EMU Senior Abby Diffenbach
For Abby Diffenbach, keeping 457 soccer shots out of the goal at EMU helped her to refine her personal and career goals. Photo by Wayne Gehman

EMU Helps Soccer Standout Refine Life Goals

Instilling a strong sense of what it means to be a part of the global community is one of the core concepts at EMU.

It’s often one of the primary reasons students decide to attend.

Reflecting on her time at EMU, senior nursing major and star soccer athlete Abby Diffenbach noted that she had seen these community principles of peace and justice exemplified before she even arrived in Harrisonburg.

Growing up in an EMU household

Diffenbach, from Lancaster, Pa., grew up in a household of EMU alumni, including her mother and older brother, and has a deep appreciation for her younger years in the dynamic Lancaster Mennonite culture.

Diffenbach had always felt drawn to an Anabaptist university, but her decision to attend EMU was finalized after learning that she would have an immediate position on the women’s soccer team as a keeper her freshman year.

For any student athlete, where to play is perhaps the most important consideration, but not always for the same reasons.

Athletics as a way to serve

“Athletics is a big representation of a school, and is often the first image that people have of the university,” Diffenbach said.” The idea of servitude extends to the locker and training rooms at EMU. Visiting teams have often remarked about how attentive and professional our training staff is as compared to other colleges they’ve visited.”

Second-year head coach Jason Good, as well as her teammates, have been Diffenbach’s primary athletic inspirations, and are the people to whom she turns when the pressures of schoolwork increase.

“Jason is just an incredible motivator and role model, and the women on the team are all quite close,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to play with so many great people over the years.”

Record-breaking senior season

During her senior season, Diffenbach broke the EMU career saves record with 457 saves and also took over the records for career playing time and games played.

Serving and leading in nursing, too

The idea of servitude that Abby has recognized in the athletic department matches up well with what she has been taught in the nursing department at EMU.

Having been through hospital stays herself, Diffenbach has been on the other side of the patient-caretaker relationship, and considers compassion, empathy and rapport to be of equal importance alongside the kind medical attention which the patient receives.

She recalls one poignant moment during clinicals:

“I took care of a guy whose appendix burst while he was in jail. We had heard that he was in jail for calling a bomb threat on the very hospital where he was now a patient. This man had a difficult background and it was a real test. However, we are called to higher standards as medical professionals and compassion must be first and foremost. It is still important to establish trust, no matter who the patient might be.”

Making the most of university education

EMU emphasizes these ideas of compassion, peace and justice in many practical ways, and Diffenbach serves as an example of a student who has made the most of her time at the university.

During the past four years, she has been involved in organizations on campus that deal with race relations, ethnic issues and environmental sustainability.

The interconnectedness between all areas of her involvement at EMU and how it has prepared her for life is something that Diffenbach plans to take back to Lancaster where she hopes to establish her career.

Skills for life, not just career

“EMU has given me the basic skills; not only of nursing, but of how to be a compassionate person. I will take my experience with me back to Lancaster, and I hope to begin my career at Lancaster General Hospital.”

She added: “After enduring a hospital stay from appendicitis, I better understand what is required of a good nurse, and I am confident in the way with which EMU has prepared me for this demanding and important role in society.”

Tim Hartman, originally from Elida, Ohio, is a senior liberal arts major with a peacebuilding emphasis.