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Riley Plenge

December 2015

While a sophomore in high school, Riley Plenge suffered three concussions in one basketball game. She missed that year of high school due to the injury and everything that came with it – not feeling well, seeing multiple specialists, endless doctor’s appointments and the continuous search for an answer on how to make her better.

The injury also rendered her unable to play her favorite sport. However, Plenge decided there was another way for her to stay in the game.

“I lost one of my major identities,” the New Jersey native said. “The injury altered my life. My dream was to play basketball in college. It took me a while to get used to not playing.”

A senior in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Plenge now helps counsel collegiate athletes, assisting them with life skills and preparing them for careers after college.

A medical mystery

Plenge still suffers the effects of the injury, and doctors thus far have been unable to pinpoint why, or how to treat them.

“I’ve been to many different doctors and no one can figure out why I still have symptoms,” she said.

Some of Plenge’s ongoing symptoms include sensitivity to light and noise, becoming nauseated upon eating, difficulty concentrating, difficulty with memory and balance, difficulty with depth perception, and blurry vision.

“I can’t remember what it’s like to live without headaches all the time,” she said. “It’s become the new normal for me.”

Helping athletes reach full potential

When Plenge first came to Penn State, she started out in the College of Nursing, but soon discovered the long shifts and demanding schedule weren’t practical for her health. Still determined to help others, Plenge was guided to HDFS, where she quickly felt right at home.

The major is helping her reach her goals: what she learns in the classroom she is able to apply to her internships, she said. And counseling athletes, she said, is really the best of both worlds. She can remain connected to the sports world while also helping others.

Currently Plenge is an intern at the Morgan Academic Support Center for Student Athletes at Penn State, where she checks football players into study hall and assists academic advisers with various projects. She is also an academic tutor in the Morgan center, where she assists student athletes in various subjects.

In summer of 2015 Plenge interned at Virginia Tech in the student athlete academic support services office, where she managed the attendance and supervision of study hall and assisted the staff with different opportunities throughout the summer.

These internship experiences have given Plenge the opportunity to sit in on staff meetings and athlete-adviser meetings, interact with coaches, learn about eligibility rules and apply them to students, and see firsthand the importance of maintaining a good relationship with coaches.

“I love learning about the athletes’ lives,” Plenge said. “My favorite part is when the player talks about his or her interests outside of the sport. My goal is to help them learn they are more than a player.”

Her goal after graduation is to continue to work with college athletes.

Plenge has also served as a service team leader, mentor and Bible study leader for Campus Crusade for Christ. She currently volunteers at the Pregnancy Resource Center in State College, where she manages donations for the center.

In addition to HDFS, there are a variety of areas for students to study within HHD through the Departments of Biobehavioral Health, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Health Policy and Administration, Kinesiology, Nutritional Sciences, Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, and the School of Hospitality Management.