Category Archives: Athletics

Why Compete for National Scholarships?

With each new academic year comes another chance for students to compete for national scholarships like the Rhodes, Marshall and Fulbright. These scholarships offer extraordinary opportunities for travel, for learning, for prestige.

Yet winning seems like a crazy dream. There are only 32 Rhodes and 40 Marshall scholars each year. The Fulbright is much larger–with over 700 grants in the US Student program alone–but the competition for them is fierce, too. What good could come from competing, even if you’re likely to lose? Here are a few thoughts:

1) You might win. If basketball players began the season certain they would lose every game or sure they would never advance in a tournament, they would never step on a court. And yet they know that there can be only one champion. What makes them compete? The knowledge that they could win. And you could, too.

2) You need to be well prepared. Let’s stick with the basketball analogy. Players don’t just wish they can win. They work hard to prepare for winning by practicing, training, pushing their bodies. Someone dreaming of a Rhodes can put in the same level of work and dedication to building a stunning record of achievement worthy of the award.

3) You need a good coach. Players lack the vision and experience to know how to compete, how to be strategic, and how to best use their energy. Scholarship applicants need the same help from faculty, staff, and mentors to know how to build skills, focus research proposals, and prepare winning essays.

4) Start small, end big. No team goes to the NCAA tournament without winning in regional or conference tournaments. You can’t expect an invitation to a Marshall competition without gaining confidence and resources from smaller successes, such as winning a travel grant for research.

5) Consider the wider payoff. Many professors just don’t get the student-athlete. They don’t see the value in the game, the thrill of competition and the confidence that comes of leaving it all on the court. Failed Fulbright and Rhodes applicants know the value of those games. They gather skill from crafting an application, focus by thinking clearly about their future, and desire to remain in the hunt for life’s rewards.

We know the fall will end with a handful of scholarship winners, and a lot of disappointed students, parents, faculty and institutions. But if you approach these competitions with skill, determination and support, you can win. And if you don’t, you will still be a winner.

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Filed under Academic Exploration, Athletics, International Exchange, Scholarships, Student-Faculty Relations, Study Abroad

Dean’s List Podcast #11: Why Students Struggle in College

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Filed under Academic Success, Athletics, Cause of Academic Failure, Pre-Medical Students, Study Skills

College Athletics and the Power of Curiosity

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has wisely raised concerns about graduation rates by college athletes, particularly the basketball players now in the NCAA basketball tournaments.  Sports fans like me enjoy these great, national contests, but we need to remember these young people are still students who would benefit from a successful college degree.

 As we struggle to treat athletes like young people rather than entertainers, we need to think hard about why so many have difficulty with their studies.  Certainly, the NCAA and colleges devote a lot of resources to fixing this, from creating eligibility requirements to providing tutors and supervised study times.

 My own thinking is shaped by watching a culture of followers among athletes.  Athletes make great leaders, to be sure, but they are first followers—of their coaches.  Believing in the team and in a common mission is important to victory, so athletes learn how to follow the pack.  That feeling of solidarity is powerful, enjoyable, and exciting.

 Serious athletes—and all college athletes at every division level today are serious—spend most of their time with teammates.  In addition to practicing, playing and traveling together, they almost always live together.  They join the same fraternities and sororities.  They may know no other students.

 So it should be no surprise that they tend to make the same academic choices.  They take the same classes.  They congregate around the same majors, such as Economics and Political Science.  They study together.  They seek out the same skills, many of them in business, thinking they need them for careers.

 And here lies the problem.  Where solidarity might work athletically, it does not academically.  When athletes homogenize their studies, they lose the chance to grow intellectually and to find subjects they love.  They see their classes as an extension of their team, when classes should be a place to explore alone.  When you pick classes because your friends are there, you are not developing ownership of your education.  You are not nurturing your natural curiosity to examine and understand the world.

 And without that curiosity, the motivation to go to class, to do the hard work, to ask good questions all evaporates.  When athletes do this, their studies lose meaning and importance.  Then they fail out, drop out or lose their eligibility.  And, of course, they don’t graduate.

 If you are a student athlete, then, think about what you want to learn.  What makes you ask questions?  What would you like to know?  In your opinion, what should an educated person know? 

 Your teammates and coaches cannot answer those questions.  Only you can.


Filed under Academic Success, Athletics, Cause of Academic Failure, Majors and Careers