- Recreation, Sport & Tourism: Sport Management
DiBernardo has exemplified the dual role of being a student-athlete throughout her time at the University of Illinois. She has been recognized with several academic awards as an NSCAA Scholar All-American, a CoSIDA Academic All-District selection, a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, but those accolades do not tell the whole story of how DiBernardo has excelled academically. As a recreation, sport and tourism major with a sport management concentration, she boasts a cumulative 3.70 GPA even after a challenging junior year which she started overseas.
DiBernardo began the 2012 school year with the U-20 U.S. Women’s National Team at the U-20 World Cup in Japan. Despite not being in the classroom to start the semester, she actually had her highest GPA during that semester because she kept up with her studies by remaining focused and disciplined while abroad. Illinois’ Faculty Representative Dr. Matthew Wheeler praised DiBernardo for being proactive by creating a plan with her professors for how she could still complete coursework while she was away. Despite not being in the classroom, she still balanced her academic work and assignments with the international athletic competition. Instead of falling behind, she actually improved her GPA and stayed on track to finish her degree on time.
“Along with incredible talent, Vanessa has helped to sustain, grow and expand our long-standing culture of honesty, integrity and excellence on and off the field. Many student-athletes can repeat those words, a few can define them, but very few can live them every day while at the same time reaching the pinnacle achievements that Vanessa has reached. Her commitment to her academics, her team, and her family are balanced with her desire to succeed at the highest level. Vanessa cares about the people around her, searches and strives to improve every day, and smiles through it all. Her passion for the game has driven her to great heights and her passion for life has allowed all of us around her to reach for greater heights as well.” - University of Illinois head soccer coach Janet Rayfield
Despite having a demanding schedule due to Illinois and United States soccer, DiBernardo has participated in several community service events throughout her career as part of the Hometown Heroes program. Hometown Heroes is a community outreach program that provides UI student-athletes with opportunities to interact with youth from Champaign County while spreading an anti-drug, anti-gang and pro-Illini message. This program enables student-athletes to develop their speaking skills while impacting the lives of others as they serve as role models for the youth of our community.
DiBernardo started out her community service on campus by helping out with the Freshman Food Drive. She continued to help provide for the needy through the Thanksgiving Food Basket Program and the Student-Athlete Clothing Drive. Many of her events have involved teaching kids, such as the Yankee Ridge After School Program, a soccer clinic, visits to the Boys and Girls Club and the Big Brothers Big Sisters Holiday Party. She also was a part of Jock Jams, a Fighting Illini talent show that raised money for local, national and international charities.
A four-year starter at Illinois, DiBernardo is a two-time All-American, collecting NSCAA Second Team honors in 2011 and Third Team accolades in 2012, and has been named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List three times. She excelled immediately on the field as an Illini, beginning her career as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2010. She followed up a stellar rookie season by earning the highest Big Ten honor as the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year in 2011 while leading the Illini to its second-ever Big Ten Tournament title. A three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, DiBernardo has led the Illini in goals each of the past three years, including a career-high 17 goals as a sophomore, which ranked second in school history. She enters her senior season ranked as the No. 3 player in the country according to Top Drawer Soccer and is on pace to set the Illinois school record for career goals scored.
In international competition, she helped lead the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team (WNT) to the U-20 World Cup Championship in Japan in 2012. She started all six contests and was one of five Americans to score a goal at the tournament. Most recently, she tallied two assists for the U.S. U-23 WNT’s title run at the Four Nations Tournament in Spain.