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FEATURE: Reflecting on the Academic Achievements in 2013-`14

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Ninety-six student-athletes are slated to earn a degree this weekend.

May 10, 2014

By Astrid Diaz, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Excellence, resiliency, and stress are at an all-time high around campus as the 2013-'14 school year ends and graduation is upon the University Park campus.

This weekend Penn State will award more than 13,000 diplomas to well-deserving students who have spent countless hours in libraries and classrooms working towards the very glorious moment when they can cross the finish line of their undergraduate careers.

Among the sea of future alumni nearly 100 Penn State student-athletes who are facing the final moments of their collegiate careers and, for some, their athletic careers as well.

However, at graduation, this year's student-athletes can walk across the stage with peace of mind that they performed exceptionally well on the field. In 2013-'14 they brought home numerous All-American distinctions, five Big Ten Championships, and three national titles, among others.

However, Penn State student-athletes, almost all 800 of them that make up 31-varsity teams, have made history off the field as well.

A record 468 Penn State student-athletes earned a grade point average of 3.0 or better in the fall semester. In the last month, the Big Ten Conference recognized a total of 149 athletes as Academic All-Big Ten and the Student-Athlete Advisory Board recognized 387 student-athletes with achievement awards at the 27th Annual Academic Achievement Awards Banquet.

Academic honors are no easy feat and they do not come without the hard work and dedication of the student-athletes, and the faculty and staff that work countless hours to ensure a great academic experience.

The Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes is one of the top academic support programs in the country. It provides Penn State student-athletes with means to be a successful student while upholding the responsibilities of a Division I athletic program.

Russell Mushinsky is the director of the Morgan Center. He, along with a host of staff members, work diligently to ensure Penn State is among the nation's elite athletic programs in the classroom. The caliber of achievement begins the moment student-athletes enter the Division I world that is Penn State Athletics.

"If we are simply having students being eligible, they aren't having a good educational experience. One of the things we felt was really important is to make sure that we gave them support to have a good educational experience," said Sue Sherburne, associate director with the Morgan Center. "We offer opportunities to [student-athletes] before they even walk in the door that carry literally through after graduation."

First-year students are required to take a first-year seminar designed specifically for student-athletes where they discuss all things that contribute to leadership, personal development, community outreach, and career development.

"It's [about] coping with college. [We talk about] things like eligibility that other students don't have to deal with. We do a big career component in that too because we feel that that starts early and it's important to get them grounded as they move forward," said Sherburne.

Many student-athletes that come to a Division I program have worked their entire lives to be great enough to achieve this level. Some were faced with difficulties and competition and others were not. The fact, though, is that the moment that they step on campus, the competition will be waiting for them.

"It's really important that [student-athletes] have some support around them. The idea of this program is that that's holistic," said Sherburne. "If your identity is housed solely within your sport and it's not going well, there's a possibility that everything else can fall apart."

The Morgan Center supports student-athletes more than just in their first year. They continuously provide tutors and mentors; they have meetings with the students, often, where they discuss their grades and their progress; and they work closely with the coaches and the coaching staff that takes the academic success of their players very seriously.

And when the time comes for student-athletes to say their final good-byes to Penn State and their athletic careers, the Morgan Center is there to help them find a bright future.

"We work with the Career Athlete Network, we offer opportunities for internships and shadowing programs, and we have a networking event and an etiquette dinners," said Sherburne.

The Morgan Center also helps build student-athletes build resumes, and they provide courses and counseling sessions about life post-athletics.

Everyone hopes that Penn State student-athletes fulfill every personal goal they have set. Whether they spend days in the classroom working towards multiple degrees or spend hours in the gym working towards a post-collegiate professional career, student-athletes know that there are support outlets every step of the way.

With graduation here this weekend, the Morgan Center prepares to say goodbye to some of the greatest student-athletes this university has ever seen, but it also looks forward to beginning a new era with a new class of first-year students this summer and fall.

For now, though, it is a weekend to bid farewell and celebrate the graduation of 96 student-athletes from 25 different Penn State teams.


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