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Assistant volunteer coach Michaela Dungan for Penn volleyball.

Michaela Dungan always knew Penn was where she wanted to be, but little did she expect to work both in a medical field she never knew existed, while contributing as a volleyball coach for a Division I team.

Dungan is Penn volleyball’s newest hire, coming on as a volunteer assistant coach for the 2022 season. She also splits her time at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania as a clinical research coordinator in gastrointestinal cancer genetics for Bryson Katona.

Dungan’s academic background consists of sports medicine, concussion research, and pediatrics, which overlapped heavily with her athletic background. During her time as an undergraduate at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Dungan played four years of Division I volleyball and conjointly conducted a longitudinal study of all NJIT student-athletes testing concussion protocols.

She and her research team double-baselined every DI athlete using novel concussion protocols, including her own volleyball team, totalling to about 350 students. She tested the protocols twice per person and followed up multiple times when students were concussed.

Dungan felt personally invested in making sure that the team was diligent in its procedures, and was committed to making headway in the research. However, her research at Penn came as a surprise.

“This was very outside of my comfort zone, but I was choosing between a couple of labs post-grad, and I just knew that Penn was where I wanted to be,” Dungan said. “I’m from Reading, Pa., so it really means a lot to me to serve the community that I've been a part of for my entire life. I just love the research that I’m doing there — I am a trained phlebotomist now and I’m researching Lynch syndrome. 

“It's a blessing to get to research something that I never even knew existed — and now it's my 9 to 5!”

This summer, Dungan reached out to Penn volleyball coach Meredith Schamun over email. She detailed her own experience as a former Division I volleyball player working at HUP, and wanted to become more involved with Penn. Dungan was immediately welcomed by the coaching staff, including Schamun and assistant coaches Evan Feltz and Trevor Weiskircher.

“They're just amazing, and they've made me feel really welcome and part of the team, and the girls are really nice, too,” Dungan said. “And it's really great to be around the game again in a different setting.”

Dungan’s day typically begins early, waking up to stretch if she needs to play or put balls in play at practice. She arrives at the Palestra around 7:30 a.m., and if she’s not on the court, she’s instead already in the operating room, which often schedules her in at 6:30 a.m.

“I try to come to the practices as much as I can,” Dungan said. “Sometimes I'm in the O.R., or in the endoscopy suite taking biopsies from colonoscopies, or drawing blood from patients, and sometimes I'm just doing a lot of emails. It's really all over the place. I'm studying for the MCAT now, so I head over to the medical library to study for about two to three hours after work.”

Dungan is always searching for ways to get even more involved with the Penn community. She plans to take extra courses during the spring semester, such as a science or Spanish course in the undergraduate departments.

Despite her short time here, she already feels she's a part of the community and welcomed by all.

“When I miss games because I have a personal prior commitment or something like that, I'm always following along on my phone and I'm watching,” Dungan said. “I feel like it's my school, and I feel like I'm a part of Penn now.”

Dungan has come to love both the Penn community and team culture. She enjoys watching the team have fun and cherish each other on and off the court.

“It is so heartwarming, and it was so lovely to see how much they care for each other,” Dungan said. “Being completely new this year, they just enveloped me and have made me feel like a part of the team. They're just really, really nice people, which is all you could want as someone being a newbie on a team.”

At a typical practice, Dungan finds herself helping wherever she can, whether that’s doing the score, lines, or putting balls into play. Sometimes, she plays with the girls as well, but for Dungan, it’s more about being present with the team.

“My favorite part of working with the team is just being around the game,” she said. “I hope to be a lifelong volleyball player and spectator, whether that's in a coaching manner, or being a parent of future volleyball players.”

As a recent college graduate herself, Dungan can often contribute unique perspectives to the team apart from the rest of the coaching staff.

“These girls might as well have been my teammates,” Dungan said. “I think as a recent grad, I can bring that perspective and empathize with them in a different and special way that the other coaches can't. Which I think is a good thing to bring.”

Looking toward the rest of the season, Dungan is confident and excited. She believes the team is truly hitting its stride now, figuring out previous kinks, and playing well in practices. Penn plays its first two Ivy League games this weekend, in search of two big wins to claim at home in the Palestra.

“I want to help the coaches and the girls win, and get an Ivy League Championship. I want to do that with all of my being.”