It is no secret that student-athletes at USC are in a unique position during their time on campus. Along with working towards obtaining a degree, they are also representing the university in a different way.
In addition to attending practices, games and workouts, they are still expected to go to class, complete homework and study, regardless of the existing stereotype surrounding student-athletes.
This past semester, they did just that, while also making school history in the classroom.
Following the conclusion of the fall 2018 semester, the University of South Carolina Athletics Department achieved a departmental GPA of 3.335, which is the department's highest GPA in school history. In addition, it was the 24th consecutive semester where the departmental GPA was above a 3.0.
The student-athletes' work in the classroom paid off with help from a system in place by Maria Hickman, the senior associate athletic director for academics and student development.
“Within the athletic department ... I oversee a staff of about 25. That includes GAs and interns,” Hickman said. “We are basically secondary advisers to advisers on campus within majors, but we provide resources for our student-athletes to ensure that they're on track to graduate, getting tutoring, study hall ... I oversee all that.”
So that the student-athletes receive the necessary resources to succeed in the classroom, all of their academic needs can be found in the Dodie Academic Enrichment Center, located in the Roost Athletics Village on the south end of campus.
“Student-athletes can receive advising, like I said, so class selection, making sure that classes don’t conflict with practice and travel, that kind of stuff,” Hickman said. “We also have resources as far as tutoring, so if they need a tutor, they can come here. We have three computer labs with over 100 computers.”
In addition, student-athletes can get calculators for their math courses from the Dodie to use throughout the semester. They can also print for free at any of the computer labs.
To help the student-athletes who are new to campus, Hickman and the athletic department have a system set in place to help students maintain their grades and start off on the right foot so that they can stay on track to graduate.
“All freshmen and all transfers have study hall their entire first academic year, so meaning two semesters,” Hickman said.
This is a requirement for all new student-athletes across all 19 sports teams at the University of South Carolina. By doing this, Hickman can see how these new students, who are most likely living away from home for the first time, learn and how she and the rest of her staff can help them succeed.
“[We] make sure that they’re getting all of the necessary attention that they need,” Hickman said. “Sometimes they think they don’t need help and they actually do and won't ask. But if they’re in that setting, then it’s mandatory. They can’t fight it.”
With the busy lives of the student-athletes, it can be difficult to balance everything that happens on any given day.
However, Hickman and the staff at the Dodie do everything they can to make student-athletes have a premiere experience in the classroom, just as any “normal” college student would, which includes being disciplined with all of their studies.
“We try to make our students be just like students on campus, to be independent. So they are talking to professors about missing class. If there’s an issue, then we jump in," Hickman said. "But it’s really the student being proactive. It’s really the student going to office hours. A lot of our students, they really do utilize that.”
In addition to the endless resources for student-athletes in the classroom, the Dodie is also a place for student development, including counseling and mental health coaches, truly making the Dodie the base for the academic success of student-athletes on campus.
“The student development side is a big portion. We do several different seminars to prepare them for life after [college],” Hickman said. “Community service is housed in this building, we have free psychology ... we have mental health coaches, there’s a cafeteria in here. It’s a one-stop shop, really.”
With everything Hickman has done to help student-athletes post a record high GPA this past fall, she gives it all to her staff who, at the end of the day, are the ones who make the difference.
“I think it’s the staff,” Hickman said. “A lot of places have these nice buildings now just for their student-athletes ... but the thing that makes us different is our staff ... you have a staff who truly cares about them as a person, and not just trying to get them to pass a class, and not just try to get them to be successful in their sport.”