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Seeing Double

Jan 28, 2022
Cal gymnast Nina Schank is double-majoring in business administration and molecular & cell biology.

BERKELEY – Shortly after she was admitted into the Haas School of Business, Nina Schank wondered what she had gotten herself into.

Already a declared molecular and cell biology major, Schank now was a double-major in two of the more challenging areas of study at Cal.

"Of all people to try and do it, I wasn't surprised it was Nina," said teammate Abi Solari, also an MCB major. "But I definitely thought she was a little crazy."

Schank, now a fifth-year senior on the Cal women's gymnastics team, has left those around her in awe with her accomplishments as a student-athlete. She recently completed her MCB degree and will get her second degree from Haas at the end of this semester. Then it's on to a full-time position at Goldman Sachs as a market risk analyst.

Oh, and Schank is pretty good in the gym, as well. She was a WCGA second-team All-American on the uneven bars last season and an All-Pac-12 first-team performer. Schank is also a two-time WCGA Scholastic All-American.

"I never saw anyone with those two majors," said Meredith McCall, who was Schank's academic advisor before recently leaving Cal to take a position at Utah. "Nina is one of the most amazing student-athletes I've ever worked with. If Cal had Ninas in every sport, Cal would be competitive in every sport and academically at the top of the Pac-12 every year. She's just an amazing person."

Schank came to Cal with an interest in both biology and business, but settled on MCB after not enjoying a microeconomics class. But there were some prerequisite courses she had taken for MCB that also applied to Haas, and when she was considering taking a Data Science course that was also a prerequisite for Haas, McCall advised her to apply for the business school since she had so many of the prerequisites already completed.

"I told her to just apply, and if she gets in and decides she doesn't want to do it, there's nothing wrong with that," McCall said.

On the day the Haas School of Business announced its admitted students, Schank waited for an e-mail while studying at the International House Café. It never came by the pre-announced deadline, so Schank went next door to visit McCall in her office at the Simpson Center.

McCall reminded Schank that the notifications were being relayed through students' academic portal, not via e-mail. So with McCall standing over her shoulder, Schank popped open her laptop and saw the news that she had been admitted.

"She was like, 'How am I going to do this?'" McCall said. "I said, 'Just accept it and we will worry about it later.'"

The workload was – as expected – demanding, but Schank thrived. The academic schedule dictated that midterms for both majors were always right around the same time, so she settled on a study routine that worked for both.

"It was like having finals week three times throughout the semester," Schank said. "I'd always think, 'How did I just do that?' It was very daunting and intimidating to think about double-majoring in two things that are on very opposite ends of the spectrum. I'm using different parts of my brain. But I came to Cal because I like the challenge, and I feel like I've grown a lot since I've done it."

It's rare for any student – let alone a student-athlete with all the demands that accompany it – to pair a second major with the Haas School of Business. But to choose two challenging majors – and two that are distinctly different – is what makes Schank's academic journey at Cal so unique.

"It was definitely a little intimidating," Schank said. "I honestly didn't think I was going to get in to Haas. I didn't know if I was qualified to get into business because it's such a big split from biology. I had been in the bio mindset for so long that I didn't know if I was cut out for it. It was difficult because the upper division bio classes require a different kind of thinking, and then I'm now also doing business, which is completely different."

Once Schank added her second major, she knew she would stay at Cal an extra year. She considered becoming a team manager, but when the NCAA granted student-athletes an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, she got another year of competition as a Golden Bear.

"A lot of our team thinks of Nina as Superwoman," Solari said. "It's one of those things like, 'What can't she do?' The fact that she is able to manage two hard majors is incredible. I want to be like Nina when I'm older. If I can be half as cool as Nina, I'll be set for life."