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MCGILL: Marshall Student-Athletes Shine in Classroom

Jan. 22, 2018

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The Marshall University athletic department enjoyed a banner year in 2017.

The softball program set a school record for wins and reached the NCAA tournament. The men’s basketball program advanced to the finals of the Conference USA tournament. The swimming and diving team and track and field program smashed school records. The football team capped the year with a victory in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

But, while athletics are driven by numbers, from yards gained to lap times, what happens on the fields, courts, tracks and pools can sometimes overshadow the accomplishments of the student-athlete in the classroom. And, according to those numbers, Marshall student-athletes should brag about the As and Bs as much as the Xs and Os.

In the Fall of 2017, 215 student-athletes – 57 percent – earned a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher. That is a school record. Marshall student-athletes compiled a 3.27 GPA in the Fall of 2017. Overall, 46 student-athletes finished with a 4.0 and 166 made the Dean’s List.

“Our student-athletes and support staff are very deserving of praise for their academic performance,” said Mike Hamrick, Marshall’s Director of Athletics. “We stress the importance of academic achievement and the pursuit of a degree here, and we have seen continued improvement in those areas. It is sometimes too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on athletic achievement, and we have many reasons to be proud of that, too, but every semester we see higher GPAs and more academic accolades for our student-athletes. They work hard and they put our beautiful academic facility to good use.”

Hamrick said there is no coincidence that academic achievement has been trending upward since the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Academic Center opened in 2015. Nicknamed “The Buck,” the academic center is on the second floor of the 101,000 square foot Chris Cline Athletic Complex, which was built to the east of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Marshall had 64 student-athletes awarded Conference USA academic medals in 2016-17, which was the second most among league schools. A total of 211 student-athletes were named to the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll, also second most in the league.

“I am extremely proud of our student-athletes and their significant academic achievements,” said Lisa Williamson, Marshall’s Associate Athletic Director for Academic Services. “These remarkable accomplishments are a direct reflection of the dedication to student success by our counselors and support staff, none of which would be possible without our state-of-the-art academic facility and the donors who made that dream a reality.”

The Buck Harless Student-Athlete Academic Center was part of the athletic department’s $33 million Vision Campaign. The center features more than 100 desktop computers and seven private tutoring rooms. Every student-athlete is assigned a full-time academic counselor, who helps track progress toward a degree and monitors the path to graduation.

The new facility is working, and the proof is in the numbers.

In the years before the opening of the facility, between 47 percent and 53 percent of Marshall student-athletes had a GPA of 3.0 or better. The percentage of student-athletes who have a GPA of 3.0 or better has jumped as much as 10 percent since the Spring 2014 semester, a year before the facility became a reality.

“We are proud of the commitment that our student-athletes and our coaches have to academic success at Marshall University,” said Jeff O’Malley, Associate Athletic Director and Chief of Staff. “The staff at Buck Harless Student-Athlete program should also be commended for helping guide our student-athletes through the challenges of balancing academics and athletics. Finally, a big thank you to all the donors who contributed to the new academic center which our student-athletes pack on a nightly basis.”  

Fifteen MU student-athletes were named to the first team all-academic team in their respective sports in 2016-17. Men’s basketball player Austin Loop became the first Herd athlete to make three consecutive C-USA all-academic teams in his sport. Last summer, Loop, men’s cross country runner Will Shaffer and volleyball player Ally Kiekover were named the C-USA Scholar Athlete of the Year for their sport. Marshall had more honorees than every school in the league, with the exception of Rice.

Dr. Karen McComas, the executive director for the Center for Teaching and Learning and Marshall’s NCAA Faculty Athletic Representative, said she is proud the athletic department prioritizes and values student success, focusing on recruiting, retaining and graduating students for whom Marshall is a good academic and athletic fit.

“Our student-athletes are extraordinarily successful in their academic endeavors and a number of them are making significant contributions to their disciplines,” McComas said.

McComas mentioned women’s soccer player Jenna Zuzolo, a biological science and pre-med major, who has been completing research on the cattle horn fly in collaboration with researchers at the University of Georgia and under the mentorship of Dr. James Joy.

“Jenna recently presented the results of her current research at the 2018 West Virginia Entomological Society meeting and her mentor anticipates that she will have a research article published in a well-respected academic journal while still an undergraduate student,” McComas said.

Those kind of tales are not uncommon. Marshall has a long and storied tradition in athletics, but Thundering Herd student-athletes know this is a destination for academic success, too.

“The athletic department stresses the importance of not only performing well on the field, course or track, but also in the classroom,” said Stephanie Rogner, a freshman who participates in cross country and track. “It is our responsibility to maintain high academics as a daughter or son of Marshall, but it is made easier by the abundant opportunities the Buck Harless Academic Center and Robert & Lena Shell Digital Learning Center have to offer. We have personal tutors, knowledgeable academic advisors, an array of accessible computers, flexible hours and a quiet learning environment that make it easy to complete assignments before they are due.”