Engineering is among the worst majors for a student-athlete to pursue, according to campussports.net. The intense work load, demanding course requirements, and inflexible scheduling obstacles don’t necessarily play well with team practice and travel schedules. But at the School of Engineering, a select group of students each year rise to the challenge and compete to win on both the playing and academic fields.
During the 2015/2016 academic year, 18 of the 650 student-athletes at Rutgers were from the engineering program. They represented each of the engineering departments and competed in seven sports: men’s soccer, lacrosse, and baseball, along with women’s rowing, tennis, track and field, and cross country. Although juggling the demands of sport and school isn’t always easy, SoE students are making it work with the support of faculty, coaches, teammates, and an outstanding ability that is important for all of them—time management.
Managing their time is one of the first things student-athletes learn as first-year students, said Randi Larson, assistant director of academic support services for Rutgers athletics.
“Participating in a collegiate sport is a six-day-a-week commitment,” said Larson. “There are a lot of sacrifices that student-athletes make, particularly engineering students who have a lot of coursework. They have to say no to certain activities and social events.”
It Takes a Team
Larson and her colleagues work as liaisons between athletes and schools, consulting with SoE’s academic services unit, including Lydia Prendergast, assistant dean of undergraduate education, and her staff.
“We’re here to ask questions, help the students strategize a course schedule, or assist with a class conflict,” Larson said. “We work with students and the schools to make sure students can complete the curriculum and compete.”
According to John Paxton, Rutgers’ athletics academic advisor who supports men’s soccer, wrestling, and women's swimming and diving, the fixed first- and second-year engineering course schedule is relatively easy to work around when accommodating class and practice schedules.
“Junior and senior years get tougher because as there aren’t really options to the curriculum,” he said. “Taking 18-19 credits alongside a demanding practice and competition schedule is challenging, to put it mildly.”
Larson has worked most recently with the women’s soccer team, which includes Christine Monroy, a senior from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, who is majoring in chemical engineering. Christy was recruited to play soccer for the University of Louisville, but left after one year because she didn’t feel the academic program was rigorous. A center back and center mid-field, she helped the team last fall make it to the first NCAA Final Four women’s soccer championships in Rutgers’ history.
With two to three mandatory practices a week, coordinating schedules has been one of Christy’s biggest challenges. “My coaches have been very understanding about the lack of flexibility with my class schedule, so it hasn’t restricted my ability to balance both school and sports,” she said.
Alayna Famble from Conyers, Georgia, was recruited by many schools and had her heart set on Georgia Tech—until she visited Rutgers, where she “felt like I was home.”
As a track and field stand out and 400-meter sprinter, Famble—who is majoring in bioenvironmental engineering and completed an internship this summer at Trimont, a commercial real estate company in Atlanta—was most recently a member of the 4x400 and 4x100 relay teams at the NCAA East Regional competition and was part of the relay team that placed third in the Penn Relay 4x200.
“I’m so glad I’m at Rutgers,” she said. “It’s such a great school.”
Big Ten Scoreboard
Since joining the Big Ten Athletic Conference in 2014, the competition has provided new opportunities for Rutgers’ students.
It’s a “different ball game,” according to Paxton. “If you’re a student being recruited into the Big Ten, you are among the elite across the board,” he said. “These are very special young men and women, coming to us with great GPAs and helping to raise the bar and profile of Rutgers. The success of these students will filter into the university.”
Rutgers’ student-athletes, representing all majors, have a higher GPA than the university’s student body. According to Paxton, the most recent team GPA for men’s soccer was 3.28, thanks in part to engineering student-athletes Kieran Kemmerer and Mitchel Walier.
“Kieran and Wally are phenomenal, so sound and so prepared,” said Paxton, describing the signature status the two players have on the team as outstanding athletes who are dedicated to their teammates.
From Paxton’s experience working with student-athletes, these are typical qualities of engineering students. “They are intrinsically designed to be the best,” he said.
Walier has returned this fall for his senior year, majoring in electrical and computer engineering. Kemmerer, who graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering, is pursuing an MBA this fall at Rutgers while taking advantage of a redshirt year that will allow him to play as a graduate student (he didn’t play as a first-year student and therefore has not completed his four years of eligibility).
He’s looking forward to this new role, which he likens to being a professional athlete: he’ll have a lighter course load, with more evening classes, and can “give 100 percent to the sport.” He is also be around to help first-year students make the transition to college-level competition as they hit the field running with a fall sport.
“Managing your time is a big learning curve, and you don’t recognize the work load until you’re under it,” he said. “It’s a balancing act, for sure, but sports help you manage your time and don’t give you the opportunity to procrastinate.”
Sports also provide an opportunity to “express yourself in a different way,” according to Kemmerer, by carrying over a competitive nature into classwork.
“That’s been a big driving factor for me,” he said. “I wanted to do better than my classmates. I wanted to shine when I got the opportunity.”
For rower Brianna Binowski, a senior from Bridgewater, New Jersey, who is majoring in civil and environmental engineering, the required physical activity provides another advantage for student-athletes.
“The hidden gem in all that exercise is that it releases endorphins, which are a huge stress-reliever,” she said.
The hard physical work that she puts into rowing complements the motivation that she and her teammates have to do their best to win. And that motivation has helped her as a student. During the summer, Brianna completed an internship with the international engineering firm HDR, Inc., where she assisted the movable-bridge company with project deliveries, including engineering reports, engineering design plans, cost estimating, and review of engineering calculations.
“I’m proud of myself,” she said, regarding the challenges of being a student-athlete. “I love the sport of rowing, and it drives me to be the best I can be in everything I do.”