The transition from high school student-athlete to college student-athlete is a big transition that can often times leave incoming freshmen feeling ill-prepared for the expectations placed upon them both on the playing field and in the classroom. Ole Miss’ student-athlete development staff, has created a program that helps incoming student-athletes with the sometimes difficult transition to life as a student-athlete.
R.E.B.S, which stands for Rising to Excellence and Building Success, is a summer program which helps incoming Ole Miss student-athletes acclimate to the classroom requirements of college, while teaching them tips and providing resources for them to build a solid foundation prior to their first fall on campus.
Ole Miss is one of a few athletic departments in the country to have a comprehensive summer program for their student-athletes and numerous academic centers across the country are trying to formulate programs much like the R.E.B.S program.
Ole Miss athletics director, Ross Bjork, has seen the success of the R.E.B.S. program and believes that it’s one of the very fundamental things Ole Miss does as an athletic department.
“When we recruit student-athletes we tell them that once we get them here, they are ours,” said Bjork. “We have an immediate obligation to make sure that they are situated at the highest level in terms of time management, social behavior, conduct, financial literacy, etc. This program really epitomizes our core and at the core we are all teachers, and what better way to start them off than by teaching them real-life stuff.”
Senior associate athletic director of student-athlete development, Derek Cowherd, saw a need to improve in this area and implemented the R.E.B.S. summer program when he was hired.
“I had come from an institution that had a great summer program that had taken six years to create and implement and I felt like it was a prime opportunity to implement something here,” said Cowherd. “I knew that we had some staff members already researching the proper way to start a summer program, so we came up with a concept of what freshmen and transfer student-athletes would need to be successful.”
From there, Cowherd and his staff went about trying to put together a program that would benefit the student-athletes on the academic, life skills, classroom and social fronts.
“We put together a list of the most pressing and recurring student-athlete questions that our academic staff had to field each year,” said Cowherd. “We attempted to provide the students with the resources and friendly faces who could help with those questions. It helped us learn more about our students, as well as helped them build relationships with academic counselors, learning specialists, life skill professionals, professors and other support staff while acclimating to college before school started in the fall.”
In the initial stages, Cowherd and his academic staff based the program on research that the three things that students need to be successful right off the bat are: study skills training as well as reading and writing skills. It’s been shown that if students could have more practice with those areas early on, students would be more successful, be retained after their first year and proceed on to graduation.
Ole Miss learning specialist, Briana Murphree, spearheads the program and has seen it evolve over the years.
“Initially when we started it four years ago, it wasn’t R.E.B.S as we know it today, said Murphree. “It was a summer bridge program and we partnered with the learning specialists on campus and JumpStart and brought them in house. It was a great starting point and gave us a basis for what we wanted to do and not do the following year. We really wanted to really focus on the student-athlete experience, in addition to the courses they were taking, and decided it would be best for us to bring it in house and that’s how R.E.B.S. as we know it today started.”
The goal of R.E.B.S. is to intertwine the experiences of the student-athlete both from the athletic standpoint and the academic aspect, so that they know the expectations from both fronts, while also introducing them to the abundant resources available to them on campus and within the athletic department.
“The goal from the start of the program is to introduce these student-athletes to as many people from the athletic department and campus as possible, so that at the end of their three and half weeks they have met someone outside of their sport and feel more comfortable going into the fall,” said Murphree.
Each year, the program tries to add an element to the program to enhance the experience and widen the resource net for the student-athletes. Initially, the learning specialists from the FedEx academic center did the bulk of the presentations, but as the program has evolved, academic counselors, as well as other areas from both campus and the athletic department, have been brought in to present to the student-athletes.
The real-life teaching element is one of the most important pieces of the program for Bjork.
“We are bringing them in and teaching them real-life stuff, it’s not a text book,” said Bjork. “We show them all of the issues that they will face and the more we prepare them on the front end, hopefully they do the right things throughout. But if there is a mistake made, we can point back to this time and say ‘remember when we talked about that,’ and now they’re prepared to handle it.”
This year’s R.E.B.S. program featured two new elements, a financial literacy piece which was conducted by Regions Bank as a part of their partnership with the Ole Miss athletic department and a series on media training conducted by Ole Miss athletic media relations’ staff. Both of these elements were done each week of R.E.B.S., building upon skills introduced the previous week.
One of the main goals of the R.E.B.S program is to ease some of the anxiety and fears that many student-athletes have coming to campus.
“If we get them in here in the summer, they can meet their coaches and teammates and get acclimated to campus without so much pressure,” said learning specialist Murphree. “They aren’t coming in as ‘green’ freshmen on day one of the fall. We want to ease their anxiety and create a sense of family for them, primarily over at the FedEx academic center but also just in the athletic department in general. We also want to give them a basic sense of resources, including people and places, that they have available to them.”
The academic piece of the R.E.B.S. program is invaluable. The program teaches them critical skills that will enable them to be successful in the classroom. From note taking and studying to how to conduct one’s self in the classroom setting — the skillset Ole Miss student-athletes learn in the R.E.B.S. program gives them a solid academic foundation.
The R.E.B.S. program has seen numerous results over the years and some are as simple as the student-athletes knowing who to ask when they have a question, but the common denominator in all of this is that the incoming student-athletes have a realistic grasp of expectations in the classroom, on the playing fields and socially.
“We have seen some major gains academically,” said Cowherd. “This program teaches them to take notes, outline a class and provides opportunities to learn more of the skills that they need to be successful in college.”
The numbers also show the success of the program. The overall GPA of student-athletes in the program has increased from a 3.26 to a 3.45 in two years and the number of hours earned over the summer has improved to over 350 earned hours this summer.
Coaches play a significant role in the success of this program and Cowherd and his staff are quite appreciative of the willingness of the Ole Miss coaches to help make this program successful.
“When asked, our coaches have always supported this program and they have made it feel as if it’s not mandatory for their students, but expected, and that’s been a huge help to the program,” said Cowherd.
While the program has been successful and has evolved over the years, the long-term goal is to provide some type of programming for the freshmen and newcomers year round. This fall, there will be a speaker series for those newcomers that couldn’t make it in the summer and there will also be programming in the spring as the R.E.B.S. program moves to more of a year-round model, which will likely be one of the first of its kind.
It’s also the goal of the program to work with the campus side of things to offer more full summer courses so that the student-athletes can become even more immersed in what campus life is like and not be so rushed.
“It’s our obligation to make sure that our student-athletes are completely comfortable and situated, said Bjork. “Knowing that there is so much pressure on them to do well in their respective sports and also in the classroom and life. We are educators and it’s up to us to educate our athletes on all that they will face. This program sets us apart because we’re one of the few in the country that can offer this type of summer immersion for our student-athletes.”
Cowherd said it best, “It’s not just about sports, it’s about being a student.” A student in the classroom, on the field and in life and that’s what the R.E.B.S. program teaches at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss Student-Athlete Development Mission
The mission of Ole Miss’ Student-Athlete Development program is to challenge student-athletes to be lifelong learners while pursuing continuous improvement academically, relationally, socially, personally, and professionally during and beyond their careers as student-athletes.
Student-Athlete Development is the hub for a wide range of Ole Miss athletics sponsored programs designed to meet the needs of student-athletes and their families. It is divided into six areas: Student-Athlete Assistance Services, Career Development, Continuing Education, Community Outreach, Financial Education and Career Transition.
Visit Student-Athlete Development for more information on Ole Miss’ Student-Athlete Development program.
Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics