When Björn Michaelsen came to Ryerson four years ago, he felt a bit lost.
Moving to Toronto to study mechanical engineering, the Montreal native and Ryerson Rams basketball player admits that it was challenging for him to find a balance between sports and academics.
“I know when I came in, there were not as many varsity athletes in engineering,” he said. “It took me a while to feel comfortable in the program and really know where everything (was). But having someone in my program (to) lead me could have definitely helped.”
But whereas Michaelsen couldn’t receive the help that he needed, life as a student-athlete is now easier for incoming Ryerson Rams through mentoring programs and a set study space in the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).
Michaelsen, now an academic mentor, transfers what he wishes he had when he first came to Ryerson by meeting weekly with first years and struggling student-athletes to help them learn time management skills so they can organize their academics with their athletic schedules. All first-year athletes must attend at least two hours of study hall each week in order to play games. Athletes in other years must retain a 2.67 GPA or they will have to attend study hall as well.
Michaelsen is part of a growing academic success program set up by Ryerson’s athletics department in 2010 to help student-athletes succeed in their studies and develop leadership skills. Along with mentoring and study hall, there are also workshops and courses offered that teaches students things like navigating RAMMS and how to write a proper thesis statement.
According to Lauren Wilson, academic services co-ordinator for Ryerson Athletics, the implementation of mentors and study hall was inspired by American universities who are part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). And since the start of these programs four years ago, she says she’s noticed improvements among the students.
Wilson, whose job is to oversee how well each Ryerson Ram is doing in school, says that the implementation of these programs have been greatly helped by the MAC.
Wilson says when the study hall was in Kerr Hall, students found the noisy heating systems in the building a distraction and not a great environment to get work completed.
But as the MAC now serves as a base for Ryerson’s athletics department, she says that she has noticed a significant change in the attitudes of the students because of the better facilities. Since then, the overall GPA of the student athletes has jumped from 2.52 in 2009 to 2.81 in 2013. In addition, 19 student-athletes were awarded with Academic All-Canadian titles last year for retaining an average of 80 per cent during the school year.
“I’m always shocked at how many athletes use our study hall room that aren’t required to be there,” Wilson said. “And I think it shows how valuable study space is for the athletes right by their training facility and how it helps them fit times in to study.”
Annie Sokoloff, who plays on the women’s basketball team, agrees, saying that having a space at the MAC has helped her and her mentees organize studying time better.
“Study hall at the MAC is a central location that all the athletes know is for strictly studying or where they can find academic assistance,” she said. “The room is always busy with athletes studying and having a room dedicated to just that has definitely benefitted our teams.”
But with a central studying location, also comes with a better sense of community.
Sokoloff says that being a mentor has also allowed her to become closer with athletes on different teams.
“Some of my mentees are actually soccer kids,” she said. “And I think it creates more of a community because I don’t see the soccer kids all the time because their season is opposite from mine.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 26, 2014.