Educating student-athletes for their future is a priority at South Carolina, and providing comprehensive life skills training has long been a part of that education. The university has ramped up its efforts through the creation of the Student-Athlete Experience course, currently known as SPTE 490.
“For a number of years we would bring our student-athletes in for an orientation, and I never felt like that was enough time to really understand all the different aspects of being a student at a major university and all of the different issues that are evident which they may or may not have to deal with,” said Athletics Director Ray Tanner. “I feel strongly that it should be on-going, and as conversations grew in this area, it evolved into this course.”
The class is offered by the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management and is open to any student, but it is now required for all student-athletes who are freshmen or transfers.
“It helps introduce them to resources that are available to them on campus,” said Department Chair, Dr. Matt Brown. “In the past, I think it was a little more informal with how those resources were presented. This is a more structured process. Students will be tested on the material and content presented by the instructors. There’s a bigger academic component to it as opposed to having to sit through a presentation where you may not have to really pay attention. Being in a classroom setting, you have the opportunity to talk about the material in an open environment.”
These topics include domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, hazing, bullying, alcohol, drugs, nutrition, eating disorders, concussions, gender equity, diversity, financial education and resume building.
“We figured out that we didn’t always have enough time to bring in speakers about all of those topics,” said Maria Hickman, Associate Athletics Director for Academics and Student Development. “It’s going to be a wide range of things in the class. It’s great because our students will be able to ask a lot of questions and talk to professionals in different areas.”
“I think it’s one of the best things that we’ve done to assist our students in their development and understanding all of the different pressures and issues in society today,” Tanner said. “This course gives us an opportunity to engage our student-athletes throughout the semester. Should there be something that comes up next week that we’re not talking about today, then we have an opportunity to bring someone in who is an expert in that area to engage our student-athletes right away and give them an opportunity to understand.”
This was a way to help educate our student-athletes, and make sure they are getting everything they need. We wanted to do it in a format that also assisted them in the classroom.Maria Hickman
The class bolsters the effort by the athletics department, which provides education on such issues during its new student-athlete orientation meetings, as well as through mandatory attendance with various speakers and seminars throughout the academic year. The need for the class came about thanks to conversations with student-athletes preparing for graduation about areas where they still needed education, and it was a collaborative effort between athletics and academic administrators.
“In going through exit interviews with student-athletes, we realized we were missing some things,” Hickman said. “As you see more topics pop up in the news, we realized there were more areas that we could be covering on a greater scale. We wanted to see how we could do a better job with all of that. This was a way to help educate our student-athletes, and make sure they are getting everything they need. We wanted to do it in a format that also assisted them in the classroom.”
Two sections of the class are being offered this summer, and it meets Monday through Friday. The class is also offered in the fall and spring semesters, meeting Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Students receive three credit hours for completing the course, and what they learn from it is just as critical to their success at South Carolina and beyond.
“The Sport and Entertainment Management Department created the syllabus, and they have their professors teaching it,” Hickman said. “We helped brainstorm for some of the ideas for the topics we felt like needed to be included. We don’t run the course, but we can assist in helping to find presenters so it won’t all fall on those instructors to present on topics for which they may not be educated. We’ll use campus resources and people we have on staff in the athletics department to present on some of the things they need to hear.”
The main goal is for the student-athletes to understand that they have a lot of responsibilities that go along with the privilege of representing the university, and that there may be different consequences for actions they may take.
“When you come in here as an 18 year old, it’s your first time away from your parents, and there are certain things you cannot do,” Hickman said. “So we want to make sure we’re doing everything possible for our student-athletes to educate them and give them the best experience possible, but also preparing them for life and preparing them for certain issues.”
“We have a lot of instructors who were former student-athletes,” Brown said. “So they understand what it was like to be in these students’ places 20 and 30 years ago. Even though college athletics has changed a lot, they can relate to the students.”
Student-athletes who are not new to the university may also choose to take the course as an elective.