Red Raiders Shine In and Out of Classroom
June 9, 1999
LUBBOCK, Texas - While Texas Tech athletics is best known for success in competition, there is another area where Red Raiders student-athletes have made significant strides in recent years - the classroom. This past year saw the overall average cumulative grade point average for all student-athletes rise from 2.784 in the fall of 1997 to 2.838 for the fall 1998 semester. As the move to the new Marsha Sharp Center for Student-Athletes looms around the corner, things are definitely on the upswing.
All of this is a result of a strong university and athletic department administration commitment to the improvement of the academic services available to all student-athletes.
This support started in the shadow of NCAA investigations that were centered around the grades and eligibility of Texas Tech student-athletes. Steve Uryasz was hired in July of 1997 to come to Lubbock and become the associate athletic director for academic services
He brought to Texas Tech an impressive resume of achievement at two of the nation's top athletic departments. While serving as the assistant director of academic programs at Nebraska, the unit was voted the "Nation's Most Outstanding Academic Support Program" by College Athletic Management Magazine. Uryasz then moved on to Oklahoma State where he served as the assistant athletic director for academic and student affairs for five years.
In just under two years, Uryasz has made great strides toward making Texas Tech's academic services one of the best in the nation. First, he has hired one of the top staffs in the nation In the process, he almost doubled the number of available student-tutors for student-athletes. This has created a higher level of outlets for academic help.
Another boost for the academics program has been the creation of a new computer lab. The lab, which contains 25 of the most current computers, is opened everyday for the student-athletes to work on their school projects. The multiple software programs on the computers allows them to write a paper, do research on the internet or prepare a presentation.
"I feel like anyone can come in here (academic services) and get help," said junior football player David Kelly. "There is someone always available to work with you if you ask for it. I feel real comfortable coming here. I know a lot of the guys on the football team take advantage of the tutors and computer lab."
"In my four years at Texas Tech, I've definitely seen an improvement in the academic resources that were available," redshirt junior football player Jonathan Hawkins said. "They are much better staffed than when I first came here. I know they have helped me and a lot of my teammates when we had tough classes or questions about things."
An additional program Uryasz and his staff implemented this past year was the student-athlete mentor program. In the mentorship, each newcomer to Texas Tech is assigned a student-mentor. This person acts a source of advice for classes, schedules and other issues that college students deal with in their first year.
"My mentor has been a big help for me this year," freshman men's basketball player Andy Ellis said. "He has helped me to manage my time - especially during the season. The mentor program was very important in helping to keep up with classes and not miss deadlines for things."
For further proof of the impact of these efforts, consider the following: besides the overall raise in GPA, an impressive 154 students qualified for the second annual student-athlete academics awards banquet for having over a 3.0 cumulative GPA or for the past two semesters. Eight sports improved their team cumulative GPA from the fall 1997 semester. The football team had 17 players named to the all-Big 12 academic team; the second highest total in the Big 12.
These accomplishments have improved the image of academics in Texas Tech athletics.
"The commitment of the this university to making this work has helped to change the national perception of Texas Tech athletics," Uryasz said. "Those in the world of collegiate athletics see that we are committed to doing things right and competing at a higher level academically."
This success has also aided in making Texas Tech a more appealing option for recruits.
"One of the first questions each recruit and their parents ask is about academics," Uryasz said. "We were are able to show them the GPA of our student-athletes and where they rank in the Big 12. It helps to make them more excited about possibly attending Texas Tech."
Community outreach is something else that has come to define the academic services office. Under the direction of Brian Evans, a member of the academics support staff, there has been a new found effort to get Texas Tech student-athletes more involved in the area in which they go to school. This past year significant amounts of money and time has been donated to help Special Olympics, the official Big 12 charity, and the Stoney Garland Fund. Additionally, with the creation of a student-athlete speakers bureau, many Red Raiders have had the opportunity to go out into the local schools and speak to children about a myriad of issues.
While much has been accomplished in the past few years, academic services has not forgotten its commitment to do even better.
For 2000, the staff is working diligently to implement a Champ/Life Skills program. The program, which is sponsored by the NCAA at over 100 Division I schools, works toward developing the entire student-athlete by making a commitment to five areas: academic excellence, athletic excellence, personal development, career development and services in the community.
Currently, there are final plans for a new course to be offered to new student-athletes in the fall of 1999. This class would act as an orientation to life at Texas Tech University. However, it would not merely be an orientation program, but also provide information needed in order to be academically, personally and professionally successful.
With all that has been accomplished and all that is being done for the future, it is clear to see that now more than ever the term "student-athlete" is something that genuinely applies to all those who participate in Texas Tech athletics.