The problem solver

Class Acts-Diversity: Megan Wolf, math major, worked more than a few angles to make the university a better place than she found it

Megan Wolf's achievements at Washington University may have started at Francis Field, but she made an impact in her four years on campus in many different ways. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

Megan Wolf hadn’t even started classes in August of 2014 when Sharon Stahl, then vice chancellor for students, spoke at a preseason meeting of the women’s soccer team, encouraging the new players to get involved in campus activities. Wolf recalled Stahl specifically asking for volunteers for a university committee on sexual violence.

“I didn’t really know a whole lot of people here, and I was considering it,” said Wolf, who will earn a degree in mathematics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis this month, along with minors in economics and in psychology and brain sciences. “One of our seniors was involved, and said, ‘If you don’t yet know what you want to do beyond soccer, you should do this. This could really make a change on campus.’ ”

So Wolf signed up, and she continued to remain involved into the next year when, per the recommendation of the committee, a student peer-education group formed. The group became known as Leaders in Interpersonal Violence Education (LIVE), whose mission is peer-led education of students surrounding topics of interpersonal violence, violence prevention, consent and healthy relationships. Wolf was there at the beginning of the organization, and she held various leadership roles in her four years during some trying times, including co-president in the spring of her junior year.

“At the time the group was formed, very few people talked about sexual violence on campus,” she said. “We’ve made some positive steps in the right direction.”

Wolf said her leadership in LIVE taught her not only how to lead, but also how to ask for help and ask tough questions, especially when she didn’t know the answers herself. “Finding that balance not only made me a better leader, but it made the group better,” Wolf said. “I don’t know everything that’s going on, but if I need to lead a group toward a goal, I’m not afraid to ask outside the group — to find someone within who knows more than I do.

“LIVE was an amazing experience, and I’m so happy it was part of my Washington University story,” she said. “Because it’s the one thing — more than anything I’ve done — that has given me perspective.”

And there’s a lot to Wolf’s Washington University story. If there’s a theme for this math major, it’s knowing how to play the angles, understanding where the lines are drawn and learning how to use the system in place to effect change — all aiming toward the goal of leaving the university a better place than it was when she got here.

In addition to helping get LIVE off the ground, Wolf stayed the course studying mathematics when she easily could have switched majors. She served as student representative to the Board of Trustees as well as on search committees for the new chancellor (although her service ends with graduation) and the hiring of a new athletics director (who would come to be Anthony Azama). She also played four years on the women’s soccer team, scoring arguably the greatest goal in women’s soccer history.

“I hope I’m leaving WashU a better place,” she said. “Because it has had such a huge impact on me. I’m leaving here a much better person than I ever expected to be.”

Wolf (left) says she remembers little about actually shooting the championship-winning penalty kick, because she had practiced the shot so many times. But she remembers the celebration that ensued Dec. 3, 2016, when Washington University won its first-ever national soccer title. (Photo: Roger Mastroianni)

Playing the angle

Matriculating at Washington University came ever so close to not happening at all for Wolf. She was a promising prep soccer player from Racine, Wis., but could never get on the radar of Coach Jim Conlon, who understandably gets hundreds of inquiries each year. She liked the university for its academics — “My parents would never have let me choose a school just for soccer,” she said — so she signed up to attend a summer camp following her junior year.

The camp was back-to-back with another one at the University of Rochester. “I flew from Wisconsin to Rochester, from Rochester to St. Louis,” she said. “And my mom drove 5 1/2 hours with a bag of clean clothes to pick me up at the airport and drive me to campus.”

Wolf wanted to skip the camp and head back home, but her mom refused. “I told her, ‘This is a waste of time and money. Rochester was good enough and I can see myself there. Let’s just drive home.’

“My mom said, ‘Megan, I didn’t just drive 5 1/2 hours to have you tell me that this is not worth it. You are going! Go and make that coach wish he had recruited you harder. If you’re set on Rochester, make him wish that he had done it first.’ ”

So Wolf went to camp, and by the time she got back to Wisconsin, there was an email from Conlon saying, “We saw you at camp and want you to become a Bear.”

For you math majors, that’s the beginning point of a straight line to the women’s soccer program’s most heralded moment: The penalty-kick victory over Messiah College on Dec. 3, 2016, in Salem, Va., that gave the Bears their first Division III national soccer title.

Wolf scored the championship-winning goal, shooting a rocket in the lower right corner past the Messiah goaltender at an angle she had practiced, practiced and practiced. “Coach always told us, ‘Practice exactly how you would take it in the game,’ ” she said. “So I never looked up. I knew exactly where I was going so I didn’t need to look.

“And then I don’t remember anything until I turned around and saw my entire team running at me. I remember thinking, ‘OH. MY. GOD. What just happened?’ It’s a moment every single athlete dreams of.”

Conlon called Wolf the “perfect Bear,” whose enthusiasm is contagious. “When recruiting, we look for strong students, good athletes who have high character and build on the potential we see,” he said. “Megan was all three. She is truly a scholar-champion.”

Inside the lines

So if peer leadership in a groundbreaking campus group and a legendary goal weren’t enough, Wolf’s college years also will be measured through her experience as a student representative to the university administration.

“It was cool being able to put on so many hats,” she said. “I’d be hanging out with my friends until midnight, and then have to wake up at 6:15 a.m., to put on my business suit for a Board of Trustees meeting and head right into talking about the financials of the university.

“I learned so much about the students, faculty and people that make up this place,” she said. “I wish more students could be able to experience that.”

And don’t forget, she was here to be a student and earn a degree, too. Wolf said she’d often walk into her math classes and be among a handful of women in a classroom of 50 or so. “A lot of people would ask me, ‘Why don’t you change majors?’ and I was always like, ‘No way!’

“I may not use what I learned in math classes specifically,” she said, “but I’ll use what my math major gave me, which is being able to problem solve, figure out tough situations, work with people that I might never have the opportunity to otherwise, and navigate at any place that could potentially not be as welcoming as I had hoped.”

Wolf’s post-graduation plans include a job in New York with Mastercard Inc. as an associate analyst in enterprise data solutions for the company. And when she’s walking into Brookings Quadrangle on Commencement Day, she’ll have mixed emotions.

“It will be a mix of excitement and a lot of pride, but some sadness,” she said. “This has been my home for the past four years and is where I’ve met some of my best friends, so the thought of leaving all of that is kind of scary. It’s the first time I don’t know what I’m going to be doing for an extended period of time.

“As soon as I see my mom and dad, I’ll probably start sobbing,” she said. “But I’m just going to go and enjoy whatever life throws at me, which will be awesome. And I can always call or visit my friends.”

Read more about the Class Acts of 2018 here.

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