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Saluki Athletes serious in classroom

By Matt Wells, @mattwells_DE

To jump the highest, hit the farthest, run with the most explosion and to swim like a fish, the academics of a student athlete can be forgotten. At SIU, the Troutt-Wittmann Academic and Training Center has services in place to ensure that does not happen.

For a student athlete to perform in his or her sport at the highest level, they must maintain a 2.0 grade point average to be eligible to compete. 

Kurtis Siemens, a junior thrower at SIU, said he was struggling in an anatomy class until Liz Jordan, the school’s athletic academic adviser, found him a tutor.

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“It’s helped me an insane amount,” Siemens said. “I ended up getting an A, which was fantastic.”

Siemens said the tutor drilled him on everything he needed to know.

Although Jordan is in charge of the tutors, Siemens said the athletes make their own appointments and schedules with the tutors.

“I eat, sleep, study, go to practice and go to class,” Siemens said.

Siemens brushed off the idea that being a student athlete might be too stressful, even with the little free time outside those activities. He said the good grades help.

Athletes generally use the center, which has been in existence since 2004, more when they are in season because of all the road trips they take.

“It’s nice for them to have that additional resource to kind of fill in the gaps,” Jordan said.

Jordan said the tutors can handle both the job and the coursework.

“I hired them because they’re high-achieving students and I would hate to be a road block for them in that way,” Jordan said.

Jordan’s staff, 40 tutors and 12 monitors right now, fluctuates every semester based on demand.

The monitors, comprised mostly of upper-level and graduate students, are there to scan ID cards and to make sure the athletes stay on task while in the center.

The tutors, including graduate students, are paid the university’s standard student employment rate of $8.25 per hour. Like all student employees, they can only work up to 20 hours per week.

“They do a phenomenal job,” Jordan said. “I would love to pay them above and beyond [that rate], but I can’t.”

Jordan said the tutors and student athletes are supposed to contact by email only, to prevent any possible unprofessional behavior. Jordan stresses a professional relationship is paramount. 

Tutor Ben Brandolino, a senior from Braidwood studying accounting, said he and other tutors are supposed to cease contact outside the center.

Brandolino has met with 20 athletes. He helps one athlete, he could not name because of confidentiality rules, in four to five classes and they are now good acquaintances, which is not against the rules.

Brandolino began tutoring as an intern in high school to help the language and reading skills of elementary school students. He helped tutor lower-level math classes in high school too.

“Tutoring [at SIU] for student athletes seemed like something that was right up my alley,” Brandolino said.

He said some are tutored for the entire semester, while others may meet once or twice before an exam.

Brandolino said tutors are not told the reason why one attends.

Freshmen athletes are required to attend at least six hours of monitored study hall a week. 

Jordan said athletes are not required to attend if their GPA is low.

She said most students seek help right away if they need it.

When Jordan’s staff notices an athlete’s GPA is low, and they do not seek assistance, she gets them the help they need.

“We [say], ‘Ok, you definitely need tutoring, or is this a matter of poor time management?’” she said.

Jordan said she appreciates the coaches’ presence in the center.

Women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein is one who Jordan sees often in her office checking on her players.

“From records that we’ve broken to our GPA, we’ve been increasing incredibly,” senior forward Azia Washington said.

“I’m right at like a 2.8, 2.9 [GPA],” Washington said. “I’m frustrated with it. I’m really trying to get it to a 3.0, but it is definitely hard.”

Washington said if she was not an athlete the 3.0 goal would be easier.

She said Stein takes everything in everyday life seriously, including education and she appreciates it.

“[Stein] really wants us to be the best females and women we can be,” Washington said.

The dedication leaves an impression on some. 

“They don’t have as much time as a regular student,” tutor La’Mayah Hodges, a graduate student from Las Vegas studying public health said. “For them to go out of their way to use even more time to dedicate to their academics is really amazing.”  

This story has been updated with corrections. 

Matt Wells can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-6311 ext. 269.

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