Rachel Bernardo ‘21: Crossing the Finish Line of her College Career
How one Aggie graduate made a lasting impression on Texas A&M University through her academic and athletic achievements.
By Mia Mercer ‘23
Rachel Bernardo ‘21 was in seventh grade the first time she tried out for her school’s track team. After making the cut, Bernardo realized she not only enjoyed the sport; she loved it. She worked hard throughout grade school with the goal of running competitively in college. Now, almost 10 years later, Bernardo is a seven-time letterman in both cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field for Texas A&M University. Though she’s victoriously crossed many finish lines throughout her athletic career, this May she’s prepared to cross a different mile marker — the graduation stage.
As an honors psychology major, research assistant, and an accomplished runner for Texas A&M, Bernardo’s professors and mentors agree she personifies the best the College of Liberal Arts has to offer, while she credits them along with her family and friends for her successes. And while some students agonize over which college to attend, Bernardo had no doubts about her desire to study at Texas A&M.
“Running Division I was definitely something I wanted to do, but I also didn’t want to sacrifice my academic integrities for my collegiate athletic career,” Bernardo said. “Once I took my official visit for recruiting here, I saw a different side of Texas A&M that I hadn’t really experienced as a high school student or middle school student living in College Station. It felt fresh, like a new world. I thought to myself ‘If I don’t go to Texas A&M, I think I’m going to regret it.’ Now I’m glad I’m here.”
Bernardo originally entered the university as a biology major, but quickly realized that wasn’t the career path for her. Wanting to pursue something that incorporated her love for sports into her future career as well as get a chance to focus on the science behind it, she decided to go into psychology with the hope of becoming a sports psychologist.
After transitioning to the College of Liberal Arts, Bernardo said she had a great experience learning from her professors and becoming a holistic student. She joined the Liberal Arts Student Council and pursued research opportunities including assisting Arnold LeUnes in his sport psychology laboratory.
“I needed research experience before grad school, so I reached out to Dr. LeUnes. I had taken two of his courses, and I had gotten to know him pretty well through those,” Bernardo shared. “He suggested that I work with him on a project, which was really cool. We worked together creating a bibliography for a specific psychological measure, or construct, and looking at its use in sport and exercise. This opportunity taught me a lot about how research is conducted, the importance of the organization elements of research, and writing.”
Bernardo also worked as a research assistant for Rachel Smallman’s psychology laboratory on the Second Life project, which examined counterfactual thinking to determine how these thoughts influence decision-making.
In addition to being an outstanding student year-round, Bernardo is also a distance runner, which means she partakes in three different athletic seasons — cross country in the fall; indoor track and field in the winter, where she runs the mile; and outdoor track and field in the summer, where she runs the 1500 meter race and the 3000m steeplechase, an obstacle race in Track and Field. Although Bernardo enjoys each race she competes in, she classifies herself as a steeplechaser first, due to the challenge it poses to her and the amount of personal growth she’s experienced with it.
“I have so many great memories from my athletic career here, but a really big moment for me was at the Southeastern Track and Field conference my sophomore year where I scored in a conference meet for the first time,” Bernardo said. “To score in an event at a conference you have to score in the top eight at your event, and that year I placed seventh in the steeplechase. That was a turning point in my running career because I realized I can contribute to my team and feel like a valuable member.”
Bernardo used her Aggie values and liberal arts education to serve as an athletics leader. She served as president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee from 2020-2021, and she was the head director of Traditions Night, a one-night experience for new student-athletes.
Though Bernardo has achieved great successes in her collegiate career, she’s faced plenty of challenges as well. She said balancing academic and athletic responsibilities is tiring both physically and mentally. Thankfully, she has a support group that is always there to pick her up and help her through tough times.
“Texas A&M has helped me throughout my running career so much,” Bernardo said. “Over the past few years I’ve gotten to know our athletics staff and they’ve had an equally great impact on my collegiate running career as well as my academic career. They’ve helped me realize where my skills and passion for athletics can translate over to real life, and how I can apply those skills. Overall, Texas A&M’s commitment to always bettering itself and standing by those core values is something I’ve taken very seriously to try to implement in my academic and running careers.”
In preparation for the next chapter of her life, Bernardo has become a little sentimental about her time and experiences in Aggieland.
“I look back at all the things I’ve done and I feel like everything I’ve done and been a part of throughout my collegiate career has led up to my greatest achievements thus far: being a 2021 Buck Weirus Spirit Award recipient, which recognizes 55 Aggie students for their high involvement and impact on student life at Texas A&M, and getting accepted into the University of Central Florida’s DeVos sports business management program,” Bernardo shared.
The University of Central Florida’s DeVos sports business management program is a well ranked two-year program, which works to launch careers in the sports industry. In this program, Bernardo will be working towards her master’s in sports business. She hopes to utilize what she learns there to work with collegiate athletics.
“The College of Liberal Arts helped prepare me for my next degrees (Masters of Sport Business Management and Masters of Business Administration) through the interpersonal skills I’ve been able to develop over the last 2.5 years I’ve spent as a Psychology major,” Bernardo said. “I’ve become much better at communication and networking, which are definitely essential to a successful career in the sport industry.”
Throughout her time at Texas A&M, Bernardo has had many memorable experiences, from being able to compete in the sport she loves, to developing lifelong relationships within the College of Liberal Arts and getting accepted into her dream program. Due to her own experiences and the fact that she considers Texas A&M a well-rounded institution, she said that she will always encourage others to consider attending this University.
With her senior year coming to an end, Bernardo said she couldn’t be more excited to graduate.
“I remember someone saying to me in my freshman year, ‘Just wait, your time here will go by in a blink of an eye; you’ll be a senior before you know it,’ and here I am,” Bernardo reminisced. “College was a great time, but I feel ready and prepared for life outside of college thanks to the College of Liberal Arts and Texas A&M Athletics. I’m not ready to be done with running, but I think also in a way I am, because I’ve gotten a lot out of it. My college experience at Texas A&M has definitely gotten me ready for this next phase in my life, and I’m ready to walk into it.”