Oct. 4, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Jewel May knows all about the difficulties and pressures in the daily lives of student-athletes, and the importance of building relationships in all phases of life. Now she can use her experiences to help keep South Carolina’s student-athletes on track academically. The former member of the Gamecocks’ women’s basketball team (2007-2011) has come home to roost after recently being hired as an academic advisor, working with current student-athletes in the Dodie Academic Enrichment Center.
“The day-to-day stuff is a lot of communication,” May said. “Sometimes that’s with professors. You have to have good relationships with coaches to make sure everyone’s on the same page with what’s going on. Then you have to keep track of their eligibility and make sure we address anything that comes up as early as possible. You can be scheduling tutors or referring them to supplemental instruction resources on campus. Sometimes specific sections of classes will have additional study halls on campus.”
The Conyers, Ga., native graduated in 2011 after majoring in psychology and sociology and served as a graduate assistant in counseling for the next two years at South Carolina while working on her master’s degree. She spent the last three years in Texas A&M’s athletics department working as the Life Skills Coordinator and academic advisor before finding an opportunity to come back to her alma mater.
“I wanted to be in a place that felt more like home,” May said. “I loved my job and my students there, but Texas was never home to me. So I packed up my stuff and moved back to Georgia, and then this position opened.”
May works with South Carolina student-athletes in indoor volleyball, beach volleyball, men’s swimming and diving, and softball. She noted that her experiences here as a Gamecock should serve her well.
“I’ve met with all of my teams, and they all seem excited and enthusiastic about pursuing their education,” May said. “I told my teams that I’m a former student-athlete, and I understand a lot of what they’re going through. At the same time, I know all of the excuses. I’ve tried some of them. Some work. Some of them didn’t. I know all of the moves. ‘I got you’ is a phrase that is a big red flag. That means that the work is not done. I used to say it all the time.
“I also know that the trains are a headache here in Columbia. I remember getting into trouble because I got stuck by a train, but nobody wants to hear that. So it happens, but it can’t be an excuse every time.”
I’m excited to see them in action and doing what they love because I know what it’s like. It’s nice to have people behind you that care about you.
May said her role as an academic advisor is not simply laying out a plan for what classes each student-athlete should take to stay on course for graduation.
“A lot of people might think that an academic advisor in athletics is an eligibility specialist, but that’s not it at all,” May said. “The bulk of the job is building relationships with student-athletes. That’s how you can find out what motivates different people.
“You have to have conversations about changing majors because a lot of young students are clueless when they come in, just like every other college student. So you try to help them learn to navigate that. You have to help freshmen transition in and realize it’s not the end of the world, and that the first semester is going to be difficult. You try to get them to a place where they know they can do it.”
May knows all about transitions in the athletics arena as well. She had just finished her first season with the Gamecocks when the coaching change was made, and Dawn Staley was named head coach. While the team struggled at first, she enjoyed seeing the progression each year while she was here and how far the program has come since then.
“I’m such a fan,” May said. “I travelled with the (Texas A&M) team here to play a game last year. I sat in the gym with about 17,000 other people to watch a women’s basketball game. When I played, we thought it was great if we had 1,200. It’s amazing to see all of the progress. What I appreciate about it the most is all of the work that goes into it. I’m aware of the hours the coaches put in. I’m aware of all the hours the student-athletes put in. I’m excited about it. I’ve got to go get my season tickets.”
Relationships with her teammates are among her best memories, and she is still close with many of them. Now she is looking forward to working with other sports and building relationships with current student-athletes.
“I’ve always been a volleyball fan,” May said. “I never could play, but I watched it. So this is an opportunity to learn about a lot of different sports. The best part about watching student-athletes in competition is the relationship I hope to have with them. I’m more excited about the person I know, rather than the game itself. I’m excited to see them in action and doing what they love because I know what it’s like. It’s nice to have people behind you that care about you.
“I also want to teach the students how this is a great opportunity. You can lose sight of that. You need to make sure you are capitalizing on relationships and grooming them.”
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