Coaches in the classroom

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 | 6:40 p.m. CST; updated 11:54 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 27, 2008
Stephanie Gaynor sits in the computer lab at the Missouri Athletic Training Complex. Gaynor, an MU senior, is one of about 125 tutors assigned to MU student athletes through the athletic department’s Total Person Program. She started helping athletes with their school work in 2007.

COLUMBIA — When Stephanie Gaynor, a senior hotel and restaurant management major at MU, attends sports events at the university, she isn’t just cheering for a Tigers victory. She is also showing support for the athletes that she assists off the field and in the classroom.

“It’s exciting to be able to cheer on the athletes that you know personally,” Gaynor says. “They have a right to be proud of what they do. It is really great to speak with them about their (athletic) accomplishments and share in the celebration.”

Gaynor is one of about 125 student tutors the MU Athletic Department’s Total Person Program has hired to provide tutorial assistance to student athletes. With the help of the tutors, in addition to the other elements of the TTP, MU’s athletic program has one of the highest academic records in the nation.

According to the MU athletic Web site, the TTP is a service provided to student athletes by the department to ensure academic success and development of the “total student athlete.” The program consists of study hall hours (mandatory for some students depending on grade level and classroom success), tutoring assistance, mentoring, study skills development and career planning.

Although tutoring is just one aspect of the TTP, it is one of the most crucial elements of the program. Most of the tutors are their upper-level undergraduates of graduate students and are recruited through the honors college and graduate program. Potential tutors must fill out an application and go through interview, as well as answer questions about ethical situations.

“It’s about a two- or three-step process before a tutor can come into our program,” says Joe Scogin, the assistant athletic director for academic services who oversees the TTP. “We want to make sure that we have high level tutors that buy into our philosophy of academic integrity.”

According to Gaynor, maintaining ethical integrity makes tutoring more challenging, yet more rewarding.

“It would be easy if I just came in and did their work for them,” she says. “But it doesn’t work that way. Tutoring is similar to teaching. You want your students to make sure they understand the material in order to apply it later on.”

Gaynor began tutoring for the program in September 2007 and is proud to be helping MU’s athletes perform in the classroom. She also celebrates in the program’s success, which she has seen first hand.

“The Total Person Program is a very successful program,” she says. “I am glad to be a part of it.”

Since its establishment in 1986, the TTP has seen tremendous success. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Web site, MU led the Big 12 Conference in academic progress rate, which calculates a program’s student athlete academic success for the 2006-07 school year. MU boasted nine teams wi the highest APR in their conference, which was more than any other school in the conference. The NCAA also recognized seven Tigers teams for ranking in the nation’s top 25 within their sport, which made MU the best among public Bowl Championship Series institutions.

“In the last couple of years, nine of of 20 of our sports teams have led the conference, which puts us by far the top in the Big 12,” Scogin says. “Fourteen were in the top two. That’s a very high percentage. Seventy percent of our sports teams are top two in the Big 12.”

Scogin says that academic achievement is just as important as athletic achievement, if not more.

There are some athletic programs nation wide where athletic success is the most important, and academic expectations take a back seat,” Scogin says. “It’s not like that a the University of Missouri. Academic expectations are as high as everything else for our student athletes.”

Academic success can be much more challenging for student athletes, who must devote 30 to 40 hours a week to their sport, not counting time spent traveling to competitions. Also, when their sport is in season, some student athletes might miss 10 to 20 percent of their classes, Scogin says.

“Their time demands are so heavy, and they have to be so efficient with their time,” he says. “Tutorial assistance allows them to focus down their time in a more precise manner so they are able to prepare for what they have going on in the classroom.”

Gaynor agrees.

“Athletes need more help academically because their schedules are ridiculous, especially when they are in season,” Gaynor says. “They barely have time to breathe between practice, class and traveling.”

Trevor Coleman, an MU junior, knows the time demands of a student athlete all to well. A member of MU’s baseball team, he travels heavily with his sport in the spring and relies on help from tutors to keep him caught up.

“I have to find time for school,” Coleman says. “Tutoring definitely helps. During the spring, we travel a lot so we miss a lot of classes. Tutoring helps catch me up with what I missed. I get tutors for the classes that I know I might have trouble with.”

Coleman, a finance major, says he uses the TTP facilities about once a week, mainly to use the computers and as a meeting place for himself and his tutors.

Because a majority of college athletes don’t ever reach the professional levels of their sport, putting the student first in the student athlete helps ensure their future in a world outside of athletics.

“It’s great to have a successful athletic department with teams going to bowl games and winning conference championships and all that,” Scogin says. “But when you can be very proud that they are taking care of things on campus, that is pretty special.”


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