Soccer goals and Six Sigma dreams

Crystal Rivas Sunley

Nearing her high school senior year, Crystal (Rivas) Sunley’s family moved from Maryland to West Lafayette. Though she stayed in Maryland's Carroll County, just outside Baltimore, to graduate from Liberty High School and earn her second first-team all-county soccer selection, the prospect of playing Purdue soccer was clearly on her radar. Recruited as a walk-on by Rob Klatte, Sunley (BSIM ’05) may have personified the ultimate role player as a Boilermaker student-athlete.

Analytical by nature, Sunley, whose father is an accountant, was torn between engineering and management studies. So she combined them. “I’ve always liked to get my hands dirty and build things. I finished my first year in the College of Engineering’s regular curriculum,” she says. “But I wanted to go into more of a management route.”

Crystal Rivas Sunley

Sunley played on some top 25 teams at Purdue, contributing most as a junior and senior, playing in all of the team’s 20 matches in her final year. Her best memories, however, are about time spent with teammates and simply working their way through Big Ten seasons. “I came in with a great class and I just remember being on the road and all the bonding on the bus as we traveled,” she says.

Her industrial management major, complete with an industrial engineering minor, put her on a fast track for Caterpillar in Peoria, Illinois, where today she serves as a Six Sigma Black Belt global team leader. Much of the Krannert coursework, often focusing on the underlying economics of a business, continues to echo in her management days.

But can you draw any comparisons from college soccer to the assembly line? “Absolutely,” Sunley says. “I can correlate a lot of my current role as team lead with being on a team and having a common vision to try and figure out how everyone can work toward that. Obviously, it’s a little different in the manufacturing field where we’re trying to build transmissions.”

A decade removed from her campus days, Sunley says her motivations aren’t all that different. She still balances work and family, including a husband and two young children, with a competitive desire to stay in shape. These days, cross fitness recalls much of those hard training days at Purdue. “You’re always competing against yourself and others in a workout,” she says. “Just trying to see how you stack up.”

On-court assists to assisting the courtMark Wohlford

Mark Wohlford (BS ECON ’10) played on three very good Purdue basketball teams. The once-labeled “Baby Boilers” (a talented group of underclassmen led by the likes of Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and Chris Kramer) matured into Big Ten contenders, winning the conference tournament in 2009 and the regular season title in 2010.

Growing up the competitive son of a coach in Columbus, Indiana, Wohlford was cut during tryouts his freshman year. Undeterred, he spent three to four hours a day playing basketball in the Co-Rec, developing his game against older players. He successfully walked on to the team his sophomore year.

As for his studies, Wohlford says several of his friends, including his girlfriend and future wife, Eva “Christi” Brown (BS ECON ’10), had chosen a management path. “I followed my heart in more ways than one,” says Wohlford, who liked the flexibility and well-rounded coursework of an economics major. “It allowed me to take history classes, a foreign language, and some of the science classes Purdue offers.”

Mark Wohlford

Though basketball practice, weightlifting, and a fast-paced season forced him to be more “intentional about time,” he thrived in the classroom. He earned Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Awards in 2009 and 2010 and was also named Academic All-Big Ten those same years.

That academic drive led him to law school at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., one of the first, Wohlford says, to mesh the ideas of law and economics. Perfect training for his current position as law clerk for the Honorable Justice Brent Dickson of the Indiana Supreme Court, where he assists the judge in crafting opinions and making decisions for the State of Indiana.

With a number of cases in various stages, Wohlford enjoys the scholarly approach his job calls for. “Because it’s the highest court in the state, we are making decisions and ruling on law that impacts all of Indiana. Unlike the immediate decision of a trial court, you have the component of thinking about how the case is going to be read in the future.” he says. “It’s a really good fit for my educational background and definitely a worthwhile profession.”

Wohlford says he keeps his “Basketball Jones” alive with weekday morning pickup games that accommodate a busy schedule and a growing family that includes two boys under the age of 2 — legitimate Baby Boilers. “I play as often as I can.”

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