Four Iowa State men’s basketball players – Merrill Holden, Donovan Jackson, Marial Shayok and Nick Weiler-Babb – will add another line to their resumes this spring and summer. Jackson and Shayok officially graduate this weekend, while Weiler-Babb and Holden take part in commencement ceremonies now and earn their degrees this summer. Along with these four student-athletes, former Cyclone Martin Rancik (1998-2001) also earned his degree from ISU in December.
Holden’s path to a master’s degree was a little different.
It was a balancing act.
A fine line between when to shut down the computer and go to sleep and when to push on so that he could someday again be on the big stage at Hilton Coliseum, this time earning his master’s degree rather than playing for the Cyclones.
Holden, who followed his Cyclone career with five months playing in Bahrain, a nation comprising of more than 30 islands in the Arabian Gulf, would spend his nights working on his online courses and his days playing the game he loves.
He needed to get sleep so he could help his team, but he had a goal and with the encouragement of others back in Ames he was going to reach his goal.
“The deal was when I came here the master’s degree was part of it and I usually finish things that I start,” said Holden. “It was huge having that support system. (Academic coordinator) Natalie (Williams), the coaching staff and some of my friends and family just kept encouraging me to keep going.
“There were times where I just kind of wanted to give it up. Getting a master’s degree is tough; it’s a lot of work. There were nights that I didn’t get any sleep working on projects and then had to go perform on the court for my job the next day. Having Natalie and others by my side motivated me and pushed me.”
The long hours of work and the support of everyone culminated Thursday evening as he crossed the stage during the Spring 2018 Graduate Commencement Ceremony.
Holden will still have to complete his oral dissertation to defend his capstone in July, but the bulk of his work is completed and he celebrated the achievement in advance along with other graduate students because there is no summer commencement.
Holden played for the Cyclones during the 2016-17 season after earning his undergraduate degree from Louisiana Tech. His master’s degree is in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on community development.
For his program, Holden’s final paper examined at the city of Flint, Michigan, and its recent struggles.
“My paper focuses on the ongoing water crisis,” Holden said. “I touch on environmental racism and healthier policies for the Flint community. Much of it comes down to electing better officials with better human capital. Really, it is a deep dive into helping to get Flint going in the right direction.”
So now, Holden is the first person in his family to get a master’s degree. It’s something he never dreamed of growing up, or even a few years ago.
“Never would have thought that I could get a master’s degree,” Holden said while shaking his head. “Where I come from, born in Chicago, Illinois, in a very rough neighborhood. Never. I moved around a lot as a kid. There were times where my family couldn’t support me so I stayed with my grandma. I moved to another city to stay with an uncle.
“Basketball really blessed me with an opportunity to get a master’s degree. It means more than I can even put into words.”
Big 12 Champion. Iowa State University graduate.
Loyal sons forever true!