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Ole Miss Athletes, From Jerseys to Suits

On the tennis court and in the classroom, former Ole Miss tennis athlete Allie Robbins was a competitor. Now she is competing in New York as a business consultant.
When she began her athletic career as a freshman in the fall of 2012, Robbins also began preparing for a job after college. With the help of the Ole Miss Athletics Academic Support staff, Robbins graduated in the spring of 2016 with a mechanical engineering degree and a job with Accenture as a management consultant.
“It’s been really exciting because no two days are ever the same,” said Robbins.

Senior Tavyn Lovitt looking over her lesson plans for her student-teaching position at Oxford High School. Lovitt is a four-year member of the Ole Miss cross country and track team, and is pursuing a teaching and coaching career after she graduates in May.

For many college athletes, balancing a full academic and athletic schedule is enough of a challenge. Add to that the pressure of finding a job after the athletic career is over and many student athletes are daunted. For this reason, the NCAA launched the “Life Skills” program to help student-athletes with developing the skills needed to make the transition from jerseys to suits.
At Ole Miss, Jennifer Saxon is the assistant athletics director of Student-Athlete Development. She also heads the Life Skills program alongside Jessica Rizzi. Saxon and Rizzi’s primary focus has been getting in front of student-athletes early on in their college years to give them the tools and resources necessary to find careers through networking and interview opportunities.
“Using those leadership skills and traits they have and showing them they can apply it to their professional life as well I think is really important,” said Rizzi. “The goal is to show them through different experiences and programming that we use, the people we put them in front of and get to interact with. They get those experiences so they know not only are they great athletes, but they can take on the world as well.”
Because Life Skills’ focus is student-athlete development, the duo is also in charge of selecting and managing the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). SAAC’s purpose is to bring together student-athlete representatives from each sport to serve as liaisons between their teammates, coaches, and senior-level staff in the Athletics Department.
“Most of the students that we’ve worked with, especially in SAAC, they have a plan, they know what they’re doing, and that’s our example,” said Saxon. “That is our version of what success looks like.”
According to the NCAA, reforms in academic support for student-athletes is the reason for the steady increase in graduation rates over the past decade.

One of Saxon’s favorite stories of an athlete developing a career throughout his undergraduate experience involves former Ole Miss baseball player Brady Bramlett.
Now the chair of the NCAA Division I National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and a member of the Division 1 Board of Directors, Bramlett walked onto the Ole Miss campus as a biology major in pursuit of a medical degree. However, when he was nominated to serve as the first Ole Miss athlete to represent the university on the national SAAC board, his dream changed.
“The only reason I got the opportunity to be a part of [SAAC] is because of Life Skills,” said Bramlett. “They’ve always been there helping me prepare for my professional career. Jennifer Saxon and Jess Rizzi both helped me with making connections in the professional realm along with assisting me with furthering my education by getting my master’s.”
Robbins, too, credits her time as an Ole Miss athlete as one reason for her success.
“Part of being a student-athlete meant having a second family that was always there to support you,” said Robbins. “The academics staff was always there for me with patience and advice. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Ole Miss Athletics and the family that the academic/life skills staff provided.”
Ole Miss student-athlete Tavyn Lovitt graduates in May and will be pursuing a career as a teacher and coach.  She feels her time on the cross country team is setting her up for success.

Produced by Scarlett Fox: safox@olemiss.edu.

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