In his first year, Rams hockey player Jason McDunough was put on academic probation. McDunough joined the Academic Success course not because he wanted to, but because he had to: in order to continue playing on the hockey team, he needed to get off probation. He was paired with a mentor and spent extra time in the study hall each month.
“It was hard work, I’m not gonna lie,” said McDunough. “But I love playing so I obviously knew I had to put in the extra work if I wanted to stay on the team. It paid off.” McDunough, in his third year, now maintains a 3.0 GPA.
Ryerson’s varsity athletes commit around 40 hours every week to their sport, about the same as the average employee spends per week at work.
On top of that, they’re full-time students, and need to have a GPA of at least 2.67 if they want to continue playing.
For some student athletes, this means a constant struggle between grades and games, trying to make points on their GPA as well as on the boxscore. It is not easy, but Ryerson is trying to help.
In 2009, Ryerson’s athletic director Ivan Joseph introduced the student athlete academic success program. The program was put in place to ensure that student athletes receive the same quality education as non-athletes.
The program uses a multidimensional approach to teaching student athletes the skills they need to juggle both school and their sport.
“We’ve put these systems in place because we believe that because of the stress and the load that’s on student athletes … that they need a support system in order to make sure that they can excel,” said Joseph.
He said that the program is more strict than other schools’ policies, but since raising the standard, Ryerson’s varsity athletes have raised theirs, too.
“The NCAA has a minimum of 2.0. If you maintain your 2.0, you’re eligible. But by the time (student athletes) get to be juniors and seniors they realize there’s life after undergrad,” said Joseph. He decided to raise the GPA requirement to 2.25, then 2.50, and now 2.67, to give athletes options after graduation.
Ryerson’s academic services co-ordinator, Lauren Wilson, said that the program has exceeded expectations.
“When the academic sport program originally started, the basis of it was to assist student athletes in finding support on campus,” she said. “From there, it’s grown.”
In addition to study hall, the program offers an academic success course; a workshop-based class that is mandatory for “at risk” student athletes; a first-year course that teaches new students how to navigate Ryerson’s website; and an academic mentorship program, where new student athletes are paired with upper-year students who provide support and guidance.
Time management, academic goal setting and transitioning into university life are the three focuses of the program.
The point is to help student athletes make the necessary adjustments to settle into their new lives.
Student athletes in their first year must complete two hours of study hall, regardless of their academic standing, but upper year students’ study hall requirements change based on what their GPA is.
Ryerson student Frank Carbonero has been a mentor in the program for three years.
“To be able to help and guide other students has been really rewarding,” he said. “I’ve been paired with some great people.”
A former member of the men’s hockey team, Carbonero understands the discipline needed to balance both school and sports.
“I see the first years and I’ve been in their shoes, so I think I can give them good advice and let them know what to expect,” he said.
Since the student athlete academic success program was implemented, the average GPA of Ryerson’s varsity athletes has increased from 2.52 to 2.81.
However, Wilson said that is not the biggest change.
In the past, Ryerson lost many varsity athletes because they were unable to meet academic qualifications. Now, Wilson said, the university loses only one or two athletes per year.
“We’re now able to track difficulties by having them meet with somebody every week,” she said.
“So we can see when someone is starting to struggle and we can provide the proper intervention to help them moving forward.”
Despite the program’s multiple components, Joseph insists that it still has room to grow.
“It’s not just about creating academic people or varsity all-Canadians,” Joseph said. “It’s to make sure that everybody that comes through our program feels like they’ve gotten tremendous value out of their experience, from both an educational and a co-curricular perspective.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on February 12, 2014.