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NCAA names 2019 Byers Scholarship recipients

California’s Rachael Acker and Yale’s Derek Soled selected to receive $24,000 grants

An NCAA committee has selected two former student-athletes as recipients of the Walter Byers Scholarship.

The scholarship awards will go to Rachael Acker, a former swimmer at California who earned her undergraduate degree in French and is now a medical student at Harvard, and Derek Soled, a former fencer at Yale who earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and sociology. Soled is now pursuing a joint medical degree and a Master of Business Administration degree at Harvard.

Established in 1988, the Walter Byers Scholarship program each year awards $24,000 grants to one male and one female recipient. The grants can be renewed for a second year. Recipients chosen by the NCAA Walter Byers Scholarship Committee are recognized as combining the best elements of mind and body to achieve national distinction for their achievements and to be future leaders in their chosen field of career service.

Rachael Acker

Rachael Acker

Before receiving the Byers Scholarship, Acker earned several athletic and academic accolades as an NCAA swimmer at California. She was the Pac-12’s 2015-16 Woman of the Year and a Top 30 finalist for NCAA Woman of the Year in 2016. She also won an NCAA championship in 2014 as a member of California’s 800-yard freestyle relay team and helped the Golden Bears win the team national title in 2015.

Acker, a second-year medical student, hopes to pursue a surgical specialty such as obstetrics/gynecology or pediatric surgery. She noted in her application for the Byers Scholarship that she continually draws on her student-athlete experience as she works toward her future path in medicine.

“As student-athletes, we constantly work toward something bigger than ourselves, concurrently striving for personal and team excellence,” Acker wrote in her application essay. “In a medical context, resident and attending doctors, medical students, nurses, social workers and occupational therapists strive toward a common objective: optimizing patient care.”

After graduating from California with a 3.96 GPA in 2016, Acker was a Fulbright Scholar and completed a 10-month program at the University of Rennes in France. As an undergraduate, she was also a three-time College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-American and was named 2016 Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women’s swimming and diving.

Derek Soled

Derek Soled

Soled’s years as a student-athlete began when he walked onto the men’s fencing team during his first year at Yale and concluded with serving as team captain during the 2015-16 academic year. He graduated summa cum laude with distinction and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale with a 3.95 GPA in 2016. As an undergraduate, Soled earned the “Pop” Grasson Cup as a Yale fencing team member who displays exceptional leadership, character, integrity and commitment and the Clarence W. Mendell Prize for the highest intellectual leadership and character in Yale’s Branford College.

In his application for the Byers Scholarship, Soled described his long-term career plan as a desire “to become a practicing physician who works in domestic and international health policy to deliver high-quality care in resource-poor settings and tackle rampant disparities in health.” The scholarship will help him on that path by combining training in both medicine and business.

“The joint M.D./MBA degrees will enable me to develop the clinical expertise to heal my individual patients, as well as the managerial and business skills necessary to launch effective public health campaigns and address systemic issues that affect patients on a larger scale,” Soled wrote in his application.

Soled previously received an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship to pursue a Master of Science degree in medical anthropology from the University of Oxford.