Geneseo Faculty Recognition Program Brings Together Athletics And Academics

By Mina Johnson

Oftentimes, we take strides in life without taking the time to acknowledge those who helped get us there. We unintentionally don't let those people know how much they've positively impacted and influenced our lives. Geneseo Athletics' Faculty Recognition program ensures we don't miss out on those opportunities.

The Department's Faculty Recognition program began in the fall of 2011 and was implemented by former head athletic trainer and special events coordinator, Sharon West. The inspiration for the program came during the department's search for a new athletic director following the retirement of Marilyn Moore. West was tasked with coordinating student interviews for the prospective candidates and that's when she discovered the need to make Geneseo's athletic and academic programs a more cohesive unit.

"Every single group of student-athletes expressed concerns about the relationship between academics and athletics," said West. "They wanted to know the plans each candidate had in mind to begin bridging that gap."

As West listened to the student-athletes' concerns and comments, she wondered what she could do to help address this issue.

"I began to piece together the different responses from each candidate, adjusting things here and there and then figuring out what type of program would work best at Geneseo."

During the summer of 2011, Mike Mooney was officially named the new director of Geneseo Athletics and after getting approval from administration, West rolled out the first Faculty Recognition events for teams that fall.

"This entire program was truly student-prompted," added West. "I was encouraged by the athletes' concerns to come up with a way to show our faculty members the dedication and commitment they have to their sport."

With any new and different program comes the fear of receiving a negative response from the participants. However, Faculty Recognition Day generated nothing but warm regards from both student-athletes and faculty members.

"My biggest fear was that the faculty would think, 'What is this?' But to my surprise, the professors, as well as the student-athletes and coaches, really accepted and embraced the event."

For those unfamiliar with the program, Faculty Recognition Day takes place during a home contest for each athletic program throughout the academic year. The event asks the senior student-athletes to select one faculty member who has influenced their growth and development at SUNY Geneseo and invite them to their game. The seniors and honored professors then take part in a pre-game introduction ceremony. The faculty are highlighted in a special program and receive a small token of appreciation as well.

Being a former student-athlete herself, West thought it would be a good idea to have the seniors give their honored professors something they could not only remember the day by, but collect and put on display. West decided on magnets that have the senior's name and class year (pictured below).

The program also provided our faculty members with an opportunity to experience a sporting event and check out our facilities. This past fall, many honorees were especially excited to have a reason to visit and catch a game at our brand new College Stadium.

"During the first couple of years, there were a number of invited faculty members that have never attended an athletic event," said West. "But as a result, we gained some fans and many professors continued to come to games and support the team."

Additionally, West noticed the Faculty Recognition events allowed for professors to engage with those from a different department or school. They have become an environment where professors can get to know both their student-athletes and colleagues.

"One thing that really amazes me is that many of the faculty members don't know those outside of their department, so this event brings them together and allows them to meet one another and see the shared appreciation they have for the student-athletes," said West.

Despite West's retirement in December 2014, the Faculty Recognition program has continued and is most certainly appreciated by both the athletic and academic departments. There undoubtedly have been benefits on both ends. It has bridged the gap between two very different worlds and has allowed faculty members and student-athletes alike to gain a better understanding of one another.

Robert Boyd, a lecturer and internship director with the School of Business, as well as Dr. Elizabeth Hutchison, an assistant professor of biology, have been honored a number of times, including on three occasions each this year. Both can attest to the benefits of the Faculty Recognition program.

For Boyd, he's now realizes "how important academics are to our student-athletes and coaches." Boyd didn't always understand that their performance in the classroom is just as important to our student-athletes as their performance on the playing field.

Hutchison states she wasn't always aware how many student-athlete she taught and it wasn't until she was invited to a Faculty Recognition event that she was exposed to her students' skills outside of the classroom.

"Many times, I don't even realize how many student athletes are in my courses and the Faculty Recognition program is a great way to see another side of their talents. After attending recognition events, I've found that the student and I will continue to talk about their sport as well as their academics. It's a nice way for students and faculty to show that both academics and athletics can be prioritized successfully here at Geneseo."

Kailey Suhr, a senior on the field hockey team, is one of the three athletes who honored Dr. Hutchison during the 2015-16 academic year. It's clear that Hutchison has greatly influenced Suhr during her time at Geneseo and she's thankful to have had the opportunity to recognize her.

"Having Professor Hutchison attend my Faculty Recognition meant a lot to me because it showed she has an interest in who I am as a person and not just a student. It was great to see her there not only to support me, but the team as well. Her attendance at the game said to me that she acknowledges my role as athlete is just as important as my role as a student. I can honestly say that she has been one of my favorite professors here at Geneseo and I was very proud to have the chance honor her," said Suhr.

One of the three student-athletes to honor Professor Boyd this year was men's swimming & diving senior, Andy Schunk. In his write-up for the program, Schunk describes how Professor Boyd has provided him with invaluable opportunities and tools to ensure he's ready to step into the field of business.

"Professor Boyd has had a tremendous impact on my education. I had the opportunity to do a directed study with him last spring where we studied financial software and portfolio construction, neither of which are offered in a major course. I only had these opportunities because of Professor Boyd's dedication to his students and their futures. He goes well beyond the general curriculum of the major in order to give students a much deeper understanding of concepts that will be relevant to their futures. He works very hard to ensure his students are well prepared to enter the business world, and I appreciate the work I have done with him."

Suhr added that the program helps faculty members see both sides of a student-athlete's collegiate career while also giving the seniors a moment to show their appreciation for their professors' willingness to adjust course work around practice and game schedules.

"Missing classes can be stressful for us student-athletes, so having professors that support our dual role at Geneseo helps to ease the stress. I appreciate the Faculty Recognition program because it lets the student athletes acknowledge the flexibility and support we have received from our professors over the years. It can't be easy for them to have to make accommodations for us, so this program is our one big 'thank you' for all the support," said Suhr.

Above all, its means a tremendous amount for the faculty members to be selected to attend Faculty Recognition and solidifies that all they've been doing to help their students grow has paid off.

"Many times you hope that your teaching and advising makes a difference in students lives, but through Faculty Recognition I see it truly does. The program affirms to me that I am doing the right thing. I am honored and humbled by the award and I usually shed a tear or two as I realize the relationship I've built with the students and now they are graduating and entering the world of work," said Boyd.

Hutchison adds that knowing about what keeps your students busy aside from their courses helps to build a stronger relationship, while the knowledge can be used to further enhance the students' abilities to juggle multiple responsibilities at a time.

"In some instances, I think students feel they have to keep their extracurriculars separate from their classes. The Faculty Recognition program is a great way for students to not only let faculty know they play a sport, but for both faculty and students to take pride in this, and view it as an academic asset. I'm always incredibly honored to be chosen to participate in the Faculty Recognition program. I strive to challenge students academically, but also think it's important that students are able to create a balance between academics and other parts of their life. I like being chosen for Faculty Recognition events because it makes me feel that I'm helping to make it possible for students to achieve that balance."

Geneseo Faculty Recognition Day presents an opportunity for members of both the athletic and academic department to come together and allows student-athletes to express how thankful they are for all their professors have done for them academically, professionally and personally.

"Aside from bridging the gap, one of my philosophies in life is that you have to tell people how you feel," said West. "I wanted to give our athletes the opportunity to tell their professors how much they've meant to them and how influential they've been."

Mina Johnson is in her second year as the Assistant Director of Athletic Communications and Media Relations at SUNY Geneseo.