Prepping for Success Academic center gives student-athletes a competitive edge

Reporting by Bailey Chenevert for La Louisiane, The Magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette

An illuminated Ragin’ Cajuns logo greets patrons of the new Student-Athlete Academic Center. But don’t be deceived – the facility is about focus, not flash.

Inside the 5,431-square-foot center, a student-athlete can study at one of 48 computers, work with a tutor in one of nine tutoring rooms, or meet with full-time academic counselors in private offices. There are study areas for groups and individuals, too.

A 25-desk classroom is used for a first-year seminar, “Emerging Issues in Athletics,” and for regular meetings that update student-athletes about NCAA academic regulations.

Student-athletes in a UNIV 100 course listen to guest speaker Jason Thornton in the center’s classroom.

Located on the third floor of Edith Garland Dupré Library, the center offers more than academic mentoring and career counseling. For Summer Ellyson, it provided stability after tragedy.

Ellyson, a pitcher for Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball, ranked among the top 10 in the nation in every major pitching category for the 2018-19 season. Named the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year, she was a major reason why softball finished in the top 20 last season.

Unflappable on the mound, Ellyson and other team members reeled earlier this year following the death of Geri Ann Glasco. The popular assistant softball coach was killed in a car accident on Jan. 24, 2019.

“I lost interest in school,” as a result, Ellyson said. “For a couple of weeks, I felt like I was getting so far behind. Then I came in here, where I could sit down, put in my headphones, and do what I needed to do to get back on track.”

She said the privacy of the new center and accessibility of counselors helped her refocus on academics.

The 5,431-square-foot center’s entrance features an illuminated Ragin’ Cajuns logo.

The previous Student-Athlete Academic Center didn’t provide the same amount of privacy. It was on the mezzanine in Agnes Edwards Hall, a student residence hall. The facility was not completely restricted to student-athletes, and academic mentoring and tutoring sessions were held in a single room. So, student-athletes were often distracted.

Christy Alford is assistant director of athletics for Student-Athlete Academic Services. She said the privacy the new center provides is important because student-athletes are required to study there for a certain number of hours each week; how many hours depends on grades and requirements for online classes.

She said the center increases their productivity.

“It’s their hub. They want to do better. They want to study harder.”

Historically, UL Lafayette’s student-athletes have been a hardworking bunch.

Over half of its 395 student-athletes earned a 3.0 or higher GPA for the Fall 2018 semester. All student-athletes achieved a combined Fall 2018 semester GPA of 2.9 and an overall GPA of 2.98

Over the last five years, student-athletes at the University have consistently graduated at rates higher than most of their peers at the Sun Belt Conference’s 12 institutions and the state’s 11 Division I schools.

Also, UL Lafayette’s student-athletes consistently have higher graduation rates than the general student body.

The center will strengthen those numbers, Alford said. UL Lafayette is one of three universities in the Sun Belt Conference to employ a full-time learning specialist.

Ashlee Jennings has held that position for two years. She works with student-athletes who have learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, or who need extra academic attention. She meets one-on-one with them to help with organization, time management and learning strategies.

Jennings also oversees the academic mentor program. Academic mentors are typically students with a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA who help student-athletes achieve academic goals.

Shelby Desrochers was an academic mentor for five years. After graduating in Fall 2018 with a master’s degree in business administration, she was hired part-time to coordinate the center’s math lab and tutoring program. She is also a mentor and tutor.

Desrochers said the facility makes her job easier. Student-athletes are more focused because advisers and mentors can meet with them in private, and monitor them during study hours. Extended hours accommodate student-athletes’ schedules, which include team practices and meetings.

Kendall Bess, left, and Ty’reona Doucet complete assignments in the center’s computer lab. Both are members of the Ragin’ Cajuns women’s basketball team.

Ferrod Gardner, a senior linebacker majoring in graphic design, often takes advantage of the extra hours. He devotes 20 to 30 hours a week to football, including morning weightlifting, afternoon meetings and evening practices.

“Trying to manage your time with practices and meetings and schoolwork — it has taken a toll on me in some ways. You have to fight through it, though, and put in the work,” Gardner said.

He continued:

“I think we’re showing that we can do the work, that we’re not dumb jocks. The new center sets a high standard for us and what we have to do.”

Top photo: The new Student-Athlete Academic Center, on the third floor of Edith Garland Dupré Library, replaces an area that student-athletes used in Agnes Edwards Hall.

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