The Sports Faculty Liaison Program at Gustavus is a new program—so new that very few people have heard about it. The program intends to bridge the gap between student athletes and faculty members. Jeff Owen, Faculty Athletic Representative, and Kari Eckheart, Assistant Athletics Director for Student Athlete Services in Athletics and Assistant Director in Alcohol and Drug Education, will assign volunteer faculty members to the sport of their choice, and give them more opportunities to interact with student athletes.
“The program will try to get more connection between athletics and the faculty,” Owen said.
The interaction between the Faculty Liaison and the team could result in a variety of things besides attending games and competitions, depending on what the particular sports team and faculty liaison agree on.
“It could be attending a practice or a team meal, service projects, things like that,” Owen said.
The program hopes to give as many faculty members as they can the opportunity to get involved. The goal is to get professors that have athletes in class involved in the program, so they can see their students in a venue other than the classroom. The program will hopefully benefit both student athletes and faculty by shining a new light on Division III athletics.
“The goal is to get at least some of the faculty that aren’t necessarily that involved in athletics right now, so that they can learn more about it,” Owen said.
The faculty will not necessarily be learning about just the sport itself, but also why athletics are important to the student athletes. Since athletes put so much time into training for their sport, the program is designed to help the people in their lives see the value in it.
“You get a better understanding of how athletics is part of what they’re doing here on campus just as is music or all the other things that you can be involved in,” Eckheart said.
English and Film Studies professor, Sean Cobb is the Faculty Liaison for the men’s soccer team. Cobb has been attending the games and plans on interacting with the team in other ways as the season progresses. Specifically, Cobb uses social media to promote the soccer games or the successes of featured athletes. Cobb believes that although athletes at Gustavus will not go on to play professionally, the athletes should still be recognized for their accomplishments.
“On Facebook and Twitter, I include results or try to push people to go to the games or let people know about the score of games. If stories are written about individual athletes that I either know or advise or play soccer, I will repost things like that, and try to raise a visibility among non-athletes,” Cobb said.
Cobb, Eckheart, and Owen hope the program will give perspective to both the athletes and the faculty.
“Our goal is to let faculty know that athletics are important to them, it’s an important expression of their identity. It’s an important thing in their life, and it’s not antithetical to learning, it supplements it. But I can also help try to emphasize with the soccer students that academics are still the priority while they’re actually here,” Cobb said.
As a liberal arts college, Gustavus is home to many different types of students. Gustavus offers an abundance of different extracurricular activities for the students. Although students are involved in a variety of organizations and activities, the program strives to help them achieve a balance.
“We sometimes feel that it pulls away from academics too much, and that becomes the focus. Yet, we’re sympathetic of the idea of the well-rounded student,” Cobb said.
The hope is that the program will expand over the years and become not only an interaction between the team and the faculty liaison, but also an opportunity for more personal relationships between the individual athletes and their liaison to develop. Ideally, enough faculty members will be involved so that liaisons will be able to rotate among sports teams. Other schools in the MIAC already have faculty liaison programs, or are also just developing the program, such as Augsburg College.
“More schools are trying to tie in athletics with academics as well, we’re just kind of expanding on ideas that are already out there,” Eckheart said.
Cobb hopes to form a relationship with the individual athletes as the program continues to grow and develop. The faculty liaisons would be another advisor for the athletes to look to for advice and support, as well as someone who supports them in their life inside and outside of the classroom.
“I hope in the future I have a mentor role like I would for advisees, as someone that’s approachable that people could talk about school things with or also other socialization elements, and the whole emotional component of going to school,” Cobb said.
Being a liberal arts college, Gustavus strives to produce well-rounded students. The Faculty Liaison Program will help to create new perspectives for both the academic portion of the school and the student athletes. By bridging the gap, academics and athletics will work together to shape well-rounded liberal arts student athletes.