Hoop Dreams: 2012 Stevens Graduate Uses Basketball to Promote Social Change in Africa

5/2/2012

Isaura “Isa” Guzman has two lifelong passions: basketball and helping others. When she graduates from Stevens this month with a B.E. in Mechanical Engineering, No. 23 on the women’s basketball team will combine the two in a unique career opportunity that will take her halfway around the world.

Guzman was selected among hundreds of applicants as one of two nationwide grantees for the 2012 Shooting Touch Sabbatical Program, also known as “The Basketball Peace Corps.” The program provides a $25,000 stipend to a graduating college senior to partake in a 10-month international work program using the platform of basketball to help foster education and influence positive social change in third world communities.

“It is very, very important to mentor young kids and introduce values they can use in their everyday lives,” Guzman said. “Sports are an excellent mechanism for teaching social values.”

Guzman, a Union City, N.J. native who began playing basketball at age 9 and had childhood dreams of making the WNBA, is co-captain Stevens women’s basketball team, always a strong contender in the region.

But despite being a serious three-point shooting threat, the 5’11’’ guard spent most of her time at Stevens on the bench, recovering from four straight season ending injuries.

With the help of her teammates, who she calls “a part of her family,” Guzman maintained a positive attitude despite her setbacks. She used her time on the sidelines to figure out her future career path – to become a physical therapist, helping rehabilitate injured athletes.

“The Stevens athletic community has been extremely supportive of me especially through multiple injuries I have faced during my time here,” Guzman said. “The training staff, along with the athletes, coaches and administrative staff, have always been pulling for me.”

Guzman’s injuries also boosted her basketball IQ and solidified her love of coaching. When she found out about the Shooting Touch Sabbatical Program, she was convinced it was fate, providing an opportunity to pass on her love of the sport even after her playing days were over.

“It’s really a match made in heaven for me,” said Guzman, who was a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a Peer Mentor, an Orientation Leader, and Dean’s List member.

To apply, Guzman turned to the support of her many fans at Stevens, who helped her create a video application outlining her leadership abilities and basketball accomplishments. The video has received more than 3,500 hits on YouTube and was instrumental in her selection as the 2012 grantee.

"Shooting Touch could not have picked a more generous, outgoing and heartfelt person for this position,” said Bri Fecteau, the Stevens women’s basketball coach. “I know Isa will represent Stevens and the women's basketball program in a positive light. It has been my privilege to be a part of her academic and athletic life. She has been such an integral part of leading our team to success on and off the court and she will now be impacting the lives of so many more."

 “We could not be prouder of Isa and everything she has accomplished,” added Stevens Director of Athletics Russell Rogers. “She is a true credit to our athletic program and the entire Stevens campus. Shooting Touch is getting a remarkable young woman and I am excited to think about the positive impact she is going to have on the communities she visits.”

Through the program, Guzman will spend five months each in two separate countries and two weeks working in a third location with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program. Her first choice is Rwanda, where she hopes to manage and implement a work plan she devised that uses basketball to improve the local community.

“People tell me Rwanda is dangerous, and I realize that, but I feel strongly that it is in great need of positive social change and I want to be the person who can provide that,” Guzman said.

As she described in her application video, Guzman’s work plan includes renovating existing basketball courts, adding pull up bars for fitness regiments and lowering rims to encourage younger children to play. She’d also run week-long children’s basketball camps which teach on court skills and promote leadership and gender equality. And she hopes to work closely with the Street Kids of Rwanda – a nonprofit that provides housing, food and education to Rwandan youths – helping to educate the community in disease prevention, nutrition, good health and sanitation.

Her plans will be finalized at a Shooting Touch gala in September, at which time Guzman will be presented with her stipend.

Wherever she ends up, Guzman hopes to instill in others what basketball has brought her personally throughout her life.

“Basketball has made me who I am today,” she said. “It has helped me find my character and has taught me life lessons and important skills, such as time management, working with a team, being a leader, and having to put in extra work to be at my best. It has allowed me to experience what real passion is and has taught me to dream big and never give up.”

Read more profiles of 2012 graduating students here.