Written by David Mann
Albany, Ga. - All Americans, All Conference, Region 17 and District champions – Darton State College student-athletes are all that, and brains too.
Ten of Darton’s 11 intercollegiate athletic programs earned grade-point averages of 2.5 or better in the fall 2012 semester, and six of those teams had a 3.0 GPA or higher – very impressive for an athletic department that also ranks in the NJCAA’s most competitive 10.
Contributing deeply to the success of Darton student-athletes are the College’s math, writing and peer-tutoring centers and labs, and a state-of-the-art academic alert system, but Darton athletic director Mike Kiefer said credit should be given to the Darton faculty, staff and the student-athletes.
“This achievement is a direct reflection of the student-athletes’, coaches’ and faculty’s commitment to maintain an environment of academic success,” he said.
One of the ways Darton athletics has triumphed academically is by assigning each team a single advisor from the Darton State faculty. An advisor’s function would be to help an individual athlete choose a course of study, assist in course registration, and monitor his or her success. Some of the advisors, such as English instructor Dr. Jamie Barker, take the advisor role even further.
“I am an academic enforcer,” Barker said in a morning interview conducted only hours after his presence at a grueling 5:30 a.m. workout with men’s soccer, his chosen team of advisees, because one of the student-athletes was late for class. Barker said D-1 coaches are calling him directly and asking that he helps improve the grades of Cavalier student-athletes to keep them eligible for transfer, a goal that motivates him and his advisees. But even without a regard to that end, Barker is clearly dedicated to building a concept of team inside, as well as outside, the college classroom.
“I’m with the boys on a good week, ten hours,” he said. “On a bad week – 20 or more.”
He said that ninety percent of the young men on the soccer team, which finished 3rd at the NJCAA Championships, have voiced their appreciation to his and men’s soccer coach Bart Sasnett’s dedication to further the team’s academic endeavors.
“I really respect the guys,” Barker said. “ I’ve developed a relationship with them and I can’t let them fail.”
Across the campus and even online, student-athletes have outside-of-the-classroom access to a math lab for remedial-math students, a math center for students taking college algebra and above, a foreign language lab, a writing lab, a writing center, an online writing center, a reading lab, and a peer-tutoring center.
These accommodations are very advantageous to student-athletes because they can schedule study time around their practice and game schedules, advising-center coordinator Deena Newman said.
“Peer tutoring hours are flexible, and tutors have to be approved by the instructor before I can use them,” she said. Several student athletes are using the center, which offers a tutoring service for free. Some student-athletes find work in the center as tutors, and can earn $10 per hour, up to 19 hours a week.
Also, throughout the course of any given semester, Darton’s coaching staff has access to an Academic Early Alert System, which can instantly track student-athletes’ academic progresses. Fields within the system can depict and individual student-athlete’s tardiness, absences, missing assignments, current course grades and more. To offer a proactive approach to classroom success, student-athletes, coaches and advisors receive email alerts at specific intervals throughout an academic year if an individual is not performing at a satisfactory level.
“We have team study halls for an hour and a half, two times weekly,” assistant baseball coach James Huff said. “And, we always have a coach in there with them as they study. But based on Early Alert, we also have our guys do so many hours in the math lab, for example, based on their Early Alert status.”
Many of the student-athletes at Darton, such as All-Region cross country runner Kaitlyn Winter, meet in study rooms available in the Darton library to work together.
“It’s always quiet there, and there is a chalk board in every room,” she said.
Whether student-athletes are using “old school” habits of a quiet room and a chalk board, tracking achievement on an Early Alert system or meeting with dedicated advisors, Darton’s campus has collaborated to create an environment that offers an enormous amount of quality support for student success. More than half of the intercollegiate teams have a 3.0 team GPA or better – a big win that involved the entire campus.