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Enhancing Student-Athletes’ Equilibrium: Mercer Life Skills Courses

Mercer University student-athletes engage in volunteer work at Habitat for Humanity as part of their life skills curriculum.

In an effort to assist Mercer University student-athletes in acclimating to college life and fostering community connections, a distinctive pair of courses has been established.

Initiated in the early 2000s, the University introduced two life skills classes, incorporating a service-learning segment in 2016, according to Delaney Ryan, the director of student-athlete support services. These two courses are mandatory for all first-year student-athletes, with each course typically accommodating 120-140 students. Additionally, transfer students may opt to take the second course to fulfill their service-learning obligations.

During the fall semester, the focus lies on the college transition and the student-athlete experience, covering essential topics such as time management, study techniques, mental well-being, effective communication with professors, eligibility and compliance, as well as regulations regarding name, image, and likeness.

Addressing the distinctive challenges encountered by student-athletes, Lauren Shinholster, the associate director of engaged learning, emphasized the course’s role in assisting them in effectively managing their responsibilities.

Freshman Fiona Tanis, a member of the women’s lacrosse team, shared her insights on balancing athletic and academic commitments, highlighting the valuable life skills acquired through the program.

Kaleb Frost, a sophomore majoring in elementary education and a football team member, acknowledged the course’s impact on enhancing his time management skills and decision-making abilities regarding extracurricular engagements.

Ashlee Locke, a junior student-athlete pursuing a double major in kinesiology and sociology while being part of the women’s basketball team, credited the course for aiding her academic and athletic achievements.

In the subsequent semester, the course shifts its focus to the student-athlete’s public image and community engagement. The incorporation of a service-learning component has facilitated students in fulfilling their experiential learning requirements amidst their demanding practice and game schedules.

The service opportunities provided include tutoring programs at local schools, such as the United Way’s Read 2 Succeed initiative, where students like Frost and Tanis have actively contributed, enhancing their communication skills and community awareness.

Moreover, student-athletes have the option to support initiatives like Mercer Votes or collaborate with community partners like Brookdale Resource Center, animal shelters, and Backpack Buddies, fostering a culture of giving back.

The program’s impact extends beyond the classroom, with student-athletes like Locke volunteering at Brookdale, underscoring the significance of community service and the positive influence it imparts.

The service-learning experience not only cultivates leadership skills but also instills a sense of responsibility and empathy among students, encouraging continued community engagement post-course completion.

The innovative approach of Mercer’s life skills program has garnered recognition at both national and regional levels, positioning it as a model for other institutions to emulate, with a vision for further expansion and enhancement in the future.