GRADUATION SUCCESS Mississippi State Athletics

What is the first thing you see when you look at a student athlete?

You probably see a strong physique. Maybe you notice his or her undeniable talent on the playing field. Perhaps you even get a glimpse at that athlete's relentless passion for his or her sport.

What you don't see are the countless hours athletes spend off the court and outside of the weight room - those late nights of studying after grueling practices, or those lengthy bus rides that make the perfect chance to catch up on classwork.

There's a reason the word student comes before athlete. Mississippi State Athletics both understands and emboldens that correlation.

Track and field stand-out Curtis Thompson spends some time studying for finals in the Templeton Athletic Academic Center after his morning practice.
"We want all of our kids to have opportunities in their sports, and we want them to have tremendous opportunities outside their sport. You’re not going to have [those] unless you work in the classroom." - John Cohen, Mississippi State Director of Athletics

A Helping Hand

It's not an easy road for student athletes trying to juggle a full class load while being in season. The Office of Athletic Academics provides as much support as possible to ensure athletes' success in the classroom and life after graduation.

From tutoring to monitoring GPAs to assisting with course selection, the athletic academics staff is there every step of the way.

Defensive lineman Fletcher Adams works with a tutor during finals week in the Templeton Athletic Academic Center.
"The commitment and dedication of the athletic academic staff to assist our student-athletes earn their degree is outstanding. I am so proud of the work our student-athletes have done to be successful now and beyond graduation. In conjunction with the Life Skills department, we have afforded MSU student-athletes many opportunities to be prepared for life after sport through their efforts on campus and in the community." - Christine Jackson, Assistant Athletic Director of Academics
Members of the 2016 December graduating class pose with Athletic Director John Cohen and Assistant Athletic Director of Academics Christine Jackson at the bi-annual graduation dinner.

A Great Lesson

While graduating is the ultimate goal for any student, maintaining good grades and staying up-to-date with classwork throughout one's entire collegiate career are imperative in the athletic world. A strong GPA not only affects an individual's eligibility, but also directly influences a team as a whole.

Defensive linemen Nelson Adams and A.J. Jefferson work alongside cornerback Cedric Jiles as interns at the Early Childhood Development Center on campus, a pre-school for area children. All three football players are human sciences majors who work with the kids at the Development Center bi-weekly.
"We are getting to go to a bowl game because of academics and because of the work our guys have done. I think it is one of the great lessons that guys in our program will learn during their whole career here - that it was academics and things off the field that got them rewarded with this trip this year." - Dan Mullen, Head Football Coach

MSU Football’s NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) of 971 is 12 points better than the national average, allowing the Bulldogs to earn a seventh straight bowl bid. They will play in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26.

A Familiar Face

Academic excellence and personal growth are not only celebrated within the athletic department at MSU, but across the entirety of the Southeastern Conference. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey joined MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum at the Dec. 7 commencement ceremony as the event's guest speaker.

Before congratulating the graduates on their success, Sankey touched on the intricacies of balance in one's life, the many hats he wears day in and day out and how those roles affect his decisions.

"Balance is best left to a see saw on a playground. What you have to figure out are the values that inform how you will live and the priorities you derive from those values," he said.

A few dozen of the 1,370 graduates were student-athletes at Mississippi State, young men and women who were earning the degrees he was congratulating them on by virtue of the conference he runs.

Those students, perhaps better than many, understood the stress and the need for the balance Sankey spoke so passionately about. They could relate to the difficulties of trying to balance so many areas of their lives at once.

"It's definitely difficult to be a student-athlete. You have to be really good at time management and disciplined in class and in doing your homework no matter what you have going on. I'm thrilled to have been able to come out of [college] with [both] a great GPA and success on the court." - Evie Grace Singleton, Senior Volleyball Player

Sankey continued, "You will leave this place and go back and affect the people around you. Be open to their needs. Bend a knee, lend a hand. Leadership understands it is okay to have differences, but we also need to have a conversation.”

Setting the Bar High

MSU Athletics' latest NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR), released in November, was a combined score of 86, representing the school’s highest total since the formula’s inception in 2005.

A record six Bulldog programs – men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s golf, softball and volleyball -- earned perfect NCAA GSR scores of 100.

Eleven Bulldog programs exceeded the NCAA GSR national average and seven MSU programs tied or exceeded their all-time high in NCAA GSR.

Photos by Kelly Price. Story by Bob Carskadon, Kelly Price, Bill Martin and Mississippi State Athletics.

Copyright Mississippi State Athletics. Not for commercial use or reproduction.

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