The stars of the Rebel athletics programs are University of Mississippi students first and foremost. And for many of these student-athletes, intercollegiate athletics is their golden opportunity to obtain a college education.
Thanks to the dedication of staff at the FedEx Student-Athlete Academic Support Center, student-athletes can be just as successful in the classroom as they are in competition.
About 45 percent of the university's 376 student-athletes earn a 3.0 cumulative GPA or better every semester. At least 26 achieve a perfect 4.0.
"The FedEx Student-Athlete Success Center is a great place for student-athletes to strive in the classroom and on the field," said Abigail "Abbey" Stanec, a senior on the Ole Miss rifle team who has a 3.74 GPA as a biology major with a minor in chemistry. "I personally have benefited from the quiet study areas, tutoring services and academic counseling offered at FedEx, as well as the friendly staff that is always willing to assist you through life's challenges."
Ole Miss has more than 60 athletes graduating each year, and UM student-athletes have achieved better than a 75 percent graduation rate over the past three years. The Rebel football program is tied with Alabama among all SEC schools for highest number of graduates playing on the field this season.
The academic success of student-athletes is a major priority, said Derek Cowherd, UM senior associate athletics director for academic support, who credits campus wide devotion to helping them succeed.
"There is a direct correlation between some of the successes we've seen over the past year and how much of an emphasis we put on doing the little things in the classroom," Cowherd said. "Everyone is working together to give our students the best collegiate experience imaginable – from the chancellor to the provost to the deans, to the professors, down to the coaches, staff, groundskeepers, etc. We are all responsible for the success of our entire student population."
For help with the challenges of balancing athletic commitments with academic coursework, student-athletes can turn to the success center, which provides resources to help student-athletes remain competitive in the classroom.
"When it comes to academic support for student athletes, Ole Miss takes a back seat to no one," said Ronald Rychlak, professor of law, the Faculty Athletics Representative and chairman of the Athletics Committee. "Our FedEx Student-Athlete Academic Center is equipped with the latest technology, supported by a dedicated staff and filled with promise.
"The demands that we put on these young men and women are significant. The academic support staff provides tutoring, study hall supervision, class attendance monitoring and some of the most important guidance that these students will ever have."
Morris Stocks, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, also is "extremely proud of the academic commitment of Ole Miss student-athletes."
"These young men and women lead extraordinarily busy lives," he said. "In addition to their traditional academic course load, their lives are filled with training, practice, meetings and travel. They demonstrate exceptional discipline.
"Mr. Derek Cowherd directs a wonderful and experienced staff at the FedEx Student-Athlete Success Center. This group, along with our faculty, provides guidance and support. Our student-athletes are blessed to be a part of this wonderful academic enterprise, and we are blessed by their presence at our university."
When he's not scrambling for first downs, running back Jeff Scott, a senior majoring in general studies and minors in education, legal studies and psychology, takes full advantage of the center's services, including study hall and tutoring.
The academic support has kept Scott just as excited about his future as he is about the football season.
"These four years at Ole Miss have been great ones, not only because I was blessed with the opportunity to play football but also because I was blessed with the opportunity to work with even more amazing people who were determined to help me strive to my greatest potential academically," Scott said.
"They pushed me and, thanks to a lot to them, I made it to my senior year and will very soon have a degree from the University of Mississippi. Hotty Toddy!"
The FedEx Academic Support Center is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations by sending a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655 or visiting www.umfoundation.com/makeagift. To learn more about giving opportunities for academic student-athlete support, contact Sarah Hollis at (662) 915-1584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.