Lauren Hawkinson is not used to being in the spotlight.
Her career as an athletic trainer has literally pushed her to the sidelines — including the sidelines of the now-dominant UNC women's lacrosse team’s first national championship win in 2013, when Hawkinson was working with the team as a master’s student in exercise and sport science.
But her recent election to president of the Graduate and Professional Student Government means that she has some adjusting to do.
“Athletic trainers — we sit at the end of the bench, and we do the rehab off the field, and we're there if they need us, but the athletes are front and center,” Hawkinson said. “So I think it's going to take some getting used to being ‘the face.’”
Hawkinson was initially hesitant about running for the president position during the final year of her Ph.D. program. But as election day was fast approaching and there were no official candidates on the ballot, she decided to throw in her name as a write-in.
“I want to make sure I have enough time for research and things like that, but it's also something that I really care about,” Hawkinson said. “I didn't want to completely be done with GPSG yet.”
Despite her insistence that she's spent much of her educational and professional career in the background, Hawkinson has never strayed far from involvement in government affairs and advocacy work.
She graduated from her UNC master’s program in 2014, and spent six years training athletes at the University of Richmond and the University of Wisconsin-Madison before returning to UNC in 2020 to pursue her Ph.D.
During that time, she served on the boards of various athletic training associations. At UW-Madison, Hawkinson helped with successful lobbying efforts to pass updates to athletic training certification and qualification requirements in the state legislature.
That same drive followed her back to Chapel Hill, and after barely leaving her apartment during the first year of her Ph.D. program because of the pandemic, Hawkinson was quick to volunteer for the GPSG Senate seats for the 2021-2022 academic year.
This year, she has served as director of employment affairs under outgoing GPSG President Theodore Nollert — a role that Nollert himself held prior to his election as president.
“(Hawkinson) showed an ability to actually change policy, rather than just do activism but not produce a result at the end of it,” Nollert said. “And she has the personality for it. She's a listener. She's thoughtful.”
She has spent most of her time this year working on career support for graduate students. Specifically, she's a student advisor for graduate programming and has sat on various hiring committees and working groups for career and life skills development.
This area is something she plans to continue prioritizing during her time as president — along with campus accessibility, collaboration between departments and the continuation of Nollert’s work on graduate students' needs.
Darin Padua, the chairperson of the Exercise and Sport Science department and Hawkinson’s advisor, said he has always been impressed with the impact Hawkinson has as an instructor and mentor for the master’s students in the class she TAs with him.
“She's very much a student-centered instructor,” Padua said. “She's always been very committed to just advancing the voice of students in that role, and I think it wasn't a surprise to me at all when she decided to put her name forward for president of GPSG.”
By the end of her tenure as GPSG President, Hawkinson will be graduating as a double Tar Heel. She's set to finish her Ph.D. in human movement science in May 2024 and become “Doc Hawk” — a nod to the sports nickname that’s followed her through her career.
Hawkinson said she was surrounded by sports when she was young but sustained perpetual injuries, including an ACL tear, throughout her athletic career. It was her experience with the trainers who helped her recover that led her to pursue athletic training herself.
But while Hawkinson was holed up in recovery, she turned to piano — as soon as she could bend her leg enough to sit on the bench. She has a tattoo with the mantra “Be the song,” something her uncle always told her during recovery as a reminder to let go of any other stresses when she’s on the bench.
Now, it reminds her of resilience.
“I advocated for the needs of my student-athletes, and I advocated for the needs of athletic trainers,” Hawkinson said. “And now I get to do the same thing for graduate students.”
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