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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

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Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

Pitt athletics impresses professors with academic support

The+inside+of+the+student-athlete+academic+advising+center+at+the+University+of+Pittsburgh.
Brian Sherry | Contributing Editor
The inside of the student-athlete academic advising center at the University of Pittsburgh.

Earlier this month, Colorado head football coach Deion Sanders made waves on the internet for appearing in a viral video in which he scolded his team. Sanders wasn’t upset about his players’ performance on the field, but rather their performance off of it. The video, which ESPN reposted on April 9, depicts Sanders lecturing his team after a Colorado professor sent the second-year head coach a message describing some of the players’ failures in the classroom. 

Sanders’ message to his team demonstrates one thing about the current state of college athletics — academics still matter. Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals may have changed the game, allowing college athletes to profit from their status as public figures. But despite the power balance shifting in favor of athletes, academics remain at the heart of college sports. 

At Pitt, academic services for student-athletes continue to expand and improve. In 2019, Pitt finished renovating the Hilda M. Willis Academic Center in the Petersen Events Center, a state-of-the-art study and tutoring space for student-athletes. 

Associate director of academic support services for student-athletes Christina “Tilly” Sheets said advocating for athlete’s education is her number one concern and believes that other members of Pitt’s faculty also want to see these students thrive in the classroom. 

“From a faculty perspective, we’re on [the student-athletes’] side,” Sheets said. “We want [student-athletes] to go to class, and our ultimate goal is because we want them to earn their degrees.”

Sheets said Pitt operates its student-athlete advising program similarly to other Division One schools. But Sheets believes that Pitt stands out because of its holistic approach to mentoring athletes in the classroom. The Academic Support Service offers first-year and transfer athletes a semester-long non-credit course known as the Holistic Achievement, Integration and Learning (H.A.I.L.) to Pitt Program, which is designed to ease their transition to Pitt by teaching them general skills and study strategies to succeed in the classroom. 

“We kind of focus on making sure student-athletes understand the language of higher education,” Sheets said. “Because it is a huge learning curve, whether you are a [first-year] or a transfer. There’s a lot to learn.”

Some of the areas that the H.A.I.L to Pitt Program focuses on include teaching athletes how to navigate Canvas, register for classes, set goals and develop study plans. Sheets believes that these lessons enable student-athletes to focus on big-picture studying instead of the smaller details of academic life. 

“Just understanding the system makes navigating the system much more manageable,” Sheets said. “[The H.A.I.L. program focuses on] the kinds of things we feel like student-athletes get overwhelmed and bogged down with.”

And Pitt athletics’ academic support initiatives are receiving positive reviews from professors. Colin Williams, a professor in the English department, said he especially appreciates Pitt’s transparency when it comes to student-athletes. 

“I think Pitt does a good job with transparency,” Williams said. “I get an email for all of my student-athletes at the beginning of the semester that tries to anticipate dates that they’ll be out [for athletic events]. It’s really helpful because just knowing going into the semester … it’s reassuring to know there’s nothing wrong and that they are out trying to win games for Pitt.”

Williams also said his experience dealing with Pitt athletics as a professor is much easier than in his last job at the University of Florida, where he was a graduate assistant. 

“My experience [with student-athletes at Pitt] has been almost universally positive,” Williams said. “At Florida, I occasionally perceived this ‘laws don’t apply to us’ attitude around athletes, and I have not found that at Pitt … A lot of athletes have been, in some cases, more diligent about meeting deadlines because I know they have tutoring support on the athletic department side of things.”

Communications professor Meredith Guthrie also has positive experiences with the athletic department when it comes to teaching student-athletes. Guthrie said she developed a strong relationship with the Academic Support Service office and feels comfortable turning to them when an issue arises.

“I have a pretty close relationship with Academic Support Services over in the athletic department because I am an advisor and a professor,” Guthrie said. “So I know that if there is an issue, I can call or email them and say, ‘Hey, help me get this [athlete] to class.’ They are really great over there at making sure to emphasize the student in student-athlete.”

Still, as college athletics navigate the turbulent seas of change brought about by NIL and conference realignment, it is unknown how academics will adapt in response. Sheets said the Office of Academic Support Service has not made any changes in response to NIL. Williams, meanwhile, fears the repercussions of the ACC’s recent realignment, which is set to add Stanford, Cal-Berkley and SMU to the mostly East Coast conference. 

“Next year, the ACC is going to be traveling to Stanford, and they are going to be traveling to SMU, so I think that’s going to complicate things for me on the teaching side,” Williams said. “I expect that’s going to make everyone’s job in the athletic department a lot more complicated, a lot more travel intensive. So I’ll be curious to see what kinds of things they are doing proactively about that.”

About the Contributor
Brian Sherry, Sports Editor