Athletics Spring 2014

Center prepares Lakers for life beyond sports

by Michele Coffill

Just as Laker student-athletes are well prepared for competitions, the services and resources provided by the advising center prepare them well for the classroom.

But the Laker Academic Success Center, in the Fieldhouse, does more than provide Grand Valley’s 550 student-athletes with advising services, it prepares them for leadership roles.

“I tell them, you may play sports here, but that’s a small portion of what you’re going to do with yourself after graduation,” said Damon Arnold, director of student services for Laker academics.

Arnold said from the first time he meets with high school recruits through the time they graduate, he preaches one mantra, “Let’s work smarter, not harder.” To accomplish that, Arnold and his staff members organize mandatory study tables, host service-learning opportunities and work closely with coaches and faculty members to ensure student-athletes are successful academically.

Student athlete tutoring session

Student-athletes Jamie Potts and Alexandria Dudley prepare for classes by participating in weekly study sessions with tutors from the Student Academic Success Center. Tutor Katelynn Krause is seated at right.
photo by Jeff Dykehouse

In December, the center earned certification from the National Association for Academic Advisors in Athletics for its support of student-athletes. Grand Valley was the first NCAA Division II institution to achieve this certification. The university’s Student Academic Success Center (SASC) also received certification from the College Reading and Learning Association’s International Tutor Training Program.

Arnold said the university deserves the credit for the certification. “We received the certification because of the good things Grand Valley is doing as a whole. We wouldn’t have received this without the resources here and the commitment of faculty members,” he said.

The university’s SASC serves as an umbrella for the Laker Academic Success Center. Michael Messner, director of SASC, said that type of reporting structure is somewhat unusual for Division I or Division II institutions.

“It works well at Grand Valley because we see participating in varsity athletics as part of our overall academic mission,” Messner said.

Outside the classroom, the Laker Academic Success Center provides service-learning opportunities for student-athletes. Athletes Who Care is a partnership with Grand Valley’s Charter Schools Office. Student-athletes volunteer their time weekly to mentor students at one of the middle schools that is authorized by Grand Valley.

For the hundreds of participating AWC-mentored students, each semester culminates with a campus tour, workshops with student-athletes and attendance at a Laker athletic event. The Charter Schools Office provides a grant to cover expenses.

Arnold also established a Faculty Mentorship Program that connects student-athletes with a faculty member in their major for regular meetings, whether it’s an office visit or informal chat over coffee.

A relatively new initiative helps student-athletes and other students build leadership skills. Tim Selgo, director of athletics, had an idea to host a leadership retreat for student-athletes and general students. To apply for the Laker Leadership Development Program, students are first nominated by a coach or faculty member. Thanks to generous donors, the students travel to an off-campus site for two days of leadership development.

Smart Lakers

12 teams earned a 3.0 or higher GPA in the winter 2013 semester.

Women’s Cross Country named Division II Scholar Team of the Year, third time in last four years, by the U.S. Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association.

Men’s and women’s tennis teams carry the highest GPAs of Laker teams.

A relatively new initiative helps student-athletes and other students build leadership skills. Tim Selgo, director of athletics, had an idea to host a leadership retreat for student-athletes and general students. To apply for the Laker Leadership Development Program, students are first nominated by a coach or faculty member. Thanks to generous donors, the students travel to an off-campus site for two days of leadership development.

These opportunities help prepare well-rounded and busy students, Arnold said. He added that research suggests that college students who are involved in athletics or other extra-curricular activities tend to be more successful than those who are not.

It builds on another of Arnold’s mantras. “Ninety-nine percent of student-athletes will go pro in something else aside from sports,” he said. “We help them get there.”