By Abe Danaher | May 3, 2019
At the University of South Carolina, Ingrid Martins has grown accustomed to success. She is the No. 4 ranked women’s singles tennis player in the country and the program’s first SEC Player of the Year. But it was the support she received from integrated information technology faculty in the College of Engineering and Computing that helped make this success on the court possible.
During her sophomore year at South Carolina, Martins enrolled in John Gerdes’ software design class. In Gerdes, she found a professor who cared for her and understood the tough transition she was making coming from her hometown of Rio de Janiero, Brazil, to Columbia, South Carolina. He understood the language barrier she was working to overcome and the culture shock she was experiencing.
“He was always checking in on me, coming to my matches, making sure I was doing OK and supporting me,” she says.
Gerdes, who has had many athletes come through his classroom, says that he always tries to support them by attending their events with his wife. This season, he was able to make it to almost every home match for the women’s tennis team.
“She is always excited to see us there,” says Gerdes, who has taught Martin in three courses. “Every time, she waves and gives us a big thumbs up at the end – if she wins or loses.”
As an IIT major, Ingrid also grew close with other IIT professors such as Karen Patten, Anthony Dillon and Sharon Gumina. By the time her senior day came around, she had a whole crowd of IIT professors there cheering for her as she played.
“She was just beaming along with the other seniors there,” Gerdes remembers. “It was a lot of fun.”
These professors’ support made her a better student and an even a better tennis player. “I know I can count on them in the classroom, so I know I can play more freely here,” Martins says. It also provided the groundwork for her to successfully take six courses in the fall semester of her senior year, get a 3.9 GPA in those classes, all while still playing tennis.
“At the beginning of the semester, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do six classes while playing tennis,” she says now. “But I was very proud of it.”
The key for Martins in balancing the demands of tennis and academics has been to keep the two entirely separate. Freshman year, she says, she brought her academic stress to the court and her athletic stress to the classroom. But, throughout her four years at UofSC, Martins learned to leave her stress “at the gate” of the tennis court. This, along with the support of her professors, helped her make the dean’s list every semester at the university and become the highest ranked singles player in the program’s history.
While being a tennis star was always Martin’s dream, going to college was not. When she was young, she never expected to go to college in the U.S. or to get a degree. But slowly, as she grew older, she realized there was more to her than quick feet, a powerful forehand and a dynamic serve.
“Sometimes when I was just playing tennis, I was like, ‘what else?’ I wanted to put more on the table, I thought I had more in me,” she says. “So, it has been really good to see that I can do well in the classroom and also the tennis court.”
In a few weeks when Martins’ playing days at South Carolina end, she plans to move to California to begin her professional career. But she isn’t ready to think that far ahead yet. The NCAA team championships begin this weekend and the NCAA’s singles and doubles championships follow. There are still a lot of matches to be played, and hopefully, a lot of victories to be gained. For the next few weeks, she is trying to just soak everything in.
Martins knows how lucky she was to come to South Carolina – to meet faculty members that cared for her enough to go to her tennis matches, to find a major that interested her, to achieve unheralded success on the tennis court, and to receive a college degree that she never expected to have. So, when it’s all over, there’s only one thought that will be echoing through her mind.
“I am so grateful.”