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Service Break

Program offers student-athletes chance to study and give support overseas

by Mark Alewine

New Division I rules designed to encourage student-athletes to participate in study-abroad programs will take effect in August, but some schools already have created programs that open international study opportunities to college athletes.

More Tickets to Learning

Division I schools are exploring ways to give student-athletes an international experience similar to the ACE program.

Vanderbilt, for example, has provided full funding for 11 student-athletes to study abroad this summer in locations around the world. Minnesota offers study-abroad opportunities, as well, including several shorter-experience options for students with time constraints.

Drake’s men’s and women’s soccer teams traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, in January 2015 for exhibition matches against club, national and collegiate teams and to attend classes for their international business course on globalization.

And new legislation approved in January by the NCAA Council and the five autonomy conferences could create opportunities for student-athletes to study abroad by limiting the time demands in their sport and extending their athletics eligibility. The legislation includes more days off during the season and academic year, and prohibits off-campus practices during vacation periods outside the championship season.

At Stanford and Duke, for instance, student-athletes are getting an opportunity often not available in college sports.

In a collaborative effort, athletes from each school have served areas of need across the world through the Rubenstein-Bing Student-Athlete Civic Engagement Program, known as ACE. For three weeks in the summer, college athletes travel to South Africa, China, India or Vietnam to engage in what program director Emily Durham calls “immersive service experiences.”

“We really see it as a reciprocal exchange,” Durham says. “The student-athletes are learning so much, and the communities are learning from them. It’s really a two-way street.”

The program is the result of a February 2014 meeting at which Stanford hosted the Duke board of trustees. Both schools were interested in finding ways for the academically and athletically elite universities to work together. What emerged was a desire for both athletics departments to provide international education opportunities for student-athletes, whose myriad commitments often make those sorts of experiences inaccessible. 

“To have this window of opportunity in the summer to allow them to, in a sense, study abroad is just a wonderful opportunity,” Stanford Athletics Director Bernard Muir says. “I’m glad both of our institutions were able to come together and make this happen.”

As part of the first ACE trip, Duke student-athletes Elizabeth Horne and Oliver Spring traveled to South Africa with eight other athletes from both universities. Outside Cape Town, the group served an elementary school and orphanage housing children with mental and physical disabilities. Among their projects: Build a platform for a water tank and hold a camp to teach the children track and field events. The athletes also taught goal-setting classes and showed the students how they could use math to check their athletic progress.

“I gained so much more from being there than they gained from me going to help,” says Horne, who is from the United Kingdom and competes on the rowing team at Duke. “Maybe they got an extra water tank, but the lessons I learned were so valuable.”

Spring, a soccer player at Duke, said his coaches supported his participation in the program and wanted him to encourage other student-athletes to apply.

“The way it works in with our schedule and the way we’re able to train, it’s an awesome opportunity that a student-athlete shouldn’t turn down,” Spring says.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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