What had you achieved by the age of 21? For most college-aged students, major life accomplishments at that point include graduating high school, holding down a job and perhaps learning how to cook something other than macaroni and cheese.
However, senior Angela Lowak, a co-captain on Texas A&M's volleyball team, has aimed much higher. She has already crossed off a number of life-changing experiences from her bucket list.
Helped build houses for the needy in her community? Taught English and fed children in an AIDS-stricken third-world country? Worked in a hospital in one of Asia's most densely populated cities?
Check, check and check.
Lowak is currently pursuing a double major in business honors and finance, and the honor-roll student is on track to graduate in May 2017. In addition, she is taking all of her prerequisites to attend medical school.
Her path to Aggieland, however, was not a straight one.
Growing up in New Braunfels with no real ties to Texas A&M, Lowak admits she was more of a fan of the volleyball team at a certain university in Austin. A decorated high school and club player, when it came time to consider colleges, she knew one thing--she wanted to leave the Lone Star State to play.
But as she took her recruiting trips, she was not getting that "you'll-just-know" feeling that so many had been telling her to expect.
"So my mom suggested, 'Why don't you visit one school in Texas, for me?" recalled Lowak. "I said okay, and I just picked A&M, because it was a good school academically and it had a great volleyball program."
"I went on one visit, and I knew automatically that I wanted to go here," Lowak said. "The coaches--you could just tell they cared about your best interests. And I was really sold on the culture and how welcoming people were. I knew I wanted to be a part of it."
As a freshman, Lowak appeared in 19 matches as the Aggies racked up 25 wins and won the SEC's western division in A&M's inaugural season in the league. It was following that impressive freshman campaign, however, that she began to split her focus to items both on and off the court.
"I realized that one day volleyball is going to be over," Lowak said. "And I didn't want to be lost when that happened. I was given a scholarship to come here, and I wanted to utilize all my resources and get to know as many people as I possibly could. Honestly, I wanted to make the most of my opportunity."
She became involved with organizations both inside athletics and across campus. Then, another opportunity knocked on her door.
Enter Carly Bassett, a high school friend with whom Lowak had reconnected through a class in the spring of her freshman year. The pair had batted around the idea of a mission trip before, but now the two talked seriously about it.
After some quick but intense internet searches, they found Adventures in Missions--an interdenominational organization that emphasizes prayer and relationships in its work amongst some of the world's poorest populations.
Their destination of choice? Swaziland.
Born to Serve
Senior Angela Lowak has traveled the world with a desire to help others. A three year contributor on the Aggie volleyball team, Lowak said her volunteering translates onto the court, where she also focuses on serving her teammates.
A tiny, beautiful, land-locked country near the southeast tip of Africa, Swaziland is plagued by the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world.
On a two-week trip that admittedly took her out of her comfort zone, Lowak, Bassett and 10 other volunteers spent most of their time at "carepoints" in rural parts of the country. Their tasks included playing with children after school, feeding them, teaching them English, doing maintenance on buildings--anything that was needed.
"I always had a desire to go on a mission trip, and once I had that experience I saw the power of service, and how happy you can make people," Lowak said. "At that point, I knew it was something I had to have in my life."
Soon after, Lowak challenged herself to visit a different continent every summer during college. The next year, she and Bassett teamed up again, this time backpacking through Europe, from Ireland to Greece.
But this trip felt different. While thoroughly enjoyable, Lowak realized it did not have the impact on her life she had hoped. It certainly did not compare to what she experienced the previous year in Africa.
"I just wanted there to be a bigger purpose to my travels. I had the opportunity to travel, so I wanted to give back somehow."
The next year she zeroed in on Asia, and after again doing the research, she found International Volunteer HQ. The New Zealand-based group focuses on placing interested volunteers in safe, high-quality and responsible environments in more than 30 countries around the world.
Knowing she wanted to focus on something in the medical profession, Lowak's search through the database landed her in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
"I lived through a tourism college, with maybe 30 volunteers from all over the world," she said. "Some were teaching English, and there was a group of us at an orthopedic hospital. We would do rotations, a lot of occupational therapy and even help with some surgeries. You were able to see a lot more than you would see here."
Back in Aggieland, as busy as playing a Division I sport and double majoring can make a person, Lowak finds even more time to give back to the Bryan-College Station community.
She is the philanthropy chair of her sorority, Pi Beta Phi. She is a two-time member of the SEC Community Service Team. She has volunteered at the Barbara Bush Parent Center, local elementary schools, with non-profits around town, the Brazos Valley Food Bank--and the list goes on.
During her time in Aggieland, Lowak has helped lead A&M to one SEC western division title, two 20-win seasons and three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. And in 2015, with a strong returning lineup mixed with a stellar freshman class, the prospects on the court are still bright.
"She is so well-rounded, so balanced," said A&M head coach Laurie Corbelli. "She keeps everything in balance as well as anyone can and as well as anyone I have seen and worked with. She is the ultimate team player. There are so many facets to her. She is very social, very self-disciplined. She made a commitment to Aggie volleyball, and she goes all out."
Lowak knows it is that balance that makes her a success both on and off the court.
"It is so easy to get bogged down by the small details, especially during a season," Lowak said. "You get into a routine. But (service) gives you a healthy perspective. It helps (your relationships) with people, and that translates over to my team--the importance of serving your teammates, engaging in purposeful conversation and going to the next level with the people around you."
It may not be possible to get more out of one's college years, but Lowak is determined to test the limits.
And she is determined to give back even more than she gets.
"All of (us) student-athletes are so fortunate," said Lowak. "We are constantly handed opportunities to serve. We don't even have to lift a finger. It goes back to what I was saying, making the most of the opportunity here at A&M and using the platform of athletics to reach other people, inspire them and help them."
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