Student-Athlete Support Services: A New Era

By Brent Schwartz – SASS Intern

As we are in the thick of the registration period for the spring 2014 semester, now would be a good time to inform everyone about Student-Athlete Support Services. SAAS is designed to guide student-athletes towards their career goals by assisting them with their academic needs and ensuring that they remain eligible to participate in their respective sports. There’s a lot to be done on a daily basis in the department, and that includes academic meetings with student-athletes. In these meetings, the SAAS staff helps students prepare for their weekly assignments, projects, and exams, by having the students create weekly objectives. These objectives are various tasks that the student-athlete needs to complete before the week is over.  At the forefront of this positive swing towards a higher grade point average for UNCW student-athletes is Melissa Hunt, the Assistant Athletic Director of Student-Athlete Support Services and coordinator of Men’s and Women’s Soccer, Men’s and Women’s Golf, Women’s Tennis, Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving. “Our staff is looking to make a positive impact in the daily lives of our UNCW student-athletes.  We utilize a holistic approach through building meaningful relationships with students and focusing on a healthy spirit, mind, and body.  We want them to be role models as they represent themselves, the Department of Athletics and UNCW in the classroom, on the playing field and in the community.  We have some of the best and brightest students here in Seahawk Country!  They make a difference and we are proud to work with them to accomplish their goals,” said Melissa.

Students have admitted that they benefit from the objective-based study hall system that has been implemented. “It helped me get a lot more organized. It gave me two objectives for every class and freed up my weekends. I recommend it for freshman because it gives them a set structure,” Danielle Tafuri of Track and Field said. Danielle is not the only student-athlete that believes in the system. Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President and Senior Men’s Golf student-athlete Josh Woodfox has also noticed the improvements. “I’ve seen the improvements in making study hall more productive, with objective sheets and specific tasks to take care of rather than doing things on an hourly basis. There’s a more personal relationship between athletic academic advisors now more than there has been in the past.” Melissa has helped bring a new system and with it an uplifting attitude that has created a spark within student-athletes to achieve all they can in their academic studies.

Melissa has been assisted by her hard-working staff that includes Shannon Pease, the Learning Specialist who oversees Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Men Tennis, and Volleyball. Shannon has helped with several tasks, including the creation of Life-Skills events.  “Life Skills programming is a very important aspect in developing the student-athlete. Having the opportunity to bring in guest speakers who have experienced real- life situations allows our student-athletes to learn from these individuals,” said Shannon. There are more Life-Skills speakers that are scheduled to visit throughout the year.

Shannon also oversees the study hall mentoring program.  The mentors have helped students with tasks such as preparing for exams and creating outlines for essays. In one instance, a mentor even led a small study group in preparation for a vital exam in a communication course. Several student-athletes attended, and were pleased with the idea. The mentor who ran the study group, graduate student Jordan Stone, had this to say about the experience: “I had the privilege of running an exam review session for a group of student-athletes. I have never before witnessed a group of students come together so cohesively for a study session. The students seemed genuinely concerned with their peers' success. I feel that the Student-Athletic Support Services is doing a great job of fostering connections to promote student learning.” The praise given to SASS can also be given right back to the mentors, who have helped to give student-athletes a quality study hall experience by having experienced graduate students at the helm to help them whenever they need.

SAAS has also been avid in making differences outside academics, by encouraging student-athletes, coaches and administration to attend more home athletic events by inventing the “Code Teal” game. Code Teal games are designed to increase school spirit by maxing out attendance numbers and providing a true home-field advantage for Seahawk Athletics. So far, the idea has been receptive, as 614 student-athletes have attended our first 5 Code Teal events, making for a great environment during the games. Will Libous, the Academic Advisor for Baseball, Softball, Men’s and Women’s Track and Field, and Men’s and Women’s Cross Country, and creator of the Code Teal games, understands the importance of creating more of a home-field advantage at these events. “It‘s very important to let the student-athletes that we work with know how much we truly care. The best way to show this support is by supporting them during competition. During the day everyone is hard at work, whether it’s the student-athletes, coaching staff, or administrative staff. But at the end of the day, it’s important for all the administrators, coaching staffs and student-athletes from other sports to recognize and support each other during competition. To create true pride and unity we must support each other through action, not just words. That is the purpose of the Code Teal Games” said Will. The Code Teal games will continue into the spring 2014 semester, as well as the creation of “Beat Coastal Day” on Wednesday, April 2. That day will be comprised of three athletic events that include a softball double header at 3:00pm and 5:00pm and a baseball game at 6:00pm. All events will feature UNCW student-athletes facing-off against rival Coastal Carolina University. “We are going to work with UNCW’s Communication and Marketing departments, as well as other departments on campus to make this a campus wide event to help promote Seahawk spirit amongst everyone associated with the UNCW and Wilmington community” said Will.

Fundraising has also been an area of importance this semester. Student-Athletes from different squads worked together to create a Haunted House event in Trask that raised $161. Advisor Will Libous was happy with the idea, “I am extremely proud of the student-athletes. They were creative and showed dedication. Everyone did their part from set-up to clean-up; I couldn’t have been more pleased with the student-athletes and the pride they showed.”

Katie Moore, Academic Intern who works with Men’s and Women’s Soccer, and is the second longest tenured member of SASS, has witnessed the transformation of growth in the department. “This past year our office has grown and improved immensely. With new programs such as Code Teal we have been able to increase the student-athlete morale, as well as school spirit. We have also implemented the Seahawk of The Month to honor a male and female student-athlete for their academic accomplishments and improvements outside the classroom. Our office has worked hard this year building enthusiasm and creating a cohesive academic and athletic environment.”

SASS and the student-athletes have done their part to help the community grow by participating in several community service events. Student-Athletes from all sports offered their support during the CAA Blood Challenge in Trask last month. The community outreach won’t stop there, as the student-athletes have come up with other ideas to help in the near future. Cross Country runner Rachel Quinn is heading a Soles4Souls event in January. The event deals with donations for the less fortunate in a focus to eliminate poverty. “Student-athletes are fortunate enough to be given shoes, so why throw them out when you can give shoes to someone who needs them? This a great chance for us to help out since we are privileged to get shoes whereas not everyone on campus can do that. We have an advantage,” said Rachel. Track runner Dn Cherry is leading the initiative for student-athletes to participate in Habitat for Humanity. “As student-athletes we are blessed and I believe it’s our obligation to give back. I look at this event as an opportunity that will strengthen the bond of all the athletic teams and will be a beacon of what we can do when we all come together. I know it will be one of those memories we think back on and smile about,” said Dn. Dn’s attitude about helping others is something that has become more and more relevant in UNCW athletics this year. Student-Athletes are also slated to volunteer in Stop Hunger Now on November 16th.

It’s clear that SAAS has made some major strides in helping UNCW athletics grow this year. Even so, it is not time to be satisfied. SAAS is envisioning additional growth in the program’s future. “This is an exciting time for UNCW Athletics and the Department of Student-Athlete Support Services. As we continue to grow, our priority is and will be our student-athletes and their development and well-being. Today we are shaping tomorrow’s future leaders. Through continued program development and support services we will be a department that becomes a bench mark for other institutions,” said Melissa. This is certainly a special time in UNCW athletics. The forecast says that there is more progression on the horizon. UNCW Athletics will continue to strive for greatness, with the help of their trusted Academic-Support department.