Skip to main content

The Passion Project

Aug 14, 2014

By Miquel Jacobs, Cal Athletic Communications

Just call it the Berkeley factor.

Jordan O’Reilly grew up in Pennsylvania in a suburb just outside of Philadelphia, but she knew she wanted to go out on her own and experience life following high school. Although she grew up in a field hockey hotbed, O’Reilly was determined to try something new, get away from home and learn more about herself and the world around her.

In that regard, what better place to move than Berkeley?

“I was a very independent child growing up,” O’Reilly said. “I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself in every aspect of life. I wanted to break the ties in that I learned how to be financially responsible and take care of things that people are reliant on their parents for.”

The key to sustaining this goal was to secure a scholarship to college. Growing up as a soccer player, it was a stroke of fate that landed O’Reilly into the sport of field hockey. When her family relocated to Upper Dublin High School in a different school district, her new high school played soccer as a spring sport instead of in the fall.

Seeking something to do in the fall, O’Reilly’s aunt suggested field hockey, and she immediately fell in love with the sport. Despite being a newcomer to the game as a teenager, O’Reilly quickly turned heads as a sort of natural.

One of her older teammates, Mara Greenwood, took O’Reilly under wing and taught her the intricacies of the game. Greenwood also introduced her to a club team that played indoors and allowed O’Reilly to fine tune her small-stick skills.

After falling in love with the sport, O’Reilly was determined to play field hockey in college, and by participating in a series of tournament, coaches across all of the divisions of NCAA field hockey began to take notice. The interest letters began to reach her house, but she was only interested in schools that would challenge her academically first and foremost.

In order to stay on the radar of her primary schools, O’Reilly decided to attend summer camps at a majority of the Ivy schools and other programs with strong academic reputations. Cal’s camp under head coach Shellie Onstead was one of those, and she eventually accepted a scholarship to compete for the program.

“I love it,” O’Reilly said of her decision to move to Berkeley. “I really feel very self-reliant and that I can get through whatever hurdle I face. I’m so grateful for the decision I made. It’s a great area to get an education from with intellectuals in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley and Berkeley. Also, it gave me the experience being me.”

The fact that Onstead played for the program and now is the coach added to what made Cal such a great decision.

“It’s a special experience because Shellie literally bleeds blue and gold,” O’Reilly said. “She loves the program. It’s her heart and soul. She hasn’t left because it’s a great place. She has a real respect for the university. She really represents always – on and off the field. It’s a great program and a great university. We’re lucky to be a part of it.”

An added benefit of attending Cal that she did not know in advance was that she would become teammates with Marcia Venter, a Namibia native who became one of O’Reilly’s good friends on the Bears. O’Reilly always had aspirations of traveling to different parts of the world and finding a way to use her education to help people.

There goes that Berkeley factor again.

O’Reilly chose to attend the Haas School of Business after another teammate, Stacy Lee, encouraged her to do so, and once accepted she began striking different interests in finance and marketing among other areas.

After her senior season finished this past fall, O’Reilly flew to Namibia over winter break and lived with Venter and her family for a few weeks, getting firsthand one of the experiences that she hoped to gain while in college.

“I really loved that experience,” O’Reilly said. “We got in a car and explored the entire northern part of the country, camping in remote places and seeing all the country has to offer. Really seeing the people there made me inspired to do something with them. There are a lot of untapped natural resources and infrastructure there that doesn’t exist. Right now, I’m hashing out what’s realistic and what I can do.”

O’Reilly returned from Namibia and finished her last semester at Cal, graduating in May. During her career, she was a three-time National Field Hockey Coaches Association of America National Academic Squad selection, given to student-athletes with at least a 3.30 cumulative GPA. She also contributed a total of 21 goals and six assists over four year while being named a 2013 All-NorPac selection as one of the top players in the conference. In May, she received the Anna Espenschade Award presented to a female student-athlete who most embodies the Golden Bear spirit.

With school and her playing career now over, the always independent O’Reilly hopes to use her experiences in Berkeley and her trip to Namibia as a starting point to what she hopes will be a bright career in finding ways to help people not just in America but across the globe.

“My dream job would be working for a company that sets up infrastructure in a Third World country,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly’s top preference would be to work for a non-profit. An avid traveler, she has conceded that the biggest challenge would not be assimilating into new cultures and countries but rather getting the opportunities to join and spearhead campaigns. She is willing to go any and everywhere – to try something new just like when she left suburban Philadelphia for the Bay Area.

“Growing up, I always really liked travelling,” O’Reilly said. “We went away on whatever vacations we could. We went to remote places, and I loved experiencing other cultures around the world. Each place you see the highs and lows, but I love immersing myself wherever I am with the language and traditions.”

And to think, her passion for this career plan never would have fully materialized had she not come to Cal and used her connections to take a trip to Namibia and view a different way of life.

That’s definitely the Berkeley factor.