Monarch Insider #14- Academic Advisor-April Brecht
Dec. 12, 2010
Monarch Insider #14 - Academic Adviser April Brecht
After their on-court examinations, the Monarchs face actual examinations
Brendan O'Hallarn Monarch Basketball Insider
The ODU Monarchs have just finished a thorough examination of their basketball progress, playing five games in 11 days. The Monarchs passed with excellent grades, earning four good wins.
Now, it's time for the players' actual examinations. Remember how nervous you used to get before exam week at school? Imagine if the two weeks before exams included five basketball games, two trips out of state, 12 practices and six weightlifting sessions. Oh, and end-of-semester assignments to tackle at the same time.
The ODU men's basketball team takes everything it does seriously. And that includes making sure its players perform in the classroom, as well as on the court. The players work hard at their studies, but they're also fortunate that the Athletic Academic Services office is there to help.
Director April Brecht feels like she "has 400 children sometimes" in her job of keeping ODU's student athletes on a good academic path. It helps her office tremendously that all of ODU's teams take academics seriously. "And I think that's from many facets, from administration, down to the coaches. We see that the coaches emphasize it. And I think there's even more public light on academics today than there used to be," Brecht said.
Brecht got her start in the academic advising field as a tutor while doing her undergraduate degree in education at ODU. Starting with part-time work, Brecht continued to work at ODU right through earning her master's degree in Education. She's done academic advising for the Athletic Department since 1998.
One of the teams she's assigned to is men's basketball. Brecht loves working with the Monarch hoopsters because head coach Blaine Taylor is so serious about grades. An Academic All-American in his playing days at the University of Montana, Taylor takes as much pride in his team's graduation rate as he does in its playing prowess.
"Because he is so serious about academics, it is a high priority," Brecht said. "A lot of attention goes to academics. At the beginning of the year they write their academic goals, and they stay on their white board throughout the year. It's not just the x's and o's. They give me a copy of those goals that they made, too."
Brecht does everything from advising students which courses to take to meet degree requirements and not conflict with practice, to traveling with the team on longer trips, including the recent Paradise Jam in the United States Virgin Islands.
Don't think Brecht had a decadent time in the Caribbean. "On that particular trip, she was busy from dawn until dark," Taylor said. "The kids missed a week of school, and so there was preparation for that, tests to take before we left. Combine that with what April did down there; the difficulty of a phone call costing $1.99 a minute; trying to get Internet access. She had quite a bit to deal with."
Brecht said student athletes are like any group. Some are a little more motivated in the classroom. Others take a bit more prompting.
"The nitty gritty really happens with those students that we have to keep an eye on," Brecht said. "Most student athletes are doing what they need to do, getting good grades, and they don't need that attention. But with other students, it's reminders, tutoring. We'll meet with some students on a weekly basis, ask them if they're getting their assignments done, what grades they're getting. We'll have them pull up (online resource) Blackboard and check their grades right there.
"It's a time management challenge. The one thing that is difficult to get students to understand is that all of a sudden they're in class for only 15 hours a week. I try to get them to understand that that's independent work, and they have to make that transition to working on their own."
Each ODU team has an assistant coach assigned to monitor the team's academic progress. With the Monarchs basketball team, it's new assistant coach Lonnie Blow. Blow was really impressed when he saw what the men's team had already, in terms of academic support.
"They have an outstanding system in place to make sure the kids are on top of their academics," Blow said. "When I came here they put me in charge of that part, and I looked at what they were doing and thought, "Wow, they're really doing things right."
Forward Chris Cooper -- like a lot of college students, athlete or otherwise - got a wakeup call when he started classes at ODU the summer before his freshman year. "At one point, I was really struggling," Cooper said, shaking his head at the memory. Now, he makes full use of what Athletic Academic Services provides. "I've been trying to focus real hard on trying to get my grades back on track," Cooper said. "April and her office are a lot of help. They get you focused on what's important besides basketball, get you focused on your school."
For Brecht, those are the satisfying moments - when the light bulb goes off above a student-athlete's head. "From the day they get here, I love seeing them develop and want them to succeed, and be there for them," she said. "It's not just academics. They have an open door here, they can come in and ask about anything."