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By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Academic advisor Jim Weaver has a shelf in his office lined with trophies and plaques commemorating the great athletic success his teams have enjoyed over the years.
Front and center on the top of that shelf sits the women’s soccer 2015 National Championship ring, framed in a glass case.
No, Weaver wasn’t on the team roster or the coaching staff for that historical season, but he was just as much a part of that team as Rocky Rodriguez or head coach Erica Dambach. Ask anyone on the team.
“Let’s just say I would not be graduating this December without Jim Weaver,” senior Frannie Crouse said. “Through and through he’s a savior with our classes, our scheduling and our soccer schedule. He’s always there on the phone or email, and he never lets you down.”
As a matter of fact, ask anyone who has ever donned a women’s soccer uniform at Penn State over the years. Weaver was the academic advisor for every single one of them. He also works with the men’s and women’s volleyball teams and the men’s lacrosse team at Penn State.
Weaver began his tenure at Penn State in 1993, a year before the women’s soccer program was born. He’s the only staff member who has been with the team for all 24 years.
“There’s a lot of programs out there that have academic advisors, but he’s different,” Dambach said. “He’s different in his ownership, he’s different in his accountability, and he’s different in his desires to drive them to be their best.”
Weaver’s relationship with the players begins before they even enroll. He’s a stop on nearly every recruiting trip for high school prospects, and he gets started transferring high school credits and building schedules the second they arrive on campus.
He first makes sure every incoming player receives eligible credits from high school classes, then meets with them to plan their first semester. This step is crucial for some freshman, like former player Emily Hurd, who was on the team from 2010-2014.
Hurd came to Penn State with the possibility of earning 35 college credits before she even sat in a Penn State classroom. Weaver made sure of that, and Hurd began her quest for an early degree as a second semester sophomore based on academic credits.
Because of the jump start, Hurd was able to earn an undergraduate degree in communication arts and sciences in three years and a graduate masters degree in higher education administration in a year and a half. Hurd said all the credit goes to Weaver.
“Jim’s so good at reading people and knowing what makes people tick and being able to find passions in people by having meaningful conversations, so he was able to lead me toward the direction of communications,” Hurd said.
Weaver inspired Hurd to pursue a career similar to his. Hurd now works at James Madison University with the Duke Club, which is similar to the Nittany Lion Club at Penn State.
She said in the future she wants to work with a college athletic program as an advisor, just like Weaver.
Hurd’s story exemplifies why Weaver loves his job. He said the most rewarding part of his career is being able to help a student-athlete realize their passion and grow to thrive in that field.
Just recently Weaver helped a women’s volleyball player land a work study with a Penn State librarian. She enjoyed it so much she might pursue a master’s degree in library studies or a similar field.
“Helping people accomplish their goals is what it’s all about,” Weaver said. “The beautiful thing here is we got some people with some serious goals. Half the time I have to tell them to settle down and take it slow.”
Weaver’s everyday duties go far beyond just helping with scheduling and finding student-athletes’ passions, though.
He hosts study halls for players, teaches a first year seminar course, proctors exams for players on the road, and makes sure a team’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) is where it needs to be.
APR is an NCAA standard that holds institutions responsible for progressing student-athletes in the classroom. Weaver’s job is to help ensure every player is academically eligible each semester and that the team keeps above a 0.925 APR.
Throughout his career, the teams he oversees have consistently outperformed the NCAA standard. Even the 2015 championship team, which was on the road all semester, earned a 3.49 average GPA.
“Women’s soccer is the epitome of what this is all about as far as success in the classroom, success on the field, and good citizens and members of the community,” Weaver said. “The staff—coach Dambach in particular—makes my job very easy. They set the tone.”
Weaver and Dambach work closely with both the academic and athletic pieces of the players’ lives. Dambach constantly checks with Weaver about getting players tutors and making sure they’re all going to class.
Weaver also sits on the sidelines for every game. He said their ability to merge the two worlds of a student-athlete makes them so successful both in the classroom and on the field.
Weaver’s relationship with players goes beyond the classroom and the playing field, however. Dambach said he’s a genuine friend to the team before anything else.
“He is not just an academic advisor,” Dambach said. “He is their mentor, their teacher, their friend, their coach. His ownership is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the world of academia before.”
Junior Charlotte Williams said Weaver cares about each and every player as the person they are, not just the student or the soccer player.
“Jim has been huge, not only with our academic success, but he cares about all of us on a personal level, which is really nice to have,” Williams said. “He allows our schedules to work the way they do, especially with travel and everything so he’s been super helpful.”
Hurd still maintains her friendship with Weaver, even though she rarely gets to visit State College. When she came back for a recent Penn State football game, she said Weaver was one of the first calls she made.
“He builds relationships that are lifelong. He’s not just a student academic advisor. He’s a person in your life that becomes so important to you,” Hurd said.
Weaver has different approaches for every student-athlete he works with, but his resounding goal with all of them is to make sure they’re ready to take on the world after soccer.
He’s been a large part of the high graduation rates for Penn state athletics in recent years, most notably the 89 percent rate last year, but he says that’s just part of his job.
“I want two things when you’re done,” Weaver said. “I want you to not want to leave because that means you just loved it here, but I want you to be prepared to go.”