Justine Schluntz, AME associate professor of practice, was among eight individuals inducted into the 2023 Class of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 3 at the Westin La Paloma Resort in Tucson.
She was honored for her outstanding accomplishments inside and outside the classroom during her time as a swimming and diving student-athlete from 2005 to 2010.
“The people who elected me to this hall of fame are people who know me personally and who I consider aspirational peers,” said Schluntz in her acceptance speech. “To know that people who I look up to think this highly of me is truly a great honor.”
Schluntz was part of five NCAA Championship winning relay teams, including back-to-back titles in the 400-yard medley relay. She was a 16-time All-American, two-time Pac-10 Champion, and to this day holds times in the Arizona all-time top 10 in six events. Schluntz, who was a force behind the University of Arizona Women’s Swimming & Diving NCAA championship in 2008, earned NCAA Woman of the Year in 2010. She is one of only four Wildcats to hold the title.
As Roberta Stout, UA associate athletics director, put it, "Her resume really speaks for itself.”
Candidates must meet these criteria for eligibility: good academic standing during enrollment, outstanding athletic accomplishments and good citizenship. A committee – made up of sports journalists, legends in the hall of fame and UA alums – decides who will be inducted annually.
“Justine is one of our most accomplished athletes of all time at the University of Arizona,” said Kathleen “Rocky” LaRose, chair of the Sports Hall of Fame committee. “She epitomizes everything that we strive for in our student athletes. Our philosophy is a commitment to excellence; she was excellent in athletics and academics.”
Anyone who has followed her sports and academic career knows these two things about Justine Schluntz: Her accomplishments are off the charts and success often does not come without hardship.
From the UA to Oxford and Back Again
Schluntz excelled at the UA, graduating summa cum laude in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering.
“Justine was one of the highest performing undergraduate students,” said Barrett Potter, associate department head of materials science and engineering and professor of optical sciences. “Clearly, she was and remains a unique individual who combines a level of maturity beyond her years with extremely high motivation, competitive spirit and vision.”
Potter was one of Schluntz’s professors who recommended her for a Rhodes Scholarship.
As a Rhodes Scholar, Schluntz went on to complete a DPhil in engineering science and teach at the University of Oxford. Returning to the UA in 2016, she became a special projects manager in the UA Global office before taking a teaching position in aerospace and mechanical engineering.
“Part of the reason I’m back working in the College of Engineering is because I want to make sure that future students have the same opportunities and that they know how to take advantage of them,” said Schluntz, noting the invaluable support she received while juggling priorities.
Putting Mental Health First
Nowadays it is just as important for her to talk about challenges as it is to celebrate wins.
“I’ve had depression,” said Schluntz.
To help students who are struggling to balance life’s many demands, she has opened up about the bell jar that loomed atop her countless accomplishments and is an all-too-common fixture for student-athletes.
“I’ve never been prouder of her than when she speaks out on mental health issues,” said LaRose, a softball star in the late 1970s who gave more than three decades of groundbreaking service to UA athletics. “She did this years ago when she was struggling and she spoke out. I think that alone, telling her story, is what has helped not just athletes, but students. I admire her greatly for doing that.”
Over the last few years, Schluntz has spoken to several groups on campus about her personal journey.
“This is something I presented to the Society of Women Engineers,” she said, clicking through a slide presentation. “I tell them I’ve got this life awesomeness quotient.”
One graph shows a scale of "life awesomeness” and "not so awesome” on the x and y axes. Orange dots representing career accomplishments differentiate one line, with the other line showing hardships.
“I tell them, ‘Look when you’re reading someone’s social media, you’re only seeing those orange dots; you connect them and you’re thinking that’s their life,’” Schluntz said. “But that’s not what real life is, even for someone like me who has achieved so much on paper.”