Student athletes understand what it means to prepare for the future. Long hours in the gym and on the field or the court are a given—especially at The University of New Mexico, an NCAA Division I school. Dedication and hard work to compete at the top lends itself to success throughout a collegiate athlete’s career, but it is life after their fours years are up, that these students must be training for concurrently.
The correlation between athletic and academic success was the focus of a recent, first of its kind, joint symposium sponsored by UNM’s Honors College and Athletics Department in partnership with the Lobo Scholars Program and the Shared Knowledge Conference.
"This is a pretty powerful thing. In the 15 plus years I have been at UNM, this is the first time I’ve been involved in a collaboration with academics and athletics."
—Jeremy Fishbein, Lobo men's soccer coach
“The UNM community has a number of different people working on research projects involving college athletics— faculty, student athletes, staff and graduate students,” said Ryan Swanson, director of the Lobo Scholars Program. “The point of the Symposium is to bring everyone together in one place to learn from each other. There are many fascinating presentations and our Lobo student athletes have really acquitted themselves well.”
The Lobo Scholars Program is an innovative program that serves the University of New Mexico’s high-achieving and motivated student athletes. It recognizes the tremendous difficulty and value in pursuing one’s academic goals and athletic dreams simultaneously. Student athletes in the program are given the opportunity for scholarship programs nationally and internationally in addition to faculty mentorship and Honors College admission and advisement.
“I definitely wouldn't consider myself a genius, but it's always fun to be recognized not only as an athlete, but as an intellectual, and have the opportunity to combine these two passions in my life—learning and basketball,” said Whitney Johnson, forward for the UNM women's basketball team. “The Lobo Scholars Program has helped to challenge me a little more both inside and outside the classroom on an academic level, and it's allowed me to meet other student-athletes like me. You know, the ones that try to put the ‘student’ before the ‘athlete.’ ”
A panelist at the event, Assistant Professor John Barnes, talked about the nontraditional status of student athletes, “In addition to classes, these students are typically working full-time—33 to 39 hours a week dedicated to a sport,” he said. “It’s important for athletes to see themselves as intellectuals, too.”
One of the main themes of the symposium was success after college. The majority of student athletes do not have the opportunity to make a living playing sports post graduation. Many of the skills they develop from athletic training can set them up for future success. Some of those skills as presented include:
- Leadership skills: Hugh Greenwood, UNM men’s basketball alumnus, helped raise over $75,000 to support breast cancer research.
- Community service activities: Giving back to others common for teams and supportive events. It gives athletes an understanding and connection to the community.
- Stress management: Knowing how to handle stress and take care of personal healthcare.
“Athletics provides an opportunity for students to use their platform for the betterment of society,” said featured speaker Kendall Spencer, a UNM alumnus and NCAA Indoor Track & Field Champion. He encouraged attendees to engage in their community, “What are you doing with your intercollegiate position—no matter what capacity you serve in.”
Another featured speaker at the event, Lobo men’s soccer head coach Jeremy Fishbein, focused on the ethical duty of coaches to enhance the academic success of student athletes.
“Your going to deal with some hardships,” he told the audience. “It is my job as a coach to ensure students have a successful life.”
Fishbein added, “This is a pretty powerful thing. In the 15 plus years I have been at UNM, this is the first time I’ve been involved in a collaboration with academics and athletics. As a coach our job is to develop leaders and I see this as a platform for future success.”
The Lobo Scholars Program is hoping to make this symposium an annual event supporting and launching student athletes into a second successful career.
Visit the Lobo Scholars Program website for more information.