Excelling in the classroom while playing an intercollegiate sport isn’t easy. But through hard work, discipline, and support from faculty members and advisors, UCF’s student-athletes are putting up impressive numbers in the classroom as well as on the field.
This spring, student-athletes collectively produced a grade-point average of 3.0 or better for the ninth-straight semester. Thirty-two student-athletes achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA for the semester.
UCF also led Conference USA’s public institutions with 221 student-athletes named to the 2011-12 Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll. All of those student-athletes earned grade-point averages of 3.0 or higher in the fall.
“We are student-athletes,” said Tishia Jewell, a women’s soccer third-team All-American from Satellite Beach who has earned multiple all-academic honors. “We came here for the best education we can get.”
Helping student-athletes become leaders in the classroom is a top priority for UCF Athletics. The Academic Services for Student-Athletes (ASSA) office provides tutoring, one-on-one mentoring and academic advising. ASSA’s tutoring program earned recognition in 2011 as a national model by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics.
“I can’t speak highly enough about the efforts our student-athletes make to be successful in the classroom,” said Kimya Massey, director of ASSA. “It is important to them, and our coaching staffs do a great job of emphasizing the importance of academic success and, ultimately, graduation. Our coaches continue to recruit student-athletes who are well-rounded and understand the balancing act between the two areas.”
Jewell, a senior, is working on a dual master’s degree in nonprofit management and public administration after finishing her undergraduate degree in just two years. She earned the top scholar-athlete award for a female student-athlete during the annual Black & Gold Gala that honors student-athletes’ accomplishments on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
On the field, Jewell scored 24 points last season and helped the Knights return to the NCAA’s Elite Eight for the first time since 1987.
Men’s soccer standout Spencer Scott, an honors student who earned his degree in Political Science this spring, will attend law school at the University of Florida. He said the discipline he learned while playing soccer helped him in the classroom.
“It’s tough balancing school and sports, especially in the fall, because I missed 20 school days because we traveled a lot as a team. But I learned to stay on top of things and be self-disciplined,” he said. “I had to lay my schedule out in front of me and try to get stuff done earlier than it had to be turned in.”
Ten returning football student-athletes earned their degrees this spring, and a total of 20 players from last year’s team have already graduated or expect to graduate this summer.
Defensive back Lyle Dankenbring has recorded three consecutive 4.0 semesters while pursuing a graduate degree in education. He earned the male scholar-athlete of the year award at the Black & Gold Gala.
Sociology major and women’s basketball player Kayli Keough, who graduated in the spring with a 3.97 GPA and still has one more year of eligibility remaining, is pursuing another degree in psychology and plans to apply to law school.
Volleyball middle blocker Tory McCutcheon, a molecular biology and microbiology major, will return for her senior year with GPA of 3.89. The winner of three consecutive C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Medals for having a GPA of at least 3.75, McCutcheon plans to attend medical school after graduation.
“Tory is a remarkably competitive athlete and person,” head coach Todd Dagenais said. “That competitiveness comes out in the classroom as much as it does on the volleyball court. She has such a high standard of expectation for herself.”
Among UCF’s 16 sports programs, the women’s volleyball team recorded the highest spring GPA, 3.37, living up to its goal of being “Champions in the Classroom.”
“The team really has an exciting culture in place, especially in regards to their academic expectations,” Dagenais said. “We allow them to set their goals, and they are a great example of what can happen with positive peer pressure.”
The men’s tennis team posted the top spring GPA for a men’s team. Rising senior and finance major Juan Bolona was named to the Conference USA All-Academic Team.
Academic Services for Student-Athletes’ 10 full-time employees and seven graduate assistants/mentors assist student-athletes in all of UCF’s varsity sports. In addition, undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of majors help to tutor student-athletes.
Jewell and baseball third baseman and catcher Chris Taladay agreed that ASSA, part of the university’s Student Development and Enrollment Services division, plays a large part in their success at UCF.
“The support staff is great,” Taladay said. “Jenn (Alger) helps me out a lot. It really helps when we have so much daily work with baseball.”
ASSA staff members guide student-athletes from the time they’re registering for their first classes through graduation day. Their partnerships have helped UCF achieve an 83 percent graduation success rate for student-athletes, which is tied with the University of Florida for the top rating among the state’s public universities.
“Our student-athletes continue to be conference and national leaders when it comes to academic accomplishments,” Massey said “The bar has been set high, and it’s exciting to watch our students continue to rise to the occasion and compete in the classroom as well as on the field.”