Because his studies are as important to him as his sport, soccer player Djibril Niang recently honored Professor Catherine McCabe for “her teaching style, her experience, her energy, her knowledge. “

Balancing athletics and academics is hard work, yet Suffolk Rams student-athletes have maintained an overall grade point average of 3.1 over the past five years. Niang was one of 18 student-athletes honoring those who have made a significant impact on their Suffolk academic experience during the Athletics Department’s first Academic Integration program in March.

Niang said that McCabe, chair of the Marketing Department, “also helped me find my way in terms of a future career, and she would always understand the implications of being a student athlete.”

McCabe, who as a Division II college basketball player has faced the rigors of a competitive athletics program and rigorous academics, said that, in her 19 years of college teaching, this is her first experience with a program that focuses on integrating academics and sports.

“My passion for teaching is grounded in many experiences; my experience as a college student-athlete is one of the most influential,” said McCabe.

Performing in multiple arenas

Said Biology Professor Eric Dewar, another honoree: “This program indicates what we value at Suffolk—students who bring a lot of themselves to the classroom and who are willing to dedicate to all the goals that they set for themselves.”

Dewar, a self-described “band nerd” at first thought there was a mistake when he received notice of the award after he was selected by basketball player Jennifer Ruys,

“After I thought about it, I found a lot of things that athletes and musicians have in common. The most important of these is recognizing the balancing act that comes from wanting to perform at a high level while still being successful in the classroom,” said Dewar.

Support and commitment

Dewar’s name was the first that popped into Ruys’ head when she was asked who made her experience as a Suffolk student-athlete great.

“It is very important and meaningful to us when we have a professor who is supportive of our athletic endeavors and understands the commitment we make to being both a student and an athlete,” said Ruys, a senior Biology major. “Dr. Dewar goes above and beyond for his students. Not only have I gotten so much out of each of his classes, but he also has been an incredible adviser.”

Dewar values the perspective that athletes like Ruys bring to the classroom. He recalls showing his anatomy and physiology class a video of an NCAA athlete suffering a leg fracture as an opportunity to talk about compound fractures.

“That day Jen really brought a lot to the table by sharing the perspective and motivations of an NCAA basketball player,” said Dewar. “I don't think that our class would have been able to understand the connection between decisions about a player's health and the emotional pull of high-level performance without her in the group. The fact that she could also talk knowledgeably about the science of the situation made it even better.”

Motivated by example

The admiration is mutual, with Ruys saying that Dewar “is very fair and always available for extra help. You can almost always find him in the anatomy lab helping his students. He is constantly looking for new ways to engage and better teach. As a student, when you see how much effort the professor puts into each class it motivates you to match that effort.”

In McCabe’s experience, the expectations of her coaches and professors sometimes clashed.

“Yet, there were those professors that understood the commitment I had to my team and actually appreciated and supported the team,” she said. “I wish I had the opportunity to thank those individuals in the same way our Suffolk athletes acknowledged us in what was a truly rewarding ceremony.”

The ultimate compliment

“Professor McCabe is the only professor I took more than one class with, and to be honest I would take all my courses with her,” said Niang, a marketing major with a concentration in sports marketing and a minor in management, who will graduate in fall 2014.

“What I like about professor McCabe teaching style is that she will build the class in a way that always creates a friendly environment, allowing student to freely express their ideas and learn a lot from each other through presentations and in class discussions.”

A balancing act

Niang said that time management is the key to succeeding at both academics and athletics

“Preseason will give you a sense of what it takes, but when classes start you sure need to have a set schedule because between homework, practices, games—sometimes far-away games—quizzes and exams, you can easily feel overwhelmed. I always take early-morning classes so I have time to get my homework done before practice.”

Ruys agrees that the balancing act is a challenge for student-athletes, but she’s been dealing with it since middle school.

“Even though basketball is a huge commitment, it can be the best stress reliever,” she says. “When I feel overwhelmed with school work, basketball becomes my escape. For at least two hours, I'm able to play the game I love with my best friends.

Nearly two-thirds of Suffolk University student-athletes achieve a GPA of 3.0 or higher each semester, and Suffolk teams often receive conference honors for academic accomplishment.

“This cannot be done without the great learning experiences provided by our professors,” said Niang.

Student-athletes and honorees

The Athletics Department’s first Academic Integration program was held in March in collaboration with the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC). Student-athletes and the faculty they honored are as follows:

  • Katie Matatall, volleyball — Jeremiah Mee, Marketing
  • Caitlyn Mocker, volleyball — Jodi Nevola, Communication & Journalism
  • Gabrielle Balestrier, soccer) — Jodi Nevola, Communication & Journalism
  • Jake Cintolo, baseball — Norine Bacigalupo, Communication & Journalism
  • Paige Stanley, softball — Lori Rosenberg, Center for Learning & Academic Success
  • Bridget Evangelista, cross-country — Lori Rosenberg, Center for Learning & Academic Success
  • Sarah Chasse, softball — Dominic Thomas, Information Systems & Operations
  • Djibril Niang, soccer – Catherine McCabe, Marketing
  • Tyler Parmelee, soccer – Darlene Chisholm, Economics
  • Melissa Brouillette, soccer – Joanna Cendrowski, Communication & Journalism
  • Joe Surace, golf – Richard Preiss, Communication & Journalism
  • Luke Ferrari, golf – Paul Nagy, Management and Entrepreneurship
  • Eddie Lui, cross-country – Stephen McDonald, Information Systems and Operations Management
  • Brett Roman, hockey – Robert Allison, History
  • Jen Ruys, basketball – Eric Dewar, Biology
  • Jessica Bard, basketball – Dana Rosengard, Communication & Journalism
  • Adam Chick, basketball – Jeremiah Mee, Marketing
  • Caleb Unni, men’s basketball – Erik Sullivan, English