Scholar-Athletes Share Secrets to Success

According to the athletics department, NYU-Poly undergraduate student-athletes posted two-tenths higher average GPAs last fall than their non-athlete peers. While not a startling difference, it does beg the question: How do athletes manage demanding coursework with equally demanding practice and game schedules? We caught up with a few to find out.

Just Do It

Kyle Hicks, a senior in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department had a GPA of 3.91 last fall. He joined the men’s cross-country team his first year at NYU-Poly, and in 2008 he nearly won the sport’s championship race. Throughout that time Hicks has participated in the school’s Honors Program and today presides over the student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineering. “My studies have always taken priority,” he says.

Actions speak louder than words with NYU-Poly’s athletes, however, as they demonstrate repeated dedication to their studies. “She always participates. She always does the homework,” says sophomore and tutor Oscar Mendez, describing first-year student Corine Fitzgibbons, a member of the women’s softball team. “She puts aside time to really focus.”

One hour every Friday he tutors Fitzgibbons, who spends another hour on Tuesdays with tutor Aditya Ranjan. “She has always come prepared to the sessions, even when she has practice right before,” writes Ranjan in an email.

But tutors are just one of many resources NYU-Poly’s athletics department encourages. Recently it instituted a program that requires all first-year athletes to provide progress reports from their professors. The reports allow the department to assess which students need assistance. “The support system is growing,” says Maureen Braziel, head of athletics. “We’re doing more and more, especially as Poly levels itself out with NYU.”

Fitzgibbons isn’t required to seek tutoring, though. (Last fall her GPA stood at 3.94.) The one-on-one study sessions are simply another tool to help her excel, even as they add to her busy schedule: besides classes, she attends practice five days a week at 6:45 a.m. “In order to be an athlete, you have to work very hard,” she explains. “Practices are tough. Working out is tough. I just carry that attitude over to my classes.”

Managing time and sleep

Determination only goes so far in sports, though. “You need great time management skills,” adds Luciano Medina, an alumnus who now teaches at NYU-Poly and coaches its cross-country team. He should know: Medina did judo and ran cross-country in his NYU-Poly days and well understands the self-discipline of student-athletes.

He did poorly his first two years in school before turning his performance around, he says. Every day Medina began showing up at the library at 8 am, often the first to arrive. “I make a comparison: if I made it, you can as well,” he says when trying to motivate his team.

But Hicks already understands that lesson. “If you want to be successful, you need to deliberately plan so you maximize the time you have,” he says, offering suggestions: “When it’s time to study, concentrate intensely on studying. Don’t have anything else going on — don’t have the TV on, close the computer. When the work is done, you can do other things.”

Sleep, for example. It’s what freshman Uriel Moreira advises. “The stereotypical college kid goes overnight on coffee and energy drinks to finish projects. Start earlier. Do a little every day,” he says.

Time management and getting enough sleep aren’t strategies reserved for student-athletes, of course, and neither is intellect, which Moreira dismisses. A provocateur, he insists, “I don’t think being smart plays a role. It might reduce the amount of time you have to study, but I’m a great believer of ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’” His classmates may consider taking up his challenge.