Athletic Director Tim Wills is on record as having said the academic enrichment program at Rend Lake College “is second to none in the college ranks.”
And that proclamation during last spring’s All-Sports Athletic Banquet was before Learning Enhancement Specialist Tara Sullivan and her support program moved from its cramped, one-room facility on the “outskirts” of the Ina campus to newly renovated digs in the center of student activity.
The expanded facility is not only easily accessible on the ground floor of the Academic Building, it is Student Friendly as well featuring: a quiet study room offering individual study carousels to help eliminate outside distractions; six computer stations, including two Internet-connected PCs for research; group tutoring tables and space for one-on-one tutoring/mentoring sessions; TV/VCR equipment to view telecourses or review speech video tapes, plus sign-in and waiting areas. Sullivan can oversee it all in an office surrounded by windows.
By definition, the Learning Enhancement Center is part of the ultra-successful Student Transfer and Retention Support (STARS) program and “is an extension of the college’s firm commitment to values of industriousness, honesty, respect and accountability.” It provides academic support and transition services to students in an environment conducive to learning. Tutors assist in core subject areas and workshops provide transition assistance.
Second to none in the college ranks? Some of the numbers are startling . . .
• Student-athletes, who comprise the largest number of participants, have posted composite grade-point averages of 3.0 and 3.1 (on a 4.0-point scale) the past two semesters, compared to 2.79 for all students.
• Different teams have earned top honors each of the last three years for both men and women. The Warrior baseball team earned a standing ovation at the athletic banquet two years ago for winning the award, with Men’s Basketball taking last spring’s distinction with its 3.03 GPA. The Women’s Tennis Team won in 2003 with its 3.53, followed by the Lady Warrior Softball squad in 2004 at 3.45.
• The Female Student-Athlete of the Year could not attend the most recent awards night. Carissa Hallam (Mt. Vernon) and her 3.94 GPA were competing in the college’s third straight National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Tennis National Championships last May.
• Male Student-Athlete of the Year designee Shane Garner (Sesser), a two-sport participant with a 3.71 GPA, later was named recipient of the prestigious Fornear Family Scholarship to cover his education the next two years at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
College personnel recognized student-athletes “already possess the attributes to make them successful in athletics,” noted STARS Director Julie Mumbower. “We’re trying to teach them how to transfer those skills to academics and achieve their short- and long-term college and career goals.”
“Certain groups, like athletes, can be mandated to attend academic tutoring sessions, but we encourage any student needing individualized support to attend. The Learning Enhancement Center really is for everyone,” Mumbower concluded.
According to Sullivan, who hopes the recent move will increase the number of non-athletes taking advantage of the opportunities available to them, every freshman student-athlete is required to spend a minimum of three hours per week in the Learning Enhancement Center.
Participation varies after that. Students with GPAs under 2.5 must continue three hours or more per week; those between 2.5 and 3.0 attend two hours weekly; those maintaining GPAs of 3.0 and higher are no longer required to attend but are still welcome.
“Time management is a big issue for all freshmen. We want to make sure they‘ve got that aspect of college life down, especially when you consider all the time they also have to spend practicing, traveling and playing with their respective teams.”
“That first semester also gives them a chance to get familiar with me,” continued Sullivan, the person responsible for helping student-athletes plan their schedules each semester, “and to find out about the services available to them.”
Student-athletes who are well-grounded academically typically utilize time spent in the Learning Enhancement Center doing independent study or assigned homework, “they might have me proofread a paper or they might help other students with their classes.”
More numbers to consider . . .
• STARS students – limited to 150 per year – are encouraged to attend. Ten intercollegiate sports teams boast another 165 possibilities, divided between freshmen and sophomores. Attendance is mandated for less than a dozen others on Financial Aid Probation. In less than two months after moving into the new facilities, a total of 170 students had logged 1,492 hours.
• The help team includes STARS Academic Specialist Jared Conner; STARS Counselor Glenn Box; 10 paid tutors, many of them part-time instructors; two paid student tutors, and others like Rend Lake College Controller and Part-Time Accounting Instructor Angie Kistner, who volunteers her time when schedule permits. Full-time RLC instructors like Mike Mullen (English), Jeannie Mitchell (Psychology), John Fisher (Chemistry) and others may be invited to lead study groups.
• Tutors are available at 8 a.m. and throughout the day five days per week, including the lunch hour. The LEC remains open until 8 p.m. Mondays, 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and offers study groups until 6 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday each month.
Sullivan calls the All-Sports Banquet “my favorite time of the year.” That is because she gets to publicly recognize those student-athletes who have benefitted most from the center.
She has introduced a “Student of the Month” recognition program, with nominations coming from faculty and staff. The year-end ceremony allows her to salute those with Improvement Awards for raising their classroom standards and freshmen for demonstrating “Academic Promise.”
“They are not all going to be 3.0-plus students. I really like the Improvement Award, because it let’s me recognize students who have worked hard to make strides as students,” Sullivan said.
Just before Spring Break, college officials learned the Women’s Volleyball team, coached by Rhonda Carlton, had merited honors as one of the NJCAA Fall Academic Teams of the Year thanks to its composite GPA of 3.27. Sullivan expects all four other Lady Warrior teams to gain similar status following the spring campaign – Basketball, Golf, Softball and Tennis.
Coaches, as much or more than anyone, appreciate the accomplishments of the Learning Enhancement program. “They let me be the boss (in terms of academic eligibility). It takes the responsibility off of them,” she said. “I have complete cooperation from each and every one of them, which makes my job a whole lot easier.”
Sullivan’s goal is “to have as many of the general student population in here as we do the student-athletes. Getting the word out this is the main resource for them to get help, too, is the key. The new location and facility are perfect. We are in a high-traffic area, and we are having more and more instructors bringing in their classes to show them the services we have available.”
A former student-athlete herself? “I was the most non-athletic person in the world,” laughs Sullivan, who was absorbed in drama, the arts and literature. “In the four years of this program, I have found out these kids are just like any other kids, and they have turned me into a real sports lover.”
“I love my job,” added Sullivan. “I get to see these kids succeed. They already know they can succeed on the court or the playing field, and they discover by working at it a little more they can be successful here (in the classroom), too. There are all kinds of success stories on every team.”
Some final numbers to ponder . . .
• Seven student-athletes posted perfect 4.0 GPAs in the fall, with cager Kyla Parker (Marion), and softball player April Gibson (Tilden / Sparta) maintaining cumulative 4.0 stats after three semesters. Over half – 89 students, 54% – claimed fall GPAs above 3.0, and 79% rate a 2.5 or better.
• All eight members of Coach Diane Metzger’s Tennis program boasted fall GPAs of well-above 3.0, with freshman Lisa Parker (Centralia) and sophomore Sarah Dixon (Benton) showing the way with 4.0s and the team average at 3.62 (3.52 cumulative).
• A total of 31 student-athletes earned their way on to the President or Vice President academic honors lists for GPAs of 3.5 and above.
• Graduation rates for Rend Lake College sophomore student-athletes has been between 72%-80% since the inception of the Learning Enhancement Center in the 2001-02 academic year. The rate was 41% the spring prior to that. Enough said?