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How Ole Miss Student-Athletes Win At Academics

Senior Associate Athletic Director Derek Cowherd speaks at The Mississippi Outreach to Scholastic Talent (MOST) Mentoring Program conference. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications
In the past five years, Ole Miss Athletics has undergone some major renovations, not only with its facilities, but also academically.
Since Derek Cowherd stepped in as the Senior Associate Athletic Director of Academic Support in 2012, the department has witnessed a consistent year-to-year rise in the student-athlete GPA from a 2.81 in the fall of 2011, to its record-setting 3.004 in the spring of 2016.
Coming from LSU, Cowherd was hired to revamp the FedEx Student-Athlete Academic Support Center.
“I’d say the team aspect was the number one thing I worked on when I came in,” said Cowherd. “There were also about four or five tools that I felt like this staff didn’t have that they needed to be successful.”

 

The NCAA isn’t the only institution raising its academic standards. Ole Miss has recorded a steady average increase in the student-athlete GPA since 2012.
In addition to implementing new communication systems, Cowherd also noticed that the advisors needed direct access to student-athlete’s grades to boost the student’s accountability and make grade reporting more accurate.
Jon Nance, an advisor since 2009 who works with the volleyball and women’s track team, said he felt the program has improved significantly since Cowherd was appointed.
“We used to have over a hundred students apiece,” said Nance. “We had a lot of demands and too many athletes and we couldn’t do everything. Now they’ve tightened the NCAA rules, so we’ve been able to grow our staff and have better relationships with our students. I think the students care more.”
Nance also noted that coaches now seem to put a lot more emphasis on their athletes’ success in the classroom, as well as on the field. And Cowherd’s leadership has made that easier for them by creating one uniform report for all to see. Coaches can view their athletes’ performance in the classroom on a weekly basis and have bi-monthly in-person meetings with the advisors.
Although the staff knew they needed the coaches’ help, the biggest priority was convincing the student-athletes to buy into FedEx’s mission. Mckenna Coughlin, a former track and cross country athlete and exercise science major, attended Ole Miss as an undergrad from 2011-2015, and grad school in 2016. She noticed how everything became more organized and much more comfortable under Cowherd.
“I didn’t use tutoring or anything like that, but Jon and Justin really helped with taking care of missing classes, and I definitely wouldn’t have gotten a 3.95 in exercise science if they didn’t help with uncooperative professors.”
Coughlin also attributed her acceptance into two different graduated programs at Ole Miss to her advisors.
Whether it is a group message that texts updates on student-athlete’s classroom achievements, the advisors’ open-door policy or the warm greeting people receive from the front desk, Cowherd emphasizes the importance of people and teamwork. He said it is the number one reason for the increase in the student-athlete GPA.
“I always say to all recruits, we’re just a big dysfunctional family, but at the end of the day we all love each other and care that we’re all succeeding.”
Story contributed by Meek School of Journalism & New Media student-athlete Scarlett Fox, safox@go.olemiss.edu.

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