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Mikayla Pivec is assisting for life

You might be surprised to find a student-athlete playing Uno with a homeless woman at a cold weather shelter on Monroe Avenue.

You could expect to find student-athletes from Oregon State reading to children, leading drills at youth sports camp or playing games at the Boys & Girls Club.

But you might be surprised to find a student-athlete playing Uno with a homeless woman at a cold weather shelter on Monroe Avenue.

That’s where Mikayla Pivec, a junior guard with Oregon State Women’s Basketball, spent some of her free time last winter. During basketball season, Mikayla would stop by A Room At The Inn to help out by serving food or offering friendship.

“One person there ended up being my Uno buddy,” Mikayla recalls.

The following summer she returned to interview other people who were homeless for her honors thesis project, seeking to understand the barriers that keep people from receiving services.

People may recognize Mikayla as the basketball star. And she has the stats in rebounds, points and steals to prove it. But it’s in her tally for assists that Mikayla distinguishes herself both on and off the court.

She’s not only the selfless player who deflects defensive pressure before passing to a teammate to hit the game-winning shot. But Mikayla also records a triple-double through volunteerism, community service and activism.

In addition to assisting at the women’s shelter in Downtown Corvallis, Mikayla helps out at Community Outreach, Inc.’s free medical clinics, and with IMPACT, a motor skills fitness program for children with special needs through the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. That’s on top of volunteer activities with the basketball team and other student-athletes.

Mikayla still finds time to earn near-perfect grades as a junior in Honors BioHealth Sciences, to bake a cake and hang out with friends and spend as much time with her family as possible

“Life shouldn’t be about just you on this journey,” Mikayla says. “It’s about how many people you can impact and how many people you can build relationships with.”

Mikayla was already an accomplished student-athlete in high school. She earned straight A’s while leading her basketball, track and cross-country teams as captain. When she arrived at Oregon State in 2016, Mikayla was the highest-rated player in program history. Her freshman year, Mikayla earned a spot as a starter on the team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament.

That first year on campus, Mikayla was still figuring out how things worked, and most of her volunteering was with the basketball team. Assistant Athletic Director for Women’s Basketball Eric Ely helps with campus outreach, including a partnership between the team and a group that reaches out to under-privileged youth, Corvallis Southside Outreach.

“Coach Ely does a good job exposing us to opportunities where we can interact and play games with kids,” Mikayla says.

Her sophomore year, Mikayla wanted to distinguish herself. Volunteering became her way to do that.

“My parents engrained in me to give back,” she says.

Mikayla and her mom, Pam, and younger sister, Malia, volunteered with Catholic Community Services in her hometown, Lynnwood, Washington, helping neighbors with household chores or yard work, and with EarthCorps, a program to improve local parks by picking up trash and weeding.

Mikayla was also the beneficiary of the volunteer efforts of others who assisted with the youth sports programs she played in. Being around people who gave their time freely was influential. Now Mikayla carries it forward using her platform as a student-athlete.

“I know I’ve been given a lot in life,” Mikayla says. “I just want to positively impact those around me, wherever I am.”

With IMPACT, Mikayla is a workout partner. She shows up once a week to do yoga, offering encouragement, but gaining as much from the experience as she gives.

“When I see them smile, it makes me smile,” she says.

Mikayla and her teammate and roommate, Destiny Slocum, also team up with Beavs Care, where student-athletes do service projects together as a bonding experience. Last fall, they made cookies for homeless shelters. Mikayla is also community service chairwoman on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

In 2018, Mikayla was one of 38 students from Oregon State to take part in the SURE Science program, designed to support summer research opportunities for undergraduate students in the College of Science.

Mikayla and Destiny traveled to the Dominican Republic last summer with Beavers Without Borders. The annual service trip exposes student-athletes to foreign surroundings, while assisting with large-scale service projects. Mikayla and Destiny helped to plant seven acres each of yucca and corn. They also built a large rabbit cage. Mikayla winces when she describes its purpose.

“They use the rabbits as a protein source, or as a revenue stream to sell the rabbits,” Mikayla says.

But the experience gave her another perspective.

“We got to see what their life is like and how they live, how appreciative they are of everything they have and how they are so focused on relationships,” she says. “Destiny and I got to take that back with us.”

Kelly Chandler, an assistant professor with human development and family sciences, advises Mikayla’s ambitious honors thesis project that examines the challenges homeless people encounter in receiving services.

Mikayla conducted interviews with 10 people who are homeless, then transcribed hours of recordings, coding and analyzing the information. It was very time-intensive, but Mikayla was up for the challenge. She also donated $1,000 of her research stipend award to Corvallis homeless shelters.

“Mikayla definitely stands out with her determination to tackle such a challenging, hot-button issue as homelessness,” Kelly says.

She could have picked an easier topic, or used data from a previous project to meet the thesis requirements. Instead, she chose a project that meant something to her.

“More importantly, it means something to the lives of the homeless individuals she interviewed,” Kelly says. “I admire Mikayla’s drive and passion to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Kelly’s daughters have met Mikayla, and have heard all about how she stays on top of her school work, volunteers and manages a time-intensive research project, all while playing basketball. One night, when Kelly and Mikayla were waiting to do an interview, the assistant professor called home to check on her girls. Kelly wanted to make sure they had done their chores.

When they found out Mikayla was there, they asked to put her on speaker phone to say hi. Mikayla graciously obliged.

“How are those chores coming along?” Mikayla asked when she got on the phone.

The moment left a positive impression, reinforcing the attributes that any parent would hope for.

“She is such a great role model for my daughters and so many others,” Kelly says.

How does Mikayla find time to do so much? She’s a master of time management.

“I like being productive and staying busy,” she says. “I’m happy with all the commitments I have and the opportunities I’m involved with.”

Mikayla does what she can, when she can. When Community Outreach, Inc., holds a weeknight medical clinic, she puts in few hours registering patients. Though she’s in pre-medicine and hopes to become a physician, she doesn’t yet have the clinical skills to assist with patient care. But she’s watching the professionals and their patient interactions.

Volunteering is illuminating her career path. Mikayla initially thought she might like to become a dermatologist. But after volunteering and job-shadowing a pediatrician last summer, she’s open to other possibilities. Maybe pediatrics, or orthopedics.

“What I want to do will eventually show itself,” she says.

Mikayla’s goal is to play basketball for as long as possible. After graduation, she hopes to follow in the footsteps of Oregon State Women’s Basketball greats who are playing professional basketball, including the WNBA’s Marie Gulich, a center for the Phoenix Mercury and Sydney Wiese, a guard for for the Los Angeles Sparks, and international players Ruth Hamblin, Jamie Scott (Weisner) and Patricia Bright.

“I know it will come to an end at some point. It’s inevitable,” she says. “Then I’d like to go to medical school and become a doctor.”

In a little over two years, Mikayla has extended the scope of her impact far beyond what’s expected, even for a star of one of the most successful programs in women’s college basketball. With Mikayla playing a key role in the team’s success at point guard, Oregon State made it to the Elite Eight in 2018.

Would she rather hit the game-winner, or make the assist to set it up? Both are good options.

“But I would pick to take the defense away, passing to a wide-open teammate who hits the shot,” she says.

Her reply is not just what she’s supposed to say when asked that sort of question. Mikayla lives by that creed. Twice last season, she made assists to teammate Katie McWilliams, who delivered the dagger to end the hopes of Baylor and Oregon teams.

“I was super-happy that I could set my teammates up for success,” Mikayla says.

Assisting others. That’s Mikayla at her best.


Originally published at Oregon State Athletics.