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July 20, 2009

New athletes thrive under BEST Program

The transition from high school to college can be a challenging time in any student's life. Then throw in the rigors of being a Division 1 football player and the transition can be completely overwhelming.

Meeting new friends, adjusting to a new town, navigating a new campus, studying and being away from home, are all struggles every new college student must face. Then add the hours of training, film study, practice and travel, and it is hard to see when a student-athlete has time to sleep.

All universities have special orientation programs to help student-athletes through the transition, but Oregon State is at the forefront with its BEST (Bridge Encouraging Successful Transition) Program. A three and a half week intensive program focusing on helping student-athletes increase their academic success and help to facilitate their full integration into the life of the University…all before they step on the football practice field.

"This year we have 32 football participants, including 10 walk-ons and 3 greyshirts," program coordinator Mary Prindiville said. "It is our largest group so far and the first time that the greyshirts have been allowed to join the program."

After moving into the residence hall where they will spend their first year, the students and their families are welcomed to the University and BEST Program at a Welcome Dinner. They are introduced to each other and the staff and are given an overview of what to expect in the weeks ahead.

The students take three courses including a one-credit class on study skills, a two-credit class dealing with transitions, and Sociology 206, a three-credit baccalaureate core class that deals with Social Problems.

"The two-credit life transitions class is really more of an examination of 'who am I/who have I been/who am I becoming' class with some career exploration and personal identity exploration," Prindiville said. "It really helps them in figuring out who they want to be at the University and we talk about their role as a student-athlete and as a representative of the University."

"We have two live-in mentors, Aaron Nichols and John Reese. Pernnell Booth is running the study nights and attending all of their classes with them and Casey Kjos is the sociology class assistant and is also going to study hall with them. We also have two writing assistants working with them too who are not athletes. We try to have those role models available for them as they are people who can talk to them behind the scenes and give them some insight and speak to some of the challenges that they might face and ways to go through that in a healthy way."

A typical day for the student-athletes begins at 7:30 am where they meet for breakfast. Then it is off to class until noon. An hour lunch in the cafeteria is followed by yet another class until 2:30 pm. Dinner and study tables keep them busy until 9:00 pm, giving the students only a few hours to catch up on extra homework or a quick workout session. In the three weeks that they are on campus, Sunday's are the only free day that they have, and that is until study tables start up again in the evening.

Not only is the BEST Program helping student-athletes with the transition to college life, it is building bridges across campus and between disciplines as well.

"This is the fourth year of the program and we've worked hard to create great alliances across campus, making sure all of the advisors within the academic fields are in the loop," Prindiville said. "So by the time they start fall term they'll be sitting in the front of class, attending office hours, and joining leadership groups. They've also learned that most instructors are very approachable and want to get to know their students."

"The students have been excellent," Prindiville added. "We don't start off soft for them at all."

Four years ago, the BEST Program began with a staff who volunteered their time to make the program work. Now with a budget in place, Prindiville hopes to put together and collect tangible results that point to the huge successes that she has witnessed with the program.

Through the program, student-athletes are not only transitioning into their college environment, they are building invaluable connections and resources with staff and professors that can help them throughout their careers at Oregon State and beyond.

The life of a football player can be chaotic. The BEST Program helps these new student-athletes gain the tools needed to succeed at Oregon State and graduate with a coveted degree in their chosen field. At the same time, it helps them gain insight into themselves and reflect upon who they are and who they want to become.

A winning proposition for everyone involved.


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