MOUNT OLIVE — When Scotland native Steven Cruse finished high school, he knew he wanted to pursue a degree in journalism, but he felt the typical route was not for him. Although the university system in his home country met all of his general expectations, Cruse made the decision to cross the Atlantic to capitalize on his success as a volleyball player and find a college education that would allow him to grow academically, athletically, and culturally.
Cruse took a year off to get his finances together and ready himself for his stateside venture. But, things did not work out as he had anticipated.
“It was a really tough year,” Cruse recalls. “The scholarship seeking agency that I was working with had never dealt with a volleyball player before and they struggled to find schools for me. No one would hire me, because I needed to play volleyball on the weekends. Most of my friends were away enjoying their university experience, and I was left going crazy with boredom at home. I began to seriously doubt my decision to go abroad.”
However, things finally turned around, and Cruse found himself bound for a little town in North Carolina called Mount Olive.
“I knew almost nothing about the University of Mount Olive,” Cruse said. “I came because the UMO volleyball coach called and invited me to visit the campus. Before I knew it, I was in the sunshine of the South.”
Cruse immediately knew he had made the right decision. The beautiful campus felt like home, and he began to excel academically and athletically.
In the classroom Cruse’s development as a writer was strengthened by the dedicated support from the English Department. While at UMO he became involved in Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society. He even had a short story selected for presentation at the national convention.
“The English Department at UMO is unbelievably supportive,” Cruse said. “From day one in English composition, all the way to my senior thesis paper, professors like Dee Clere and Linda Holland-Toll guided me and instilled in me the passion and enthusiasm for literature that they embody. Dr. Clere even turns up at all my volleyball games!”
On the court Cruse was accustomed to performing well. After all, in Scotland he had played in the volleyball 1st Division and had stints on the national team. However, he quickly discovered that the level of volleyball in America was leaps and bounds ahead of what he had previously experienced. At UMO Cruse put his all into the sport and not only improved his skills, but also his confidence as a player. He spent his last season as a full-time starter, racking up 258 kills and being one of the top ace scorers in the conference.
The Trojans this year were playing for a place in the NCAA national finals in Chicago; the first time the conference ever had a bid for the tournament. Cruse and the team made it to the conference tournament, where he had one of the best games of his career in his last home game against Lees McRae, scoring 21 kills in just 4 sets. But unfortunately, even a strong performance from the team wasn’t enough, and they fell at the last hurdle, losing in the conference final to Erskine. Although the team did not advance, Cruse was named to the All-Tournament Team along with his teammate Angel Dache.
“It was really tough losing that game. It would have been unbelievable to play in Chicago, but I guess it just wasn’t to be. I don’t have any regrets though. I left everything I had on the court, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come since first putting on a volleyball jersey.”
Cruse has recently applied for his OPT (Optimal Practical Training), which allows him a year to work in the US without applying for a new VISA. His preparation for this new chapter in his life has been helped by his work in the UMO Public Relations Office, where he interned with Director Rhonda Jessup. He also gained experience as a coach in the University’s Writing Center and as a volunteer commentator for online broadcasts of both soccer teams and the women’s volleyball team. In addition Cruse produced a promotional video for the Athletic Training Department.
“I can’t thank people like Rhonda Jessup enough for offering me the opportunity to develop in a real work setting, and giving me the experience I need to move on with confidence.”
Cruse has two months to find work after he graduates, and he’s hopeful that his time at UMO has qualified him to take his first steps into the professional world and be met with success. He’s a long way from home, but he is on the road to building a new place for himself across the pond.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The university, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.