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Crum: What I learned from the learners

By Andrew Crum
NCAA.org

Sometimes perception only hints at the whole story.

When I took on this project about student-athletes, subsequently titled “Learning Experiences,” I knew that each of my subjects would have high academic accomplishments in their field of study. But was it worth an entire series? I had my doubts.

But as I discovered these student-athletes, their unique stories left me beyond impressed. Telling those stories became more important to me. 

Their stories are the ones that aren’t heard. In fact, the term “student-athlete” is often received with negative connotations. The “student” part of student-athlete is forgotten about – or ridiculed. But if student-athletes excel on the field or the court, you certainly hear about their accomplishments. If they succeed in the classroom, there’s seldom a mention.

The student-athletes I profiled are self-motivated and committed to academics inside and outside the classroom.

Molloy art student Tyler De La Torre learned Adobe Photoshop at the age of 13, mastering the software by the time he finished high school. This knowledge helped him become the runner-up in the second annual Dunkin Donuts “Donut Art” contest – one of eight finalists to have his artwork featured on a doughnut box top.

These student-athletes overcome adversity and persevere.

Georgian Court Sarah Lockenmeyer was 16 when her mother was treated for breast cancer. Sarah became inspired to learn about nutrition and wellness as a way to battle the cancer. And with the help of her studies in communications, she formed her own company to help teenage girls, teaching them about nutritional health, body image and self-esteem to improve wellness.

These student-athletes look for ways to advance science and technology.

Northwest Nazarene physics and engineering students Weston Patrick and Jesse Baggenstos were part of the student team selected by NASA for its 2011 Microgravity University Systems Engineering Educational Discovery program. The team tested how water interacts with super water-repellent coatings material in zero gravity. This will help NASA with development of materials used inside spacecraft.

These student-athletes are focused and ambitious.

After an injury ended his football career, Bridgewater (Va.) student-athlete Joseph Cross refocused after completing about 80 percent of his physics major. He decided to pursue an art major instead and completed the program in two years, even though the normal time is three or four.

These student-athletes are organized and preparing for their future.

Oklahoma State’s Krista Lopez is pursuing a double major in management and accounting, has a near perfect GPA and was named an Academic All-American for the second straight year and the 2011 Academic Player of the Year for soccer. She will begin the MBA program at Oklahoma State this fall, with a concentration in accounting so she can obtain a CPA license.

These student-athletes are achieving the goals they set.

Wilmington (Del.) student-athlete Brooke Eveler decided she wanted to graduate in three years, and that’s exactly what she did.

She has maintained a GPA of 3.98, and the work she did with the Major League Soccer team in Philadelphia as an intern helped her land a job with the Philadelphia Phillies.

I was incredibly impressed with each of these student-athletes and almost embarrassed for doubting their academic prowess.

Their time-management skills alone put most of us to shame. They balance their time and class work around their respective sports, every day. And upon learning that almost all had never missed neither practice nor an assignment, I was speechless.

Each has made education their main focus and proven that being a student-athlete doesn’t mean the “student” part is forgotten. These are the stories that need to be written to eliminate the “dumb jock” stereotype.

The importance of this series was simply to show most student-athletes are  students first and athletes second. That doesn’t mean they are less driven or passionate; it means they want to receive an education and someday make a difference in the lives of others.

In the end, I learned that perceptions can be misguided. These student-athletes have changed my opinion about the majority of student-athletes, no matter the division they compete in. These student-athletes had so much passion, and it was truly inspiring to write their stories.

Their stories need to be told and, at least now, a few of them have.