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Coaching in the classroom

Catherine McCabe understands how to connect with the student-athletes she teaches because she used to be one.

In March, the Suffolk University athletics department held its first Academic Integration program event, honoring professors for their academic efforts. Soccer student-athlete Djibril Niang (right) honored sports marketing professor Catherine McCabe, former Division II student-athlete, for her teaching style and energy in the classroom.

Before Djibril Niang got to know Professor Catherine McCabe, he suspected she was a former student-athlete. In the classroom, she pulled the best out of each student just like coaches do with their athletes.

“She teaches her classes in a small, unified group,” Niang said. “We are always together as one and interacting with each other, just as you do when you’re playing a team sport.”

His suspicions proved correct. McCabe played basketball when she attended St. Anselm College and applies the lessons she learned on the court to her role as a sports marketing professor at Suffolk University. Now entering her 15th year, McCabe has helped rejuvenate the curriculum. Since 2008, Suffolk’s sports-marketing offerings have grown from one course to four. Business students can now minor in the subject, and it’s a concentration that has been made available to marketing majors.

A native of Boston, McCabe has taken full advantage of the sports mecca that surrounds Suffolk. The Boston Celtics’ home arena is a 10-minute walk from campus and Fenway Park is only a few train stops away.

“There are so many connections to be made with people who really want to help students learn about the industry,” McCabe said. “[Suffolk] is geographically located in a great place and we have a great sports business community to work with.”

Students taking sports marketing consulting at Suffolk work with the Boston Celtics, Streamline Events and other sports entities on real-life consulting projects. Students spend an entire semester learning on the job and will often refer to McCabe’s sports consulting course as the toughest class they’ve ever had.

“Being able to go through these real-life consulting projects is a huge opportunity,” Niang said. “Having that on your résumé could open doors to so many other things.”

With a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D now behind her, it seems McCabe always excelled in school, but McCabe admits she had a tough time balancing athletics with academics as a freshman. She says she did not take full advantage of the resources made available to her during her time at St. Anselm.

As a result, she makes it a priority to ensure student-athletes are aware of the academic resources at their disposal. She gets to know the student-athletes in her class, and she is cognizant of the demanding schedules they face every day. She also knows, firsthand, the potential student-athletes have to excel in life after sports.

Consider Niang for instance. He first met McCabe his sophomore year when he decided to change his major to sports marketing. The soccer student-athlete knew he wanted a career in sports in some capacity, and professor McCabe has directed him to the options available.

“Regardless of where they want to end up in their careers, [student-athletes] understand sports,” McCabe said. “They understand what it means to be part of a team and what it takes to succeed. So in my classes I tell them, you know how to do it on the field. It’s the same thing in the classroom.”