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True Blue Give – Student-Athlete Enhancement Center helps Blue Raiders transition to college

This is the second in a series of features showcasing how your support of the BRAA impacts Blue Raider student athletes! True Blue Give 2022 will take place from February 14-16, though Blue Raider Fans are welcome to give their support early here: http://bit.ly/TBG2022BRAA. MT Athletics thanks you for considering a gift to the #BuildBlueNow campaign, BRAA or to an athletic program of your choice.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Todd Wyant wears a lot of different hats on a given day during his work at the Student-Athlete Enhancement Center. One moment, he’s facilitating tutoring sessions for an accounting student later that evening. Another, he’s a smiling face offering a blue book to a student-athlete who has an exam later that day.

The Director of the “SAEC,” as folks around the Murphy Center call it, might help a student double check their making graduation progress with their class schedule next semester, and then just offer good life advice to athletes like soccer standout Peyton DePriest, who He says she frequently swings by his office whenever she needs someone to talk out something with.

“He’s kind of like my therapist,” DePriest said only half-jokingly, acknowledging how Wyant helped her identify what graduate program would be the best fit for her as she looked to take advantage of her extra eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “He listens to all my problems and really gives me good advice. He has so many athletes that he’s taken care of. But whenever I go in there, he just finds time to sit down and talk about whatever I need. appreciated him over the years.”

It’s that personal connection, Wyant said, that really makes the work meaningful for him and his staff, who are some of the first people both recruits and incoming student-athletes meet when they come on campus because of the wide array of help they can provide . Anything from helping them get their BlueID so they can buy their textbooks, to class registration, to how to sign up for the MCAT, LSAT, GRE or other grad school application for when they leave MT.

“Our intentions are to really help student athletes make the transition to Middle Tennessee as easy as possible,” Wyant said.

Wyant is quick to point out that the SAEC, located at Gate 1 of Floyd Stadium, operates under the umbrella of the Division of Student Affairs, rather than directly with the athletic department.

Mostly because it highlights how he and his staff, including Associate Director Wynnifred CountsAssistant Director Wes HofackerAthletic Academic Counselor Madison Lawrance and Secretary Wendy Gamble, have connections across campus through areas like Career Development and Counseling, that allow them to expand their expertise and reach. Helping connect student-athletes with advisors in specialized majors, such as Aerospace, or even setting up help with counseling services if that’s a need for that particular student.

It also means that the SAEC staff knows a lot of the university’s various academic rules, such as the fact international students are required to take at least nine credits on campus, and can help student-athletes navigate their own athletic schedules with their major, and also serve as a go-between for when athletics and academics needs to communicate.

For men’s tennis player Fransico Rocha, who is originally from Portugal, that assistance has been great as he’s pursued a degree in Economics, particularly with the SAEC’s relationship with his professors making for a smooth academic experience.

“In Portugal, I think they have a different approach to school,” Rocha said, highlighting how college athletics is not an entity in Portuguese universities. “Here, it’s easier to manage because the professors are more willing to understand that we have sports, which is the big thing. If I would take economics in Portugal, the professor would just be like ‘oh ok, you cannot come to the exam? Unlucky for you.’ And here, professors are more willing to understand a different situation.”

Rocha said the life skills work of the office, helping student-athletes learn how to manage their time, build relationships with their teammates and just overall build maturity, was a big help when he moved to the States for his undergraduate career. And that help both in-class and on the court only enhances the value of his scholarship long-term.

In addition to the valuable help from the staff, the SAEC also comes equipped with a full computer lab, often filled with specialized software students need in fields like Concrete Management or Mechatronics, as well as study areas to set up tutoring sessions or study hall grounds .

“We just want to remove all the obstacles,” Wyant said. “We just don’t want them to come in and go ‘I didn’t know (I needed this)’ or ‘You didn’t have it.'”

DePriest said she often borrowed graphing calculators from the SAEC, “because no one has a $100 calculator on hand any more.” She also highlighted things like lab goggles and scantrons as some of the physical resources the SAEC can provide.

Not every Blue Raider athlete is in the SAEC every week, or even every year after they’re done transitioning to college, Wyant said. That’s ok, he notes, because that often means they’ve learned enough in that transition process to become self-sufficient. But he knows the impact of his team’s work is felt when he sees the GSR and APR reports that come out each year from the athletic department. Middle Tennessee recently set a school record with a 93 percent graduation rate in 2021, the eighth straight year MT has set or tied a school record in that category.

“We never know what percentage we help, but we know we help them,” Wyant said. “We’re very proud, that’s kind of our championship, having the GSR and APR as high as it is.”

The SAEC gets some funding from the BRAA, with Wyant noting that BRAA funds helped upgrade the bathrooms recently, but donations to the BRAA are felt throughout the SAEC from the scholarships funded by generous those benefactors that give a chance for students from all over the world, from all different academic backgrounds to have an opportunity to earn a degree in a field that’s right for them.

With COVID, Wyant has noticed an uptick in his team helping student-athletes with personal issues, and he hopes to continue expanding the myriad professional development opportunities the SAEC already provides, from resume building to etiquette dinners. As COVID numbers continue to improve in the area, get back to some community service opportunities the SAEC used to spearhead, such as the Special Olympics. And with the transfer portal, Wyant expects he will have even more opportunities to help both incoming and exiting student athletes reach their academic goals and make the decision that’s best for them.

For now though, he’s excited that folks like defensive end Jordan Ferguson have found success in Murfreesboro and taken advantage of the opportunity they’ve gotten. And for Ferguson, he hopes future Blue Raiders understand that the SAEC is ready to help them if they need it.

“I think a lot of students should know and a lot of parents should know that there’s a program or there’s a facility just for academics for student athletes,” Ferguson said. “They take really good care of you. Help with books, supply tutors and extra help, they’ll have a set time for you to come in and have somebody just for you. For every age group. They care about you, they help you, they help find the best job and career to help you be successful in the future.”

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Read previous True Blue Give feature stories:

Donovan Sims “is Murfreesboro. He is Middle Tennessee.”

Sims, Donovan 2-8-22


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