Striking the Balance
Balance and focus. Those are the keys to success for student athletes. And, judging by their GPA’s, UMBC’s athletes have mastered both. This past fall, the Retrievers’ average GPA registered above 3.0 – the first time since the university started keeping track.
“In high school, you just had practice and games,” said Iman Kennedy ‘12, psychology, a member of the women’s volleyball team. “Here, you have practice, games, traveling, film, team meetings, coaches’ meetings, conditioning and lifting. There are all these things that go along with being an athlete. And on top of that, you still have classes. The professors aren’t going to come after you if you’re missing work or help you make up an exam. You have to stay in touch with them. All this stuff is on you. You have to learn that coming in.”
UMBC has several programs in place to help first year students adjust to their demanding schedules. The Academic Center for Student-Athletes (ACSA), located conveniently in the RAC, provides tutors and study space, and the Exceeding Common Educational Limits and Liabilities (EXCELL) program requires new students to attend study hall and advisor meetings while they acclimate to the rigors of college coursework.
“We have a terrific support system here with our EXCELL program, run by Jessica Hammond,” said Don Zimmerman, head coach of men’s lacrosse. “She and her staff do a terrific job. We want our guys to set their goals high, we want to win championships in lacrosse and we want to be outstanding students in the classroom. If we can develop a consistent attitude across the board, then that’s what we’re really striving to do.”
First-year athletes aren’t the only ones turning to the university for support, said Joseph Adewumi ‘12, biochemistry, a member of the men’s tennis team. “I know second and third years who go in, have their meetings with tutors,” he said. “The advisors know exactly how you’re doing in class, and your schedule can be made so you don’t fall behind.”
In addition to EXCELL, students take responsibility for helping their teammates develop strong study skills. “I tell our freshmen, ‘Get ahead of your work. Once travel starts, it gets crazy, so you need to make sure you know what you’re doing,’” said Michelle Kurowski ‘11, psychology, a graduate student studying early childhood education and a member of the women’s basketball team. “We help the freshmen and sophomores find their way through the transition from high school to college and playing sports.”
Striking a balance between academics and athletics is a challenging art, but those student-athletes who master it reap major rewards.
For Kennedy, her athletic life has prepared her for postgraduate life. “I’m going to dental school in the fall, and this past summer I did a program at UNC-Chapel Hill where they mimic the first year. The first year medical and dental school students were on an 8 to 5 schedule, went to classes all day and studied all night. And for them, they said, ‘There’s no time! I can’t get this work done!’ Even the instructors and TAs asked why I wasn’t freaking out. For me, it felt like life, like my schedule back at UMBC.”