ELMHURST – A York High School alumna said she learned more than physics at Elon University, where she graduated from this past spring.
“I would do anything to stay a part of it,” 22-year-old Ali Deatsch said.
The volleyball star recently was elected to the Elon University Board of Trustees, but giving back to her community always has driven Deatsch in all aspects of life.
When she started college, she admits she wasn’t sure what her career path would be, but she knew she liked physics in high school.
Even while playing varsity volleyball as a freshman, Deatsch managed to earn impressive grades in her physics classes. She even began to apply her studies on the court.
“I can definitely see the forces and the angles,” Deatsch said.
Before she knew it, she had the opportunity to perform research with Ben Evans who soon would become her mentor.
“He taught me pretty much everything I know about research and physics,” Deatsch said.
Under his guidance, Deatsch explored how nontoxic magnetic nanoparticles could be used to target and destroy cancer cells as an alternative to chemotherapy. Deatsch had not only found a career field that she excelled at, but a cause that was dear to her heart.
“I had a friend who passed away from cancer my freshman year of college,” she said.
Deatsch and Erin Potts met in seventh grade through their love for volleyball. The two were teammates on local travel team 1st Alliance Volleyball Club, when a 15-year-old Potts was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. What began as a tumor in her thigh eventually took Potts’ life four years later when she was a sophomore at Elmhurst College.
“She was just an absolute inspiration,” Deatsch said.
With Potts in mind, Deatsch worked on the alternative cancer treatment research that she hopes one day will save lives. By her sophomore year at Elon, she had prepared a research plan worthy of her school’s prestigious Lumen Prize. As a 2011 Lumen Scholar, Deatsch received a $15,000 scholarship toward her research, which she also presented at conferences in San Diego, Philadelphia and Sorrento, Italy.
Presenting her research alongside other revolutionary projects going on throughout the country and around the world gave Deatsch a new perspective. She realized she was making new advancements like other researchers.
While working on her research, Deatsch also continued to play varsity volleyball for Elon throughout her college career, even taking on the role of co-captain during her junior and senior years. She also found time to take a three-week environmental class in Costa Rica before graduating with a degree in physics and three minors in applied mathematics, astronomy and psychology.
“When you want to do all of those things and your passionate about it, it makes all the difference,” Deatsch said.
Her family also supports her. Deatsch calls her 24-year-old big sister, Kelly – who is in physical therapy school – her study partner, and plays volleyball with her youngest sister, 18-year-old Melissa.
While she begins her two-year role as a youth trustee for Elon University, Ali Deatsch is pursuing her doctorate in physics at Notre Dame. She hopes to continue material science research like the work she did as an undergraduate, but she’s equally excited to be one of the two youth trustees to her alma mater.
“It gives me the best opportunity to give back to the university,” Deatsch said.