Jorie Freitag arrived at the University of Rochester four years ago to study music.
And while she returns home this week with a degree in a vastly different field, the former Seton Catholic soccer standout still managed to leave on a high note.
Freitag won the Terrence L Gurnett Award earlier this month as the school’s top female scholar-athlete of the senior class.
“It got to my heart when they called to tell me about it,” Freitag said. “I felt really privileged to be in the running for that, and then to win it was meaningful to me. It felt nice to get recognition for all the work that I put in.”
Freitag graduated last weekend from Rochester with a degree in Brain and Cognitive Science with a minor in chemistry and a cumulative GPA of 3.95.
“It probably sounds more impressive than it is,” Freitag said of her major. “I describe it as psychology meets neuroscience. It’s a study of the foundations of behavior and how our brain works and functions physically. But then it’s also about seeing the human side of that and understanding why we behave the way we do, how we think and process the world around us. I just found that fascinating.”
Equally interesting is the process of how a potential music major became a pre-med student.
Freitag was drawn to Rochester because of its outstanding music program. Moved by the experience of her grandfather, who suffered a debilitating stroke 10 years ago, Freitag first considered studying music therapy.
“I was always interested in how he could no longer speak well, but he could sing a song perfectly, word for word,” she said. “How does music do that to the brain? So I think music drew me to the brain a bit.”
After taking a Brain and Cognitive Science class as a sophomore, Freitag redirected her course of study.
“I think all these things pushed to me think ‘All right, I don’t think its music anymore. I’m thinking I like science, but what is it that I want to do?’ ” she said. “And it was also that fall I started working in the emergency department (at the University of Rochester Medical Center). Being surrounding by doctors and people in the health field, I thought this was more fulfilling to me than music was.”
She also found her time with the Rochester women’s soccer team fulfilling, starting 56 games over her four-year career.
“Division III soccer is awesome because it has the competition that you look for in that everyone cares, everyone is dedicated, everyone is going to show up every day and wants to win,” Freitag said, “but not to the point that it monopolized your whole college experience.”
And that’s a good thing because Freitag kept busy at Rochester.
In addition to playing soccer, a challenging course schedule and working at the hospital, Freitag also found time to volunteer as a home hospice caregiver and music specialist, gave private lessons of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music and was part of an a capella group.
“My friends would get a little frustrated with me sometimes,” Freitag said. “They’d be like ‘Why don’t you just take a break.’ I think of lot of it comes down to time management, but also learning how to prioritize.”
That’s particularly important when traveling to Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston and New York to play soccer matches
“I got really good with studying on airplanes,” she said. “Or at airports, sitting on the floor trying to study for an organic chemistry test, bringing my model kit out in the airport and having people stare at me.”
Freitag lists scoring a goal in Rochester’s 2-1 win over top-ranked William Smith during her junior year as one of her highlights. That season the Yellowjackets qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Another highlight was her final match, a 3-2 overtime win over rival Brandeis on Senior Day.
“My whole family came to watch me play at place that had become a second home to me,” she said. “And I also surprised my parents that day by singing the national anthem before the game.”
In March, Freitag found herself caught in the middle of the worldwide pandemic.
The Rochester women’s soccer team took a spring break trip to Portugal, where the Yellowjackets were slated to play two exhibitions against club teams. But a couple of days after arriving, the matches were canceled and the team spent the balance of its weeklong stay locked up in its hotel in Lisbon.
“We were worried about being able to get home,” she said. “If we flew back, would be quarantined in Canada? But we got home on March 14, and our school went to online learning shortly after that.”
She decided to stay in upper New York state through the end of the spring term, returning home to Ridgefield this week.
She is now applying to medical school with hopes of being accepted at the University of Washington in Seattle, where her boyfriend has landed a job as an accountant. She hopes to become a physician specializing in geriatrics.
But for now, she’s just going to enjoy a well-earned break.
“I think there were probably times when I could have taken advantage of the full college experience,” she said. “But then the route I took opened up so many options for me. And I still had an amazing experience, even though it was so busy.”