Approximately one in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maggie Hawbaker ’21 has a younger brother diagnosed with autism. She remembers when her family had a hard time finding a psychologist near their rural home to help her brother, which inspired her to want to fill that gap. As a psychology major at Immaculata, Hawbaker “loves learning about the brain” and wants to help people who are seeking professional treatment.
“From what I understand, autism is an imbalance in the brain,” she explains. Hawbaker wants to conduct research to learn how autism affects the brain’s frontal lobe—with the ultimate goal of preventing it. In Dr. Erin Kirschmann’s Brain and Behavior class, she is learning how neurons fire and how anatomy is related to the psychological field.
Hawbaker recognizes that the hackneyed advice to keep using your brain—use it or lose it, as they say—is actually very beneficial advice. The brain is a muscle and needs exercise. She notes that the brain will eliminate what it does not use.
At Immaculata, Hawbaker is exercising her brain and her body, putting both of her passions to work. She plays defense for the women’s volleyball team and serves as its captain. Hawbaker hopes to take her interest to the next level, pursuing a graduate degree in neuropsychology and/or sports psychology. Coaching 14-year-olds for the Sparks Volleyball Club in West Chester, she already recognizes that many of her coaching skills will be beneficial as she seeks a career in sports psychology. She explains that sports psychologists evaluate performance of athletes, help them work through anxiety, and support players through problems and struggles they may be facing.
She is already putting the philosophy into practice with her young Sparks volleyball players. “I tell them that as long as they are doing their best, that’s all that matters,” Hawbaker replies when asked how she supports players who are anxious during a game. “They need to hear it,” she adds.
As an integral member of the women’s volleyball team, Hawbaker was instrumental in helping the men’s inaugural volleyball team get started last season. Although Hawbaker is young, she has earned the respect of her coach, teammates and fellow Mighty Macs.
“Maggie is not only an amazing volleyball player, but she is a natural leader who leads by example. She is constantly challenging herself and pushing the team every day. Her dedication is tireless and I am truly grateful that she is a Mighty Mac,” states Rob Smith, women’s head volleyball coach.
Growing up in Huntingdon, Pa., about three hours northwest of Immaculata, Hawbaker was interested in playing volleyball when she was in second grade. However, there were not many volleyball programs in her hometown until Todd Horner founded one of the first volleyball clubs in the area, called I Play Volleyball. Hawbaker became one of the first players on the team 12 years ago. As she developed in her sport, she also grew as a person and a player and soon transitioned to the next level, playing for Relentless Volleyball Club, also coached by Horner. Soon Relentless went from 50 players to 300, and Hawbaker began coaching.
“We did have a competitor in the area,” she says, with an uneasy laugh. “But they were more expensive!” Hawbaker feels that the lower cost and quality coaching were deciding factors in favor of Relentless. In addition to participating in Relentless Volleyball Club, Hawbaker was also a member of Huntingdon High School’s volleyball team and wanted to continue playing at the collegiate level.
Carrie, Hawbaker’s identical twin sister, researched colleges and discovered Immaculata, where she also decided to attend. During her freshman year, Hawbaker had built-in friends that consisted of her volleyball teammates and Carrie, who was also her roommate. As Carrie became more independent, Hawbaker also branched out from her close circle of friends and got involved on campus. Although her classes and volleyball take up a large part of her day, Hawbaker is still an active student, serving as president of Immaculata’s chapter of Catholic Relief Services, an admissions ambassador, vice chair of the programming board, member of the stage crew for Cue and Curtain, and she also plays bass clarinet for IU’s concert band.
Family is very important to Hawbaker. She admits that being three hours away from her parents and younger brother is tough. She hopes to move closer to home when she attends graduate school. Although she will not be eligible to play collegiate sports once she graduates, she plans to keep up with volleyball by coaching and participating in indoor and outdoor leagues. But for now, Hawbaker is taking her place on defense, in the back row, only in the most physical definition.