Few epitomize the concept of scholar-athlete like American swimming star Katie Ledecky. The Stanford University psychology major with a collection of five Olympic and 15 world gold medals is doing her part to help the next generation make the most of educational opportunities.
Ledecky has partnered with Panasonic Corp. this year to launch the STEM education program, which is aimed at encouraging students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Panasonic shares my passion for advancing STEM education, particularly in underserved communities in the United States,” said the 23-year-old Ledecky during a recent videoconference with The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Japan News.
“It’s not just about the swimming and the times and the training and the racing,” she said. “It’s also about what I’m doing outside of the pool as well, and kind of that holistic experience as an athlete of trying to use this platform that I have for some good and bring them to education fields.
“It’s one of those things that I’m really passionate about, and I feel very lucky to have this opportunity with Panasonic to focus on right now.”
Ledecky emphasized the importance of balancing education with her athletic career.
“The message that I like to impart is that education is a big priority in my life,” she said. “It always has been.
“I think a lot of people look at athletes and only see them as athletes. But for me, my education has been right there with that, and I believe that education and learning should not take a back seat to athletics.”
In the program, Ledecky and Panasonic executives visit junior high schools around the country, or in online sessions, given the current restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic.
“I hope that I can … inspire students to explore different passions, explore different fields. That’s what we’re doing with STEM. I think so many careers in the future are going to be built around that and so if we can help teach those skills and provide those opportunities for students to learn those skills, I think that’s only going to help them in the future.”
Ledecky said she takes what she has learned in the classroom and applies it to what she is doing in the pool, using statistics, analysis and technology “to fine-tune my swimming. It is very science-oriented.”
Overall, she said she has benefited, performance-wise, from keeping her mind sharp.
“It helps me stay mentally active, and I feel like if I’m learning outside of the pool, I’m doing something good for myself that’s going to help me perform and be at my best,” she said.
“The brain is a muscle, too, and keeping that active is very important to me and I think really helps my swimming.”