Montana State University

Finishing first: Driscoll's drive and discipline translate into stellar academic career

May 7, 2009 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service


Elisabeth Driscoll, a distance runner from Bozeman who will graduate from MSU on Saturday with a perfect 4.0 GPA and three degrees, is said to embody desire, determination and discipline. But the quiet and modest senior says prioritizing goals and finding your own purpose are key to balancing it all. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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As one of Montana State University's most successful long-distance runners, Elisabeth Driscoll knows how to put one foot in front of the other and finish at the front.

Driscoll will finish in the number one spot again Saturday, but this time it will be at MSU commencement ceremonies when she crosses the stage as one of 10 students who are expected to graduate with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

Driscoll will do so with three undergraduate degrees including a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and one in modern languages with highest honors as well as a degree from the University Honors Program, where she has been selected to speak on behalf of her graduating Honors class.

The same kind of tenacity that it takes to be a long-distance runner also has translated into a spate of other awards for the student from Bozeman. Driscoll is the recent recipient of a prestigious NCAA post-graduate scholarship worth $7,500 and was named the winner of an MSU Athletics award for most community service hours by an athlete.

It might seem like all this winning and checking off yet another goal from her list might become a little old hat for Driscoll, who has never had less than an A in any class in college or high school. Yet the unremittingly humble and polite Driscoll doesn't see it that way. In fact, she said to be an athlete is to be well acquainted with disappointment and imperfection.

"As a college athlete, there have been times I haven't even been close to meeting my goals," says Driscoll, who was plagued with injuries during the first two years of her collegiate athletic career. "I know the taste of failure. Maybe that's why I am so competitive. Because, I really hate (failure)."

Driscoll believes her competitiveness is likely rooted in the personality of her family. The only girl of four children, Driscoll said she was homeschooled until she went to high school. Her father is self-employed and her mother has degrees in French and German. The family moved to Germany when Driscoll was 10, where they lived for two years.

"I was fluent in German then and I loved the language so I've studied it since so I could keep in practice," she said.

Driscoll ran cross country and long distance events at Bozeman High School and was a key part of three state track championships at the school. She strongly considered attending the University of Notre Dame, as did her brother, Dan, who is one year older. But she received an MSU Presidential Scholarship, MSU's premier academic scholarship as well as an athletic scholarship, which meant she could graduate from college debt-free.

"I have never regretted my decision," she said. "No matter where I would have gone I would have put my whole heart into it. But, I don't think I could have gotten a better education (elsewhere)."

Driscoll said she suspected from the beginning that engineering, its use of math and science and its challenges, would appeal to her, and it has been a good fit.

"Elisabeth never takes an answer at face value and as any good engineer should do keeps digging into a problem until she understands it at every level," said Stephen Sofie, one of Driscoll's professors. "I appreciate her (bringing her) inquisitive nature to her education. That makes her not only a top performing student but her questions and comment often bring merit to her peers. The depth and complexity of my discussions with Elisabeth regarding coursework often parallel those I engage in with my master's and Ph.D. students."

Driscoll says she has taken advantage of opportunities offered her, which made for a hectic schedule. This spring she received MSU Athletics' A.L.L. Star award for contributing the most community service hours of any athlete, including serving as a volunteer coach at Bozeman High and such track and field projects as Little Bobcat Track and Adopt-A-Highway litter clean-up. A Christmas visit to the Gallatin Rest Home led to her weekly visits to play pinochle with the residents.

"I love to play cards," said Driscoll, who admits to being "very goofy" around the right people. "I love games." She also is an enthusiastic dancer, preferring swing and is learning tango. She also reads for pleasure.

Her coach says it takes an extraordinary amount of discipline to fit all of these interests and activities into one life in addition to maintaining perfect grades AND keeping up with the strenuous daily workouts necessary to success as a distance runner.

"It's mind boggling how she does it all," said Dale Kennedy, MSU head track coach, who adds that Driscoll has been on track's Coaches' Advisory Council, or the team's leadership group, since she arrived at MSU. "She is a young lady that is talented, but she also has a great work ethic. She's smart all right, but she also works very hard for those grades. She manifests what I call the Three Ds: desire, determination and discipline. She is VERY disciplined."

Despite her discipline, Driscoll said she has learned not fall into the trap of many young women who are caught up in the pursuit of perfection, which she says can be destructive.

"I've learned it's OK to just do my best and the results will be what they are," Driscoll said. "It's OK not to give 110 percent on something if you have other priorities.

"The most important thing is to be comfortable in your own skin," she advises. "It's important to find your purpose in life and not let anyone tell you that you are not good enough."

Michael Miles, director of MSU's University Honor Program, said such mature insights have distinguished Driscoll from the moment she interviewed for an MSU Presidential Scholarship.

"I recall her saying that she felt she had a 'moral obligation' to live up to whatever academic/personal/athletic gifts she had," Miles said. "That solitary statement set her apart and during the subsequent four years she has lived up to that promise by demonstrating a keen intellect, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, leadership and athletic ability."

Driscoll said despite her accomplishments, she hasn't decided on a career path. She is looking forward to taking some time off to figure that out and become involved in community service work before she enrolls in graduate school to study mechanical engineering with a biomedical focus.

"What I really want is an adventure," she said. "I've been so focused on goals that right now I would like time to think about the direction of my future."

She adds that she doesn't plan to forego her daily workouts. "I'll still run in fun races."

Whatever Driscoll decides to do with her future, Miles said he is sure that "we have not heard the last of Elisabeth Driscoll.

"I don't think she is fully aware of her potential," Miles said "In the future, I believe the force of her character and instincts will make a lasting impact."


Four questions with Elisabeth Driscoll

Who was your most inspirational teacher?
I've had so many incredible teachers that I couldn't single any one out.

What is your favorite book?
Recently? "The Madonnas of Leningrad."

What is your favorite movie?
"August Rush."

Favorite running route?
South Cottonwood Canyon. I run it all the time and I still love it.

Mike Miles (406) 994-4732, mikemiles@montana.edu