Rolling with the Punches
CEE student Mary Casamassa balances studying engineering and competing as a professional boxer
Growing up with three older brothers, Mary Casamassa, a senior majoring in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, could always take a punch.
She can throw a pretty good one, too. Casamassa, a professional boxer, is undefeated this current season – with one match ending in a technical knockout (which is when the referee calls that an opponent can’t continue the fight).
“I got into boxing in high school because I got fed up with the drama,” Casamassa joked. “I wanted to hit something.”
She also grew up around the sport; her brothers boxed before her. Casamassa’s dad was hesitant to let her try, but after seeing the rise and success of American professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Ronda Rousey, Casamassa was able to enter the ring with the full support of her family.
“My dad is now my biggest fan,” she said.
When Casamassa isn’t on campus, she’s usually training at Jack’s Boxing Gym in the North Hills – sometimes twice a day. On Saturdays, she spars with her gym mates. At Casamassa’s level, headgear isn’t required, but that hasn’t impacted her performance at the Swanson School. She’s maintained a 3.55 cumulative GPA, despite having to take extra credits as a transfer student, developing her boxing career, and working a part time job. She’s left quite the impact on her professors.
“She’s a brilliant, motivated student,” Piervincenzo Rizzo, professor in civil and environmental engineering at Pitt, said.
Despite her proven commitment as a student, Casamassa said boxing is her true passion; however, both require an intense amount of discipline and time. As she’s moved forward in her career, she’s learned the importance of self care – sleep above all. Her coach also doubles down on Casamassa taking care of herself.
She learned that lesson the hard way. In the fall semester, she was in a minor car accident after drifting into sleep behind the wheel.
“I was not getting enough rest,” Casamassa said. “I was trying to stay up and do all this homework and train for a fight. This, that and another thing – I ended up in a car accident.”
She walked away with no injuries, but a greater appreciation for how boxing could be a positive influence in her engineering career.
Boxing is what kept Casamassa “sane” throughout her time at the Swanson School. She plans on continuing to compete when she graduates – hopefully adding some belts to her prestige. She thinks all students could benefit from an outlet like she did.
“It really built my confidence, just knowing I could take a hit and get back up.”