Alex Beran, '21

December 8, 2020
Scholar-athlete takes a deep dive into health care

Both feet bounced, then hit the end of the board hard, sending her airborne as if she were weightless. Seemingly effortlessly, she contracted into a tight ball, spinning once, twice, before extending her body fully, legs pointing straight up to the sky, as her arms sliced into the water, sending ripples across the pool. On a Saturday morning when many of her peers were still sleeping, Alex Beran, ’21, had just executed a flawless two-somersault forward dive.

The senior on the Women’s Swim and Dive Team logs 20 hours a week at diving practice. Her lifelong commitment to fitness—she started gymnastic training at age two and diving at age 11—has spurred an interest in health, which she is exploring through her leadership studies major.

Dr. Thad Williamson’s Justice and Civil Society class introduced her to public health issues affecting many Richmond residents. “For that class, I volunteered with immigrants, many of whom don’t have access to health care and nutritious food,” she said.

She experienced the data-driven side of health care this summer during her remote Jepson internship with New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The Jepson School of Leadership Studies awarded her a Burrus fellowship to support her internship.

“I worked under Dr. Mithat Gönen, the chief of biostatistics and epidemiology,” Beran said. “He gave me spreadsheets that tracked many years of patients who had colorectal cancer. The doctors had input their notes differently, so I put the notes in a consistent format to identify trends.

“I also sat in on a lot of meetings about the state of COVID-19 in the hospital during what was the height of the pandemic in New York City.”

Upon her return to campus this fall, Beran faced leadership challenges related to the pandemic in her roles as a resident assistant for upperclassmen housing and as Jepson Student Government Association (JSGA) co-president.

“As an RA, I have to alternate between being a community builder and being a COVID-19 rules enforcer,” she said. “I let my residents know that I will respect them if they will respect me. We can’t break the trust. In JSGA, we are working to find ways to build community, even though we can’t physically get Jepson students together for activities.”

In her Jepson senior honors thesis, “The Influence of Coaches on Eating Disorders in Athletes,” the senior from Basking Ridge, N.J., is exploring an aspect of sports that she says has affected some of the athletes she has known over the years. Leadership studies professor Terry Price, himself a long-distance runner, is serving as her faculty advisor.

“I’m looking at the benefits of being thin in three sports categories,” Beran said. “Aesthetic sports, such as diving and gymnastics, where your success depends on people’s perception of your physical appearance; endurance sports, such as cross country and swimming, where you perform better if you are lighter; and weight-requirement sports, such as wrestling, where you have to be in a certain weight category in order to compete.

“An ethical coach must promote the well-being of the athlete both physically and mentally. There should be more explicit guidelines on how coaches should act to mitigate the risks of eating disorders in female athletes.”

With its emphasis on leader-follower relationships, ethics, and social justice, her leadership studies major has prepared her well for her future career as a physician or public health professional, Beran said.

“Hospitals are intense. As a doctor, you should be sensitive, honest, and ethical. You should understand policy, how to interact with people, and how people’s opinions affect their health.”