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Ole Miss Student-Athlete Development Responds Quickly Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

The world over is struggling to cope with the change and uncertainty that the Coronavirus pandemic has brought forth. The realm of collegiate athletics has been no different, and at Ole Miss – like everywhere else in the country – the staff behind the scenes has had to quickly adapt in order to continue to carry out its duties.

Nowhere is this more apparent, however, than with the Student-Athlete Development staff that has been hard at work getting 371 Ole Miss student-athletes ready for the shift to online classes this week.

Senior Associate A.D. for Student-Athlete Development Dr. Bob Baker oversees a staff of 17 full-time employees tasked with the day-to-day academic and personal success of Rebel student-athletes across three different departments: academic counseling, academic enrichment, and student-athlete enhancement. Much of their jobs involve in-person meetings, either for counseling, tutoring or during community service events.

However, with the sudden onslaught of a global pandemic indefinitely disrupting that close working relationship, Baker and his staff have set about providing more than 300 virtual academic sessions per week to help student-athletes close this tumultuous semester strong. Additionally, the Student-Athlete Development staff have continued to hold team study halls, compile daily grade reports for coaching staffs, as well as conducting one-on-one advising sessions as the priority registration deadlines for the Summer and Fall terms draw near.

“Just days into this new world of virtual academic support, I’m blown away by the innovative spirit and positive energy of my academic staff, which includes learning specialists, academic counselors and our graduate assistants along with our amazing subject tutors and academic mentors,” Baker said. “I’m equally impressed with our student-athletes for adapting to these changes and their amazing attitudes and level of engagement with virtual academic support sessions. We are all also very thankful for our outstanding coaching staffs, who help us behind the scenes with communication, follow-ups with student-athletes and ensuring that our student-athletes maintain academics as their priority during an incredibly challenging time.”

Academic support hasn’t been the only thing preoccupying Dr. Baker’s staff, as the Student-Athlete Enhancement division headed by Associate A.D. Dr. Jennifer Saxon has been making sure their intricate schedule of programming continues on unabated.

The department – which serves to enhance Ole Miss student-athletes through a variety of intentional programming in the areas of career development, community engagement, diversity and inclusion, and personal advancement – has had to get particularly creative amid social distancing. They are currently in the middle of a social media outreach program to check on the general wellbeing of student-athletes, as well as to inform them of continuing programming.

Some examples of those events still going on, now all held remotely, include: Reading with the Rebels sessions; career development workshops and consultations; senior student-athlete placement assistance; virtual monthly meetings of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council and Rebels International groups; and a social media campaign to still announce award winners for the 2020 Rebels Choice Awards in April.

“While a shift in our initial plan for this semester was needed, we quickly remembered our responsibility to ensure our student-athletes remained connected and prepared for the next step in their lives,” Saxon said. “We are excited to remain engaged with our student-athletes while they are physically away from campus, and we believe that our remote SAE events schedule will continue to do that for Rebel student-athletes. As life skills professionals, we are now living examples of how life throws you a curve ball and you make adjustments to keep moving.”

“On the student-athlete enhancement side, I am ecstatic and super proud of the truly creative and innovative plans Dr. Jennifer Saxon and (Student-Athlete Enhancement counselor) Ravin Gilbert have created to support and engage our student-athletes in their respective areas, continuing to develop our future leaders and help them prepare for life after sport,” Baker said. “It’s cutting edge stuff for sure.”

This is but a small microcosm of the work still going on at Ole Miss, as departments across athletics and the campus at large have put long hours into serving students during this difficult time.

For further academic accolades, follow @RebelsAcademics on Twitter.


FedEx Student-Athlete Success Center and Ole Miss Student-Athlete Development Mission
The mission of the FedEx Student-Athlete Success Center is to promote academic and personal achievement through quality developmental and need-based programs designed to empower and holistically develop student-athletes for life after collegiate athletics.

Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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