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Chico State

Former Basketball Player Finds New Team in the Classroom

Student India Starr smiles as she looks away from the camera and poses with her arms crossed in a black button-up blouse against a beige studio background.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

In the coming weeks, we will be celebrating the accomplishments and stories behind 2024’s Lt. Rawlins Merit Scholarship Recipients. The award—one of the largest and most prestigious at Chico State—celebrates scholarship, extracurricular activities, and outstanding academic, and professional accomplishments.

Basketball brought India Starr from San Diego to California State University, Chico, but it was the meaningful connections she made here that made her stay.

Originally recruited to play on the women’s basketball team, Starr’s athletic career was cut short due to COVID-19 and health concerns. However, the support she received from her professors and peers at Chico State played a pivotal role in her decision to continue after retiring from athletics, said Starr, a communication studies major, with an option in communication and public affairs.

During her freshman year, Starr came down with strep throat, mono, and COVID-19, she said. Her professors were quick to show compassion and understanding, with one even offering her family a place to stay to help care for Starr.

“I’ve had several experiences like that with different professors in my department, and I’m just so grateful to have a family among them,” she said.

Starr’s drive to be a team player didn’t end with basketball. Professor Young Cheon Cho said she always tries to help her classmates.

“In all of the group projects, it was very clear to me that she sees herself primarily as a member of the team, with the goal of promoting the team and not just herself,” he said.

In his praise of Starr, he also said that she is a brilliant student who is courageous, dedicated, sincere, intelligent, and who demonstrates a sense of humility and self-reflexivity.

“In over 20 years of teaching at the university level, I can confidently say that India is one of the best students that I have ever worked with,” Cho said.

Why did you choose Chico State? 

Chico State women’s basketball staff and head coach Brian Fogel are the reason why I am here at Chico State—their belief in me as a basketball player. My college basketball career was cut short by my decision to put myself first and step away, but my love for the school, the communications studies program, and the supportive community drove me to pick Chico. It’s what ultimately made me want to stay after my visit here. I had an overwhelming feeling of love and support from the community, and I realized this town was something special when I first set foot here in high school. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Wildcat family, both as a student and as an athlete.

What does this scholarship mean to you and what will it allow you to accomplish? 

This scholarship means the world to me. Just to have my professor say he thought I was a great candidate. I’m beyond grateful for his belief in me, and just to be nominated for it and then to win was phenomenal. (The scholarship) has really opened a lot of doors for me. It allows me to alleviate a lot of financial stress for this year. It also helps me in my pursuit of (graduate school). This award has really allowed me to see my hard work come to fruition and to realize I can accomplish more than I thought I could. I’m grateful for that.

What programs or people have made a difference in your educational journey? 

The entire communication studies department here at Chico State has enriched me not only as a person, but also as a student. I’m beyond grateful. All the professors in my department, but I’m especially thankful for Dr. Cho, Dr. Nicholas Burk, Dr. Michelle Givertz, Dr. Stephanie Hamel, Amy Oelrichs, and Sue Peterson for supporting me these past four years. Dr. Cho has provided me with a tremendous experience in my educational journey by allowing me to grow in the field of communication studies, as a student, and by giving me professional advice for my upcoming journey toward (graduate school). Without Dr. Cho and his belief in me and my abilities, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, and I am beyond grateful for him and the impact he has had on my life. I also thank my professors for teaching me how to improve my public speaking skills and confidence. I’ve had many conversations with several professors who have said, “You’re underestimating yourself,” “I know what you can do.” and “You got to believe in yourself.” They’re really the ones who helped me see that I could do this. I have to thank the entire communication studies department for taking me under their wing and allowing me to succeed.

I would also just have to say the athletic community for bringing me here to Chico State was huge for me. They have been a good support system. The people who put me in positions to help me take leadership roles within SAAC (the National Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) when I was a member, which allowed me to learn more about myself and what it takes to be a leader and why it’s important to prioritize yourself.

What would your personal PowerPoint be about?

It would be on cooking. I love to cook. When I was a kid, I aspired to go to culinary school, but I chose my pursuit of basketball and I really wanted to study communications. But I’ve been cooking for forever. I cooked the whole Thanksgiving meal this (past) year for a quarter of the men’s basketball team, which is super cool. Cooking for me is a stress relief—I just love it.