New program links studies and sports
They are part of the Academic-Athletic Fellows Program, an initiative started last spring by Director of Athletics Gary Walters.
The coach of each varsity team is required to identify a faculty member to serve as its academic-athletic fellow. His or her mission is to strengthen and reinforce the ties between a student's academic and athletic pursuits and to act as a resource for the student-athletes, coaches, academic administrators and faculty.
"I remember the impact that (then sociology professor) Marvin Bressler had on members of the basketball team," says Walters '67, recalling his days as a Princeton student-athlete. "My hope was that we could replicate that model for other athletic programs. I believe this makes Princeton unique in the way it facilitates harmony between academic and athletic pursuits."
Faculty members have been involved on an informal basis with the athletics department for years. The new program provides a more structured way of giving student-athletes a central reference point from which to identify various University resources, such as advice on resolving specific academic and social issues. The goal is to recognize the value of athletic participation as a complement to an undergraduate education as well as to provide role models for the student-athletes.
Jeff Stout, professor of religion, filled the role of an academic-athletic fellow when men's soccer coach Jim Barlow '91 was an undergraduate playing for Bob Bradley '80.
"I found myself interacting on a fairly regular basis with members of the team, a few of whom came to me for advice about academic problems," Stout says. "When Jim became the varsity coach after Bob's departure, my role with the team became somewhat more formalized. It's been enormously rewarding to become a part of the soccer community at Princeton. I've done it for the friendship, not because I'm trying to perform a kind of social work. But the friendships make a difference to the way the place feels."
Stout's interest in the program was spurred by his genuine love of the game. His three children -- including Suzannah '99 -- have excelled at the sport and given him perspective on being a student-athlete.
"The sport has a much bigger impact on what the players are like as people than I had assumed," Stout says. "Before getting to know the players, I also had very little understanding of what the student culture is like at Princeton outside the classroom."
Robert Tignor, the Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, also has used his experience as a parent to help him in his new role as an academic-athletic fellow with the football team.
"I'm very mindful of the fact that trying to blend academics and athletics is very difficult," he says. "My daughter (Sandra) is a recruited (track and field) athlete at Virginia, and she found the demands of sports and academics were very, very heavy. They basically didn't give her much time for a social life. I just think having somebody around who's familiar with the kinds of pressures student-athletes have can be useful."
"He's phenomenal," says football coach Roger Hughes of Tignor. "He's as enthusiastic as anybody. He can talk about life as a professor interacting with students, and he can also educate the faculty about the time demands on athletes."
Elizabeth Bogan, senior lecturer in economics, became involved in the program when the demands on one of her students became apparent in the classroom.
"I had one of Princeton's best volleyball players in my class," she says. "One day, he was struggling to stay awake and apologized after class. There had been team transportation problems, and he had come to class on just a few hours sleep. I was impressed that he was there and decided to go see him play."
She attended some games and, when the Academic-Athletics Fellows Program was getting off the ground, the coach asked her to be the team's representative. She also became a fellow for the women's lightweight crew program after meeting team members at a race.
Crew team member Perri Pleeter '04 sought out Bogan when a heavy class load and strenuous training schedule became overwhelming.
"I e-mailed her, and she responded within a few hours, asking if I could meet with her the next day," Pleeter says. "She was sympathetic and understanding. Her son (Andrew '96), too, had rowed and been a molecular biology major. She was very straightforward and helped me realize that I needed to make some changes."
"I really believe in the athlete-scholar concept," Bogan says. "The players like it that an academic thinks that their dedication to athletics and academics makes good sense."
Walters says the program provides an avenue for fostering the conceptual idea of the integration of mind, body and spirit.
"We are providing a non-threatening academic and social support system for athletes that also will strengthen the relationships of coaches and faculty," he says. "We want to ensure that our athletes explore the many great opportunities that are available to them during their four years at Princeton."
This article is based in part on earlier
stories printed in the Princeton Varsity Club