This week marks the start of Breakthrough, a weeklong series
of on-campus evens that connects current Susquehanna students with
university alumni who want to help students as they move toward
graduation and beyond. One of the panelists for this year’s
Breakthrough is Paul Thistle ’10, an All-America runner at
Susquehanna. The Susquehanna University Athletic Department caught
up with Thistle to talk about Breakthrough, life after college and,
of course, running.
How did you become involved in attending this
year’s Breakthrough as a guest speaker? What is your
involvement – panel, solo presentation, etc.?
I attended Breakthrough in February of 2013 and was asked to return for 2014. I will be speaking on two panels along with my wife Caitlin Newman ’09 Thistle and some other alums: "Going Global: What To Do During Your GO Experience So You Can Sell It Later " and "Business for the Benefit of Humanity."
What will be the basis or topic of your
presentation/speech (without giving too much away!)?
I will talk about my experiences abroad and how they had a positive effect on me personally and professionally. I will also connect my experiences from my time at Susquehanna and how they prepared me for my career.
You graduated in May of 2010 and almost immediately spent a year abroad. Talk about where you went, why, what you did, etc.I spent the summer after graduation as a teaching assistant for The American School in England (TASIS), a boarding school. The job was in my field of study and allowed me to grow and see so many new things. I was able to benefit both professionally and personally through this experience. I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses as an educator and was better prepared for the opportunities that would come in the future.
I chaperoned weekend day trips into London where I saw the Lion King at the Lincecum theatre, watched two soccer games at the Emirates Cup and much more. I also chaperoned a multi-day surfing trip to Southwest England. The opportunity to live and work with colleagues and students from over 40 different countries was priceless. I have friends from that summer that I stay in contact with and my perspective in my field and also of the world has grown as a result of the experience. Once I returned home in August of 2010, I lived a year in Pittsburgh with Caitlin, and worked as a substitute teacher and sales associate for a specialty running shoe store.
The following year we moved to Tanzania where we worked as Site
Directors for a Pittsburgh-based non-profit service-learning
program called Amizade. We led two semesters and a summer program
of university students, teaching international development and
reflective courses and facilitating volunteer work with local
non-profit for the students. We also provided cultural immersion
opportunities and a culminating safari excursion through Serengeti
National park and the island of Zanzibar. This experience allowed
my wife and me to work in our respective fields, education and
international development, and grow together in our first year of
How did your education at Susquehanna inspire and/or prepare you to spend a year in a different country?
I considered studying abroad while at Susquehanna and in some ways I wish I had. The history department professors encouraged me to study abroad and ironically a former history major helped me land the position in England. The Susquehanna history department has a map in their common space on the third floor of Steele hall. It had little thumbtacks identifying where former students were around the world. This inspired me to travel and expand my horizons beyond the scope of Philadelphia and central Pennsylvania.
Since being back in the States, what have you been up to
(outside of running)?
I substitute taught in Wilkes-Barre for eight months and then moved to Washington, D.C. Initially I was working at a running specialty store and I spent my time applying for full-time teaching positions and obtained one with D.C. public schools. I have been teaching World History to 120 seventh graders and it keeps me very busy.
You were an All-America runner during your four years at Susquehanna. Obviously you had a lot of big races. What are some of the few that stand out?
Honestly, a lot of races stand out to me. But in this case I’ll give you three from my senior year, one from each season.
Winning our third-straight cross country team title in 2009 at Catholic University was one that stands out. I won my third straight individual title, which was the icing on the cake. We had a very strong team that year and to dominate the way we did was such a great feeling.
Qualifying for Indoor Nationals at the (if my memory serves me right) SU Open on a Friday night. (Coach) Marty had Rob Steffen run 700-800 meters as a rabbit for me and the rest I did alone and I ran 4:13.16 which was good enough for the 12th and final spot on the list for the indoor mile. I wouldn’t find out that I had qualified for sure until two weeks later. I remember the entire field house roaring during the final lap or two as I was attempting to make the time. I felt like the whole team and even other competitors were rooting for me. It was an awesome feeling because I was ahead of the rest of the field and I was really racing the clock.
My final collegiate race also stands out for a couple of reasons. First, it was an All-American performance as I finished fifth in the Steeplechase. Second, it was my last race as a Crusader, which made it bittersweet.
How difficult was it to be a three-sport student-athlete
while balancing academics and a personal life? Would you do it
It was difficult to manage my time but as I acclimated I learned new techniques to become more efficient with my time. While I was in college my focus was on my academics and athletics. I also worked at the library not only for spending money but also to keep myself accountable to a regular schedule. It was a great way to stay focused and provide structure to my week. I worked within Residence life as a Resident Advisor (one year) and a Head Resident (two years). These positions also kept my focus on school because I needed to maintain a level of accountability in order to keep my position. I learned a lot and gained experience in working with students. Yes, I would do it again. I wouldn’t have changed a thing! I really enjoyed the structure and accountability of being a three-sport student-athlete and maintaining two positions on campus.
What did you gain personally from your time as a student-athlete at SU? What life lessons have athletics taught you?
Time management, discipline and confidence are the three main things I gained as a student-athlete at SU. Learning how to utilize my time to its fullest and putting myself in the best positions to be successful at whatever I was doing started with time management. Getting enough sleep, eating properly, studying and exercising could only be accomplished with a well thought through schedule. Following the schedule took discipline and the more disciplined I was the more success I experienced. With an increase in success and a consistent support system I gained more confidence. With growing confidence I was willing to try new things and get out of my comfort zone.
Running is unique because you can remain competitive
beyond college. What is your training racing like
My training is much more intense than it was in college. Since moving to D.C., I started running with a racing team and training with other post-collegiate athletes. It is challenging with a full-time teaching job. I joke with friends that the only thing I do is sleep, eat, work and run. My wife and I spend maybe one to one and a half hours together during weeknights but for now it’s the sacrifice we are willing to make in order for me to maintain a high level of training.
As an alum, if you had one piece of advice for a current
student who cannot attend Breakthrough, what would it
Reach out to alumni every chance you get. Ask professors and other mentors at SU if they know of alumni in your field who might be helpful. You never know what opportunity lies beyond that simple e-mail or phone call. Many SU alumni receive help from someone along their career path, and so they are more than willing to pay it forward. Also, stay connected with your peers; they might help you out one day in the future.