By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Meredith Breitling graduated from Texas A&M in 2007 and soon after landed her "dream job" – teach first grade in the College Station ISD.
Dream jobs, though, sometimes are not what they seem. Breitling was asked by a colleague to work part time as an academic counselor for A&M student-athletes. As that work progressed during the 2008-09 school year, she realized that her "dream job" had changed.
"I was teaching my first graders but I was thinking about the student-athletes at A&M that I was working with at night," Breitling said. "I was thinking about how I could team them better, make things better for them. I started to realize it was my true passion and what I loved doing."
When she returned from vacation in the summer of 2009, Breitling received a call with a job offer.
"I was really blessed and fortunate that this job fell in my lap," she said. "Every time I drive into the parking lot here, I think of how blessed I am that it has worked out this way."
The best way to sum up her job title? She assists student-athletes in achieving academic success. How she goes about her job is different from one day to the next and one student-athlete to the next.
Breitling works mostly with football and men’s basketball but she also helps student-athletes in other sports.
The summer before their freshmen seasons, all student-athletes have their reading skills assessed. That helps Breitling and other academic advisors understand what areas a student-athlete might need help.
"We want to be proactive and be on top of things before they become problems," Breitling said. "After we do the assessments, I’ll do more in-depth assessments for any student-athletes we think might need extra help. We might focus on someone’s reading comprehension, their study skills, things like that.
"We try to make sure that the help we’re providing is tailored to fit the individual’s needs."
For Breitling, the summer assessments are similar to football training camp. She uses the time not only to analyze academic strengths and weaknesses but to get to know the student-athletes.
"It’s important to build a relationship so that they trust us," she said. "In a way, we sort of become their family here at A&M."
Breitling has been impressed with how coach Mike Sherman emphasizes academics. Breitling meets with the coaching staff once a week and she is charged with giving Sherman a full report.
"He is passionate about academics," she said. "He cares more that they’re doing their best, giving a full effort instead of just passing or being eligible. If a player misses an appointment with a tutor, he has to meet with coach Sherman in his office.
"Knowing he is backing is a huge help in us able to emphasize academic success."
Another "hammer" utilized by the academic support staff involves home football games. When parents pick up their tickets, Breitling and other academic advisors are nearby to hand out grades and provide any information mom and dad might need to know.
Texas A&M requires weekly study halls for all new students. Football players, regardless of how their academic assessments, are required to be at study hall for 10 hours per week. Breitling and other academic counselors are present during the study halls.
"That helps us keep a close eye on everyone," Breitling said. "Maybe there’s someone who looked good after the assessment but once they got into the first semester they started to struggle."
The role of academic advisors/tutors for college student-athletes can foster skepticism. When she started as a part-time advisor, she admits to being worried about what she would encounter.
"Being a graduate and a fan of Aggies sports, I didn’t want to get involved with the academic side and find out something that like them less," Breitling said. "I was so thankful to find out that the administration here has integrity and is focused on bettering the student-athletes for their future. The whole idea of ‘keeping them eligible’ does not enter into things here at all.
"We have the compliance people right down the hall and they’re great about helping us with any of the ‘fine line’ questions we might have."
Texas A&M has an academic advisor for each sport. The school has two learning specialists in addition to Breitling. Each of the learning specialists have part time learning assistants, usually retired veterans from the education field. The school also has a full-time tutor coordinator.
"One of the neatest thing is getting to know the student-athletes I get to work with," Breitling said. "I try to let them know that I care about them as a person. That makes it a lot easier for them to trust me when I work with them in academics. I want them to know that I have their best interests in mind."