury like I did early on in my varsity years, but with training and practice I got better at maintaining an optimistic attitude that helped me both on the field and in the classroom and just as an overall happy human.

Congratulations on being named Pandas soccer MVP last year! What did it mean to you to receive this accolade?

I am definitely extremely proud of this accomplishment, especially because it came from both my coaches and my teammates. I take a lot of pride in my performance and I really wanted to be the best I could for my team, so to receive that recognition in my final year with the Pandas was a happy moment. 

I also received the Tracy Davidson Leadership Award this past season which I would say I am even more proud of. This award is voted on by the players and it goes to the player who shows outstanding leadership and commitment to her team. To be recognized by my teammates as an outstanding leader I think shows more of who I have become as a person and teammate than an MVP. I truly aspired to be both a great player and leader during my time as a Panda, and to be recognized as both was an extremely special way to end my time in the jersey.

Where did you do your practicum and what did your role entail?

I completed my practicum in the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering with Dr. Amy Kirkham. There I worked as a research assistant working on cardiac MRI and exercise oncology research with breast cancer patients. It was an amazing experience as I got to work with Dr. Kirkham for four months during the summer as well. I learned a lot about MRI data collection, as well as what is involved in cardiac MRI data analysis that is currently being published. I loved the work I did as I got to work with women with breast cancer and really see how our research could impact lives. I was also very passionate about combining my interests of cardiovascular physiology with clinical application. 

As you get ready to convocate, what career plans do you have for the future?

My goal is to go back to school to study medicine. Over the course of my undergrad I found that the areas that really interested me were the ones that were heavy in physiology, anatomy and clinical application. It was near the end of my second year that I decided I wanted to pursue this goal and I am taking a year off before hopefully heading back to study medicine.

You and your graduating classmates are experiencing Convocation like no other students have before you. What are some thoughts and/or feelings you have about convocating during a pandemic?

I am slightly disappointed that I will not be walking across the stage this June, but I am very grateful for my family making plans to try to make the day special for me still. I think this is definitely a different experience that will always be special for this grad class and something that I will be laughing about later on in life when I look back at my makeshift backyard yard grad photos in my homemade cap and gown!

What are you most proud of in your journey as a U of A/KSR student-athlete?

I would say I am most proud of being the recipient of the Tracy Davidson Leadership Award. I think that recognition shows the person I really try to be as both a student and an athlete. Of course I always want to perform well on the field and in my classes, but being a good person and growing into a strong leader is what I am most proud of. I have come a long way from the scared, anxious person I was in my first year and I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people that pushed me to become a more confident and optimistic person. I wouldn’t have achieved my other accomplishments had it not been for family, friends, teammates, coaches and so many others that both challenged and supported me on this crazy journey!