As a defensive tackle on the Mean Green football team, Chris Miller spent several hours a week in the athletics study hall, which for most of Miller’s eligibility consisted of 800 square feet at Fouts Field. Only eight computers were available for more than 300 student-athletes.
“Everyone had to wait on a computer, and the study hours were limited,” says Miller, a fifth-year senior.
But beginning last fall, Miller and other student-athletes could study in a spacious 7,000-square-foot Academic Center, a remodeled building in the Mean Green Village (the former Liberty Christian School campus) on Bonnie Brae.
The Academic Center is part of UNT’s Student-Athlete Development Center, which provides service opportunities and programs to help prepare student-athletes for life after their sport, in addition to helping them succeed academically.
UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal says the new Academic Center puts proper emphasis on academics for student-athletes.
“We want to remind them that academics are the reason they are here at UNT,” he says.
The Academic Center became a reality thanks to UNT System Regent Gayle Strange (’67) and her husband, Virgil (’68). The Stranges provided funding for the project and Virgil coordinated the work needed to transform the interior of the building into a space appropriate for studying — building walls, laying carpet, adding student work stations, installing windows and fixing doors.
Virgil says a new academic center for student-athletes was an area on campus that “desperately needed to be addressed.”
“Many of our student-athletes come to UNT on scholarships, but only a few will go on to the pros in their sports,” he says. “The kids have a chance to get a great education while they are here, so we want to make sure they will have an opportunity to do their best in their classes, earn their degrees and have a great life in business, education or other careers.”
The new center has 30 computers and separate areas for independent study and group study. It can accommodate up to 60 students at one time, says Courtney Howard (’98, ’01 M.S.), assistant athletic director for academics and support services.
“The first week we moved into the new space, the students kept asking, ‘Is this all for us?’” Howard says. “You could come to the old study hall every day, but it was noisy and not a conducive atmosphere for studying. Now, if a student needs to be alone to study or meet with a tutor, there is space for that.”
Three full-time academic counselors are available by appointment and on a walk-in basis to assist student-athletes with class scheduling, registration, tutoring, mentoring and career development.
The advisers also help in areas such as test anxiety, personal counseling and time management skills.
Study sessions in the center are required for all first-semester freshmen and transfer student-athletes, student-athletes with a cumulative grade point average below 2.5, and any student-athlete the coaches and academic advisers believe would benefit from scheduled study sessions.
Howard says student-athletes who aren’t assigned study sessions also use the center because it is open until 9 p.m. most evenings and compatible with their schedules.
“Student-athletes start their days at 6 a.m. with weights or conditioning, go to class and then to practice. They finish practice around 5 p.m., eat dinner and then need time to study,” Howard says.
Anne Pope, a fifth-year senior on the volleyball team, says an academic center for student-athletes is particularly important for freshmen.
These students, she says, must adjust to team dynamics, media interviews and regular travel for road games, in addition to the challenges of living away from home, attending college classes and studying.
“You have to set aside time to study, and the Academic Center has everything you need to do that,” says Pope, who will graduate in May with an education degree.
Student-athletes with high grade point averages receive
special honor in the center. Photos of the player on each team with the highest GPA for the academic year are displayed at the center’s entrance, along with other academic awards won by players. The team with the highest overall GPA for the year will receive a special academic trophy.
Howard says the awards further emphasize the importance of academics for student-athletes in preparing them for life after UNT.
“Our graduation rates for student-athletes have increased significantly in the last three years. I would love to see them continue to increase,” she says.