Balancing academic and athletic commitments in college can be a tough. On top of classes, labs, assignments, studying, and tests, student-athletes devote an enormous amount of time to conditioning and practice, plus travel and competing. Some 450 Washington State University athletes face the challenge every year.

“If you don’t establish priorities, you may be staring at the top of the mountain and wondering how to get there,” says Adam Hawkins, captain of the 2001 Cougar football team.

Hawkins cherishes his five years on the team and his degrees in management information systems and in marketing. “I couldn’t be happier with the toolbox and the personal skills I came out of Washington State with.”

As a systems engineer for Chevron Texaco in San Ramon, California, he’s responsible for “getting people information quickly.” Clients include Fortune 500 companies with millions of dollars invested in network applications.

Beth Childs (’02 Bus. Adm.) can relate. The busier she was with soccer at WSU, the more structured her life became. “You don’t have a lot of time to mess around. You get up, go to class, practice, eat dinner, study. You stay focused.”

Childs parlayed her work ethic on and off the field into a job with Dupont’s Industrial Coating Division selling paint to distributors and auto body shops in the Salt Lake City area.

Swimmer Jill Olsen ’03 completed 150 credits and a degree in accounting/ information systems. Last January she was hired by Deloitte & Touche in downtown Seattle.

How did she manage sports and classes? “I was a pretty good student when I arrived at WSU,” she says. “And I found more academic help available than I ever expected.”

Student-Athlete Development Unit

WSU has committed more than half a million dollars to the Student-Athlete Development Unit in the Bohler Gym complex. As associate athletic director for student-athlete and staff development, Pam Bradetich oversees eight full-time program coordinators, directors, and counselors. They are responsible for helping student-athletes enhance their academic and personal life skills.

In recent years NCAA and WSU academic standards for admission, athletic eligibility, and graduation have become increasingly more demanding.

If athletes don’t earn a minimum of six hours a term, they don’t compete the next term. Athletes also must meet NCAA degree-progress academic requirements.

Of WSU’s entering freshman athletes in the fall of 2003, half had a 3.60 GPA, compared to 45 percent for non-athletes. Bradetich credits WSU coaches for identifying and recruiting student-athletes who can be successful in both endeavors. For example, the graduation rate of 63 percent for athletes in the 2000-2003 classes exceeded the overall University rate of 60 percent. In fall 2003, 67 percent of student-athletes and 62 percent of non-athletes received degrees.

As a group, athletes on scholarships are typically leaders. Some are learning challenged, but the percentage is no higher than for non-athletes. Most freshman athletes are “a perfect fit for the competitive classroom,” Bradetich says. However, some transfer students initially experience more academic difficulty at a four-year school because they are moving directly into upper-division courses.

New seminars popular

Helping new student-athletes transition from “where they were into something completely new and different” is the goal. All enroll in a 1-credit, 15-week new-student-athlete seminar. Here they learn about making healthy lifestyle choices regarding alcohol, drugs, diet, and appropriate and inappropriate nutritional supplements. An overview on hazing, personal finance, diversity, and media management is also provided.

The discussion-based seminars are popular. Students-20 to a section-submit a question in writing each period for critical thinking and keep journals. While academic life is not the focus of the seminar, it is woven into the discussion, says learning services coordinator Anna Plemons. Academic strategies-class scheduling, note taking, time management, and opportunities for academic counseling and tutoring-are introduced.

The old “study table” approach has given away to a monitoring program for new student-athletes. During the first semester an academic staff member meets each student on a weekly basis. This is a chance to review academic planning, class assignments, test schedules, and the need for tutoring.

The Student-Athlete Development Unit coordinates efforts with the Student Learning and Advising Center and the WSU Writing Lab. Meeting with student-athletes in small groups, counselors discuss concepts students may have found difficult in their classes that week.

“We try to infuse study skills within the framework of a specific academic discipline,” Plemons says. For example, a group meeting for GEN ED 111 might discuss strategies for skimming large volumes of historical texts, or ways to recognize important themes in history. As students become comfortable with a particular strategy, they can carry that skill into other courses.

Student-athletes are expected to maintain at least a 2.50 GPA. If they’ve demonstrated they can maintain that level of work through the term’s end, they are allowed to begin working independently. Forty-four percent achieved a 3.00 GPA in spring 2003; 49 percent were above 3.00.

Staff and tutors help those below 2.50 find resources needed to improve. They may lack math or writing skills. Their priorities may not be in order, or they may not be using their time wisely. In some cases, they lack motivation because they are confused about their career direction.

Typically, athletes take a lighter academic load during the semester their teams compete. In basketball it is more difficult. The 30-game schedule spans two semesters.

“We consider ourselves as ‘traffic directors,’ trying to guide student-athletes to people and resources they need to help them achieve their academic goals,” Bradetich says. “The expectations for them in the classroom are no different than for other students.”

Those who get to WSU on their athletic ability tend to have a good work ethic and persevere, Bradetich says. “It’s very rewarding to see them transform those abilities into academics and have success there as well.”

“If you don’t establish priorities, you may be staring at the top of the mountain and wondering how to get there.”
—Adam Hawkins