Putting academics first

Kelli Cale (right) and Alex Jensen (left) study in the Ricchiuti Center. Both play on the soccer team and are required to study six hours a week at the facility.
Juan Villa . The Collegian

The scene inside of the Ricchiuti Center is a far cry from the misadventures of the Jerry Tarkanian era.

Student athletes are huddled inside cubbyholes staring into computer screens, poring over their latest assignments in English and history.

The room is dead silent.

A tutor sits at the front, not only to keep the study environment intact, but also to offer help to anyone who needs it.

This is how Fresno State keeps its athletes eligible, a new system that grew out of the athletic scandals of the 1990s.

Back then, the NCCA punished the university for a long list of infractions that included financial aid to an ineligible player and academic dishonesty.

A team statistician wrote several papers for players on the men’s basketball team and received $1,500 for his services.

The men’s basketball team was stripped of scholarships, monies from post season play and opportunities to play in future postseason games.

Since then, the athletic department has taken major steps to the reform the system.

The days of athletes looking to private one-on-one help are gone.

Now the Ricchiuti Academic, Strength and Conditioning center provides a place for student athlete academia to be monitored and to ensure academic honesty and success.

To keep student athletes from veering off into less honest ways of handling academic work, the Ricchiuti Center offers a support system to keep student athletes on the right track to graduate.

Assistant Athletic Director Susan Gutkind said that the Ricchiuti Center is a place where student-athletes can handle all things unrelated to competition.

Within the center’s walls, an array of services are offered. It includes the compliance office, career services, community service opportunities, Student Athlete Advisory Council, financial aid, tutor services and academic advisors.

Study Table Coordinator Robert PageSmith said that the center was really about making students responsible.

“Part of college is taking care of your issues; obviously we’re there to help of they need it,” PageSmith said. “But we want them walking on their own two feet.”

The tutor service provided by the center offers student- athletes a chance to learn and eventually do their own work.

In the room adjacent to the study table room, is a wide open space where students can work with tutors.

The room has 10 tables with two chairs at each station. There are also computers that students can use.

Tutoring sessions looked to be very enriching for student- athletes.

Tutors seemed to be in touch with the schedules of student- athletes.

One of the tutors asked for the schedule of their student-athlete, and told them when it might be a good time to start studying, and what type of things they should study.

Tutor Ashley Marcinkowski said she’s seen improvement in many of the students that she has personally tutored.

Marcinkowski said that usually writing and math were among the most tutored of subjects.

She said that tutoring is going to help anyone — athlete or not.

The center also houses the academic advisers that guide students on their way to graduation.

The advisers handle everything academic for the students.

Advisers help students pick their classes, and make sure they know what’s going on with their academic progress.

Before student-athletes can register for classes they are required to meet once with the academic adviser at the Ricchiuti Center.

They also much meet with the adviser for their major.

Gutkind said that it’s important to make sure students know exactly why they are taking a certain class.

She also said it was important that advisers don’t just tell students to just take these classes when students don’t know why.

Advisers also help students stay on track to graduate by keeping an eye on the students’ grade point averages.

If a student-athlete starts to get close to the NCAA’s 2.0 minimum grade point average requirement, the student goes into required study table minutes.

When Gutkind was hired, she said that the general opinion of the study table was not regarded very highly.

“Everyone said that study table was not good,” Gutkind said. “If we were requiring hours we needed to make it a place where it was going to be a meaningful educational experience.”

The study table room is an area in which technology and silence enable student-athletes to get a real amount of work done in an atmosphere where it is obvious that academia is the priority.

Spread all over the room are bright red signs that read: “This room is for individual academic work only. No e-mail, no Myspace, no Facebook, no web surfing. Except for assigned homework.”

The room is lined with small cubby-like study desks that go down the center of the room as well.

Within these cubbies, students are writing papers, preparing a PowerPoint presentation or just studying.

All of these activities are done in almost a dead silence.

According to semester reports, roughly half of the student-athletes took advantage of the study environment and utilized the building.

In the 7,000 visits that the center counted last semester, over 10,000 hours were logged by student-athletes

PageSmith said that the number didn’t include students who came in for academic advising, dropped in to print papers or came in to just study in a quiet environment.

“I think this building is being utilized and I think the word got out that this is a place where you can come do your work,” PageSmith said.

PageSmith said there’s always people there.

There is always a person in a place where success is the primary goal.

This led to the Fresno State athletics 2.92 overall GPA and the Western Athletic Conference All-Academic award for the fall semester.

Two years out of a probationary period, it is safe to say that Fresno State has made some changes.

Previous Story

Bulldogs prepare for Wolf Pack after two game sweep of Cal Poly

Next Story

Bulldog football springs into action