By Evan Nicely 

Camille Calhoun was going through the arduous ACL rehab process for the second time in as many years last spring when she faced a crossroads between basketball and an opportunity to jumpstart her career. 

The United States Department of Homeland Security had offered her a position, and she would still have the opportunity to complete her master’s degree from VCU, but she would have to give up basketball.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, and it was an extremely tough decision. Once the injury happened, I wasn’t getting good feedback on how my knees were going to be as I got older. The doctors told me that this might be something you can never really fully come back from. I realized that basketball isn’t something I can do forever, so I had to make a decision that was best for me,” said Calhoun.

With that, Calhoun, who had already graduated early and completed her graduate certificate, accepted a position as a student trainee of administrative support with the Department of Homeland Security. It was a dream come true for her.

“I always wanted to work in government. I loved my teammates and I really enjoyed playing for Coach O’Boyle but I ultimately had to do what’s best for me and everyone at VCU was so supportive. It was such a tough decision between trying to see what happens with basketball and coming back from my injuries or trying to get a jumpstart my career while I’m still young,” said Calhoun.

Getting that jumpstart on that government career wasn’t always in the cards. Calhoun had arrived on VCU’s campus in the fall of 2013 as a wide-eyed freshman unsure of what she wanted to major in before hearing about VCU’s Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness degree through the Wilder School. During the introduction class for the course, the students studied the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the official reports on it. Calhoun was hooked.

“After taking that first class, I kept taking more classes and realized it was what I wanted to stick with,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun excelled on the court and in the classroom during her first two years on campus, appearing in 53 games for the Rams before the first knee injury came in a win over No. 17 Arizona State on Dec. 5, 2015. Calhoun was set to graduate early but still had a year of eligibility left and a chance to apply for a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA to get another.

“I ended up talking to Coach O’Boyle, and we talked about the fact that I was graduating early and she told me that they can help me get my master’s degree. It was perfect for me to rehab and come back to play because VCU has this great program, so I wanted to stick with it,” said Calhoun.

Calhoun returned to the court for the 2016-17 campaign but suffered another season-ending knee injury on Nov. 15, 2016 against Minnesota, just two games into the Rams’ season. She again began pushing through the rehab process that continued into spring offseason workouts with the team while working on her graduate certificate.

It was during that time Calhoun began browsing job listings online when she came across a student training position that was open in the DHS. Calhoun talked with Kasey Mattison, VCU’s Assistant Director of Student Athlete Support Services, who helped get Camille in contact with those in field. She submitted her application and resume and was ultimately offered the position.

“Working with Kasey and others who helped get the resume together was a huge part of it. I got hired off of how great my resume was, and I credit Coach O’Boyle and the VCU staff for bringing in people to help us with our resumes. It was really helpful, and it worked out for me,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun’s current job is also part of the government’s Pathways Program that helps students get security clearances and ultimately get into full-time government jobs. For Calhoun, once she gets her advanced degree she can convert her current position into a full-time role within the department as long as its needed.

She is slated to obtain her master’s degree from VCU in May, and for the last year has been balancing a 40-hour work week with completing her degree, a process in its final steps as she is taking the capstone class this semester. Calhoun has also become a member of the Eta Lambda Sigma fraternity at VCU, one dedicated to Homeland Security. Juggling all those things at once is a process that has been anything but easy for her.

“There have been multiple times I feel like quitting, just like with basketball, when it gets hard but then you realize you can do this. I work full-time, 40 hours of week on top of taking graduate classes so it’s extremely difficult. Some days I wake up and it’s early and I don’t want to get out of bed. I just tell myself to keep going because it’s important and it’s helpful to the United States, these jobs have a big impact and it’s a really cool job,” said Calhoun.

She says she never envisioned herself in the military but believes her current career path is another way to serve her country by getting crucial information to those protecting its citizens.

“My mom calls me her little superhero. She talks about it all the time. As a 21-year-old, I was able to get offered a full-time government job so early, and she tells me that I’ve set myself up for the future and my dad feels the same way,” said Calhoun.

For someone who came to Richmond and VCU unsure of what she wanted to do, Calhoun persevered through injuries and her studies and, with a little help from her coach and the staff at VCU, started down a path that will shape her future and potentially those of many Americans in the years to come.

“People say everything happens for a reason. I didn’t plan on coming to VCU to get into this, but it all worked out. The professors and staff have the right connections and know the right people,” Calhoun said. “At my first day on the job, I texted coach O’Boyle and Kasey and told them I just wanted to say thank you.”