No nursing major forces student athlete transfers

By Tyler Davis, Daily Egyptian

There are high school athletes giving hours of the time to get the necessary grades and perform well enough to be granted a scholarship to play Division I athletics.

Now after all the hard work is put in, it is realized the one profession an athlete wanted to do is unavailable because of their status as a student athlete.

This scenario is all too real for former tennis player Siera Hasler and alumnus Ryan Sidwell. These student athletes hoped to compete for the university’s varsity athletics while earning a degree.


Hasler, a former walk-on women’s tennis player, is now a junior at St. Francis College of Nursing in Peoria.

“My freshman year I was undecided, but while at home over Christmas break, I really felt like I was being called to be a nurse,” Hasler said. “I immediately talked to my athletic advisor and that’s when I found out the bad news.”

The bad news is that SIU does not offer nursing on the Carbondale campus. SIUC is the one of two major universities in Illinois, the other being University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; that does not offer nursing—a major that has been in the top five of most popular fields over the last 20 years, according to an article on the Princeton Review website.

After walking on to the team, Hasler sustained an injury that left her on crutches for four weeks. Next season, her sophomore year, Hasler took over as a student-coach but knew that her days as a Saluki were numbered.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping people,” Hasler said. “I wanted to be a nurse, so I did not declare a major because I knew I would be leaving. I took all of my prerequisite classes to be able to apply for nursing school.”

Kristina Stepps, associate athletic director for student services, has dealt with the issue for most of her tenure at SIU.

Stepps’ office oversees the Trout-Wittmann Academic Center, which supports student athlete services including information concerning majors and NCAA regulations. She tried to clear up why students are not able to pursue their dream major.


Students can enroll in an accelerated nursing program through SIU-Edwardsville but student athletes cannot because of NCAA regulations, Stepps said. Student athletes can instead enroll in nursing school after graduating from SIUC with a degree that fulfills nursing prerequisites.

For example, the school offers healthcare management. A degree in healthcare management would provide a students with the necessary prerequisites to get into nursing school later, but would not authorize them to be a Registered Nurse upon graduation.

Audra Anderson, head coach of women’s tennis, said Hasler departure was hard on her team.

“With someone like Siera, it was really disappointing not being able to keep her here because she was a great, valuable person to the team,” she said.

Hasler did not want to leave Carbondale but said she is excited to start clinicals at her current school near Peoria, and plans to graduate next year.

Sidwell, a decorated track and field athlete, was another hopeful nursing student. Sidwell holds the school record for the heptathlon and has a conference championship in pole vaulting. He said he had settled on nursing as a major as soon as he heard Edwardsville was creating the program for Carbondale students.

“I originally came to do the radiology program,” he said. “But my junior year was the first year that they had the nursing program through Edwardsville. I thought that would be perfect for what I wanted to do.”

Sidwell, a diabetic, said he owes a lot to the nurses who helped him cope with the condition and hopes to have a similar impact on other kids with diabetes. But like Hasler, Sidwell had a choice to make: athletics or education.

“It was frustrating to know that if I wanted to pursue my athletic abilities. I had to drop the nursing,” he said. “Or I had to drop the athletics and pursue the nursing.”

Stepps said the main reason student athletes could not major in nursing was because NCAA regulations force a student to be full time at the school they play for.

“We found out that the classes were actually through Edwardsville, and the student would be paying tuition to the Edwardsville campus,” Stepps said.

“So the student would not actually be full time on Carbondale’s campus. And NCAA rules [dictate that] you have to be in full time — 12 credit hours — at the school you’re representing. Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that it wasn’t going to work for our students.”

Sidwell considered taking 12 credit hours at both campuses to maintain his status as a Carbondale student athlete, Stepps said, but that option would be near impossible.

“He was actually the first one to try nursing,” he said. “We had others who were interested in nursing but decided to do other majors. He was very adamant, that is what he wanted to do and we tried all different options.”

While Stepps and her staff works hard to get hopeful nurses on track to their career, she admitted the lack of nursing at Carbondale has been discouraging.

“It’s been disappointing because we have had both male and female student athletes that have been interested in nursing,” Stepps said. “After our situation with Ryan, our coaches better understood that coming in and doing a bachelor’s degree in nursing wasn’t an option.”

This is nothing new for the coaches who handle recruiting for SIU’s varsity sports. There are student athletes coaches have to evade every year because they cannot offer them the major they want.

Anderson expressed some frustration that among the multitude of majors available to students and student athletes, nursing is not one of them.

“When we’re recruiting, I get a lot of female recruits that want to do nursing,” he said. “It’s a very popular program. We pretty much have all the majors that my recruits are asking for, except for that one.”

Anderson is not alone. Coaches for track and field, women’s basketball, swimming and diving and softball have all been thwarted in recruiting potential Salukis because of the lack of nursing.

“That’s the one [challenging] area I’ve had recruiting over the last 12 years, even though we’ve had multiple conference championship teams,” said Matt Sparks, cross-country head coach. “The frustration has been that when we get the [student’s] questionnaires back and it says nursing, you put that one on the back-burner because you know they can’t do that when they come here.”

What happens to the students who decline to change their major? Some end up at close competing schools. After graduating, Sidwell attended rival Indiana State University to finish his nursing degree, although his years of eligibility for sports were used by then.

Carbondale’s lack of a major as common as nursing can give rivals the upper hand, said Sparks.

“It’s tough when you’ve got a great athlete that you’d like to recruit but then you see nursing is their focus academic area; you realize that you can’t accommodate them,” he said. “You see them end up at Illinois State, which has got a nursing program that’s one of our biggest recruiting rivals and competitive rivals. That’s a big frustration.”

Sidewell and Hasler hope to see a change in the policy, no matter what it takes.

“The school needs to figure it out for student athlete,” Hasler said. “It’s unfair that someone can’t take the straight route to being a nurse like everyone else can. Carbondale needs to get its own nursing program apart from Edwardsville.”

Sidwell said he knows student athletes who have changed majors to keep their athletic scholarships. For many students, these scholarships are their only way to pay for college.

“When they have to change their degree to something that they aren’t passionate about or move on to a different campus, either way, it’s not good for anybody,” Sidwell said. “SIU loses a student and the student loses what they want to do.”

Tyler Davis can be reached at [email protected]

@tdavis_de on Twitter, 

or 536-3311 est 259.