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onCampus--Ohio State's faculty/staff news

Vol. 38, No. 18

By: Adam King

SASSO helps athletes overcome educational hurdles

Buckeye sports teams make the grade

Student-Athlete Support Services Office staff Ruth Bolzenius, academic resource coordinator; John Macko, center, athletic academic counselor; and David Graham, director, strive to help the 900 Ohio State athletes reach their graduation day.
Before a student-athlete steps into an Ohio State classroom, he or she is introduced to the staff at the Student-Athlete Support Services Office.

It sends the message that academics are at the forefront of an OSU athlete’s experience and that 14 counselors in the office are pulling for and willing to help each one graduate.

John Macko has been at OSU for 23 years and remembers when there were just two or three academic counselors like him available to athletes. SASSO’s mission and support has since grown into a well-heeled operation in Younkin Success Center that gives athletes the learning and life skills to excel. It’s an important cog since the NCAA now tracks athletes’ academics and cuts scholarships from teams that don’t meet its minimum standard.

Ohio State’s 36 sports programs met the standard score of 925 when the NCAA released its three-year Academic Progress Rate data in May. Based on the eligibility, retention and graduation of each scholarship athlete, the score represents approximately a 60 percent successful graduation rate. Four OSU programs — men’s fencing and women’s swimming, cross country and basketball — were singled out as high performers for achieving perfect or near-perfect 1,000 APR scores (women’s basketball scored a 997).

“Having four sports maintain a perfect or almost perfect APR is representative of the talent recruited and the support provided,” said Director of Athletics Gene Smith. “Our coaches continue to recruit young people who are academically and athletically talented. And with the services available through the outstanding work of the employees in SASSO, student-athletes are able to succeed academically.”

SASSO staff, who report to the Office of Academic Affairs, work diligently to keep athletes in academic step with the general student population. It is a challenging goal, given the daily demands faced by student-athletes in terms of time management. Factor in team travel schedules and Macko likens it to facing Michigan every day in the classroom.

“The bar has gotten higher academically at OSU and it’s competitive, and it makes it more difficult for athletes to succeed,” Macko said. “But we count on them to communicate with their teachers through a lot of e-mail correspondence. Our job is easier too because overall we are seeing better student-athletes, which in turn helps the graduation rates and the APR.”

SASSO Director David Graham said athletes have a range of academic abilities, from top performers to those that need help overcoming learning disabilities. Athletes are assessed on their study skills, writing, math and spelling upon first arriving at OSU, and the Office of Disability Services does its own evaluation for those with special needs. Also, SASSO hired a learning specialist last July to work with athletes judged academic risks.

“We work hard to see who might need extra help from the get-go so there isn’t a surprise mid-quarter,” said Ruth Bolzenius, academic resource coordinator, who organizes SASSO’s tutoring. “If we identify them as needing a lot of help, we get them scheduled with tutors.”

More than 700 of the 900 OSU athletes took advantage of SASSO’s 100 graduate and undergraduate tutors during spring quarter, so it’s not just the at-risk athletes who are using the service, Bolzenius said.

Counselors also help students understand time management, and twice a quarter counselors contact faculty for feedback on how athletes are doing in the classroom. The result has been increasing improvement: For the fourth quarter in a row, more than 50 percent of athletes finished with a 3.0 grade-point average or above, and 163 athletes graduated this spring, the most in recent history.

“We’re working hard to create stronger partnerships and collaborations with the colleges and college advising offices,” said Graham, a former Savannah State football player. “But the best thing we can do to create each athlete’s individual academic plan is to get feedback from faculty.”

Graham encourages faculty to contact him at 292-7088 or graham.461@osu.edu. For more information on SASSO, visit sasso.osu.edu.

For those athletes who fail to earn their degree, often for leaving school early for professional sports or other opportunities, SASSO has a program that encourages them to return and finish. Six former athletes graduated June 10 and more than 100 lifetime — including former NBA players Clark Kellogg and Chris Jent — have come back through the Degree Completion Program.

“In a roundabout way it helps our APR because our athletes are seeing these former athletes take an interest in completing their education,” Bolzenius said. “It gets the message out that finishing your degree is an ideal goal.”

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