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SCIENCE OF LEARNING
STUDENT-ATHLETES ARE STUDENTS FIRST
by Tony Phifer
Albert Bimper is the first to admit that he had no clue about what it took to succeed in college when he first arrived in 2001 to play football at Colorado State University.
His father was born in Ghana and didn’t attend college, and his American-born mother dropped out of school in ninth grade, so he had no family background in higher education. And yet, Bimper graduated with his bachelor’s in health and exercise science in 2006, following a stellar playing career for the Rams, and now holds a Ph.D.
“I was a decent high school student, but nothing special,” he said. “I had never even given much thought to going to college because it just wasn’t talked about in my house. My mom had no concept of what college was – she had no concept of what it was like. Until CSU came through with a scholarship offer, there was no way I was going to be able to afford college.”
Bimper said he learned to love education while at CSU. He succeeded because he worked hard – but also because CSU provided him with the tools necessary to succeed, including tutors and academic counselors.
“The stereotype of athletes is that there’s no way they will make it to graduation because they aren’t bright – or that there’s no way they should fail because of the resources available to them,” he said. “But the fact is that learning is affected by a number of things, including intelligence, social factors, and environmental factors. If we learn more about how those factors impact student-athletes we can more effectively prepare them for the challenges they’ll face in college – and beyond.”
MORE TO LEARN ABOUT LEARNING
Bimper, who has a dual role at CSU as senior associate athletics director for diversity and inclusion and assistant professor of ethnic studies, is convinced there is much to be learned about the learning process. Student-athletes, who come from nearly every imaginable ethnic, socioeconomic, academic, and geographic background, are an ideal group to study.
“We’re a land-grant, research institution, so why not get athletics involved in researching the learning process – especially when what we learn will help all students?” he said. “We’re trying to understand the science of learning. We want to help our students find academic success.”
Perhaps the most innovative aspect of this approach is CSU’s commitment to making student-athletes feel like part of the overall student body. They go through Ram Welcome with other students when they first arrive, for example, and are encouraged to join the many learning communities on campus.
Also unique to CSU is the fact that academic counselors in athletics report to the Office of the Provost and to Blanche Hughes, vice president for student affairs.
“One of our big goals is make sure our student-athletes are fully integrated into campus. After all, they should be students first,” said Sara Ray, director of student-athlete support services and a former college volleyball player. “I think it’s a selling point for us – parents love to hear that their child won’t be siloed and viewed only as an athlete. We totally integrate our student-athletes with their peers and let them know they should value and explore that other side of themselves.”
“When I was in school, we had tutors and an academic coordinator – which was great – but we’ve learned so much since then,” Bimper said. “Now, we are much more strategic and purposeful with student-athletes’ time. I love what we have going on here.”