Maroon-and-gold medalist's final college lap

By

Penny Walker

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here .

Team USA swimmer and 2012 Olympic medalist Jessica Hardy became a student at Arizona State University’s online campus in January 2014, looking to receive her undergraduate degree in Communication.

After leaving college in 2007 to dedicate more time to her sport, graduating with a degree is something that has always been at the back of her mind.

“I left UC Berkeley seven years before re-enrolling at ASU, and during that time, have felt a weight on my shoulders wishing I had finished,” said Hardy, whose hometown is Long Beach, California.

However, it was not a lack of motivation to go back to school, but trying to fit class into an already busy schedule.

Up at 6 a.m. each day, Hardy spends anywhere from two to three hours in the pool each morning, with another two to three hours cross-training in the afternoon. Factor in national and international travel, competitions and sponsorship commitments, and she isn’t left with a lot of time to spend in a traditional classroom setting.

While trying to figure out the best way to finish her degree, Hardy was introduced to the idea of continuing her education online. After taking the time to research the school and program that would best fit her needs, she enrolled to pursue ASU’s online Bachelor of Science in Communication through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Leading up to graduating with the Class of 2016, Hardy had to split her time between class and swimming, where she is training for upcoming competitions including vying for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team.

She answered some questions about her time with ASU Online.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: Communication has been my interest in all the classes I have taken up to this point and because of the experiences I have had in my professional life. Part of my career is about working with sponsors, doing interviews and participating in commercials. All of this combined has sparked my interest in the field, and I hope to use my degree, and experience, to work in sports marketing after graduation and retirement.

Q: What’s something you learned while attending ASU that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I had a much closer relationship with more interaction with my students than I ever anticipated from an online learning environment. I got to work in group projects, public speaking, and had almost daily discussions with a lot of my classmates.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: After deciding to go back to school, and while researching programs, I came across the online Bachelor of Science in Communication degree program at Arizona State University. In addition to the university’s rigorous academic standards, my experience with the counselors and enrollment coaches really got me excited to start school again.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Be open-minded about selecting classes. I didn’t know I was any good at math and/or science, but ended up loving those classes that I took at ASU. I sometimes learned the most when I least expected it!

Q: What are your plans after graduation and the 2016 Olympics?

A: I plan on taking a step back from swimming, and focusing on other passions. I want to find a new career to invest my work ethic towards, and perhaps start a family with my husband.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: That is a VERY difficult question to answer, as there are a lot of charity causes that I am passionate about; however, cancer has been hitting a little too close to home for me lately, with some loved ones being affected. I would love to donate that money to cancer research.

Written by Carrie Lingenfelter