Nov. 3, 2009
By Michael Perry
There's always something gratifying about hearing that a student-athlete has prepared for life after sports.
In some ways, Jill Stephens has been thinking about her future since shortly after she accepted a scholarship offer to play basketball at the University of Cincinnati.
"My mom was bound and determined that I come into college with a major," Stephens says. "She said you can't be undecided because you'll just take a bunch of classes that you don't need and you'll waste all this time."
Good advice. Not coincidently, Mom used to teach pre-school and kindergarten and is now an adjunct professor at Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio.
And so here is Stephens, 19th on the UC women's basketball career scoring list, still in college even though her eligibility has expired. She remains at UC working toward a Ph.D. in audiology.
Stephens, who expects to finish in June 2012, earned her undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders in three years (thanks to some AP credit from high school and summer school every year of college). There is no master's program for audiology, so she went straight to the doctorate program, which she started last year as a senior on the Bearcats.
"I was lucky," she says. "I knew what I wanted to do when I started."
When she was in high school in Mineral Wells, W.Va., Stephens thought she might want to teach but then decided she didn't want to work with large groups of children at once. Her mom suggested audiology. Stephens had never heard of it. But once she checked it out, she thought it could be a good fit.
"I knew that I wanted to work with children," she says. "Eventually I want to specialize in pediatrics."
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-3 Stephens went on to score 1,053 career points at UC. She averaged 12 points and 5.3 rebounds as a senior last year, including a career-high 30 points and 10 rebounds against Providence. She has the fifth-best career free-throw percentage in program history (.791).
Twice she received CoSIDA Academic All-District honors, and last year she won the BIG EAST Scholar Athlete of the Year award for a combination of athletic and academic success as voted on by the league's coaches.
Over the summer she played in Italy for 10 days with a USA Athletes International team. She played some open gym in the summer with the Bearcats and occasionally plays some pick-up ball. But otherwise, for Stephens, it's time to move on from basketball (other than cheering on her former teammates).
"It was a great experience," she says of her college career. "I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about how to get along with other people. I grew up a lot. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think I'm a much tougher person now than I was before. When I first got here I was really homesick. I had a hard time being away from my parents. I let little things bother me all the time. I learned that you can't do that."
This quarter Stephens, 22, is working at Jewish Hospital, primarily with older patients. She's involved with hearing tests, basic audiograms, some specialized tests, hearing-aid fittings and helping people who show up with hearing-aid problems.
Next quarter she'll have a rotation at Children's Hospital. Her fourth year, Stephens will have a clinical externship that could be anywhere in the country. She would be like to be part of a cochlear implant team.
Will she wind up working and living in Cincinnati? Will she return to West Virginia?
"I haven't decided," she says. "I have long time to think about where I want to end up."