Renate Mai-Dalton thought she might be able to make a difference in the classroom success of student-athletes and went to the Kansas University women's basketball team to offer her assistance.
After talking with head coach Marian Washington, she created and implemented a mentoring program during the 1989 spring semester. The new program, she says, has helped increase the team's average grade-point average from 2.18 in the spring of 1988 to 2.67 for the summer of 1989.
The program has integrated student-athletes fully into their academic programs and has them taking courses such as calculus and foreign languages, according to Mai-Dalton, an associate professor of business at KU.
"We set up a program which we think is quite successful," she said.
Washington added, "I think it's a tremendous asset to our program and to the department in general."
A freshman was the only player declared academically ineligible for the spring semester, according to Washington. And she said that was because she didn't accumulate enough hours.
"THAT'S certainly a disappointment, but considerable progress has been made," she said. "The GPA has really gone up."
Three years ago Mai-Dalton served as coordinator of a faculty mentor program for the women's basketball team, which served as a starting point for the current program.
"Building upon that, I thought it was possible to have a comprehensive plan," she said.
An article she has written on her program, "Paying Attention to the `Student' in Student-Athlete: A Blueprint for Action," is scheduled to be published in Scholastic Coach. She believes it is a program that can be implemented at other universities.
"It's a pretty straightforward system for getting a little bit more guidance and help for all student-athletes and for all students," she said.
Mai-Dalton's article lists five support mechanisms for the program which must be available each year for it to be successful. They are support from the head coach and her staff, player effort and motivation, technical help from the athletic department, faculty mentors, and the academic resource person.
THE PROGRAM begins with a student-athlete's first year of college, which Mai-Dalton considers the most important. That's when the student needs the most help in adjusting to college life in general and to the rigors of being a college athlete, she said.
"It's very difficult for students to adjust to new environments, and they come from all over the country," she said.
Additionally, that freshman year the student-athletes have little choice in class selection and must take what is open and works around their practice schedule and other commitments.
"You have to be fit in to what's left over," she said.
The program is designed for the student to become more independent in her academic endeavors as she progresses through college. And the older students are then able to help the newer students.
"We had students who had such a difficult time when they came in, and they see freshmen in the same boat," Mai-Dalton said. "The role models the sophomores are now for the freshmen is enormous."
IT'S ALSO not just for academically poor students, she said.
"I'm really interested in all students reaching their potential," she said. "Even those with a 4.0 or 3.8 could still benefit from career guidance."
Her program involves weekly progress reports, including a calendar page in which each student fills in her class and practice times, meetings with professors, class projects and exams.
Those student-athletes who sign up for the mentor program have a conference with Mai-Dalton weekly. Last spring she worked with six students. She is now working with 10 students who started with her in the fall.
"WE GO OVER what they've done during the week and what they're to do over the next week," she said. "It enables us to give them feedback. We decide what needs to be done for them to be successful."
The student's progress remains confidential, though the student, coach and Mai-Dalton each receive a copy of the student's weekly goals.
Mai-Dalton credits Washington and faculty members with the success of the program.
And with the demands of school, practice, games and travel, it's a much deserved boost for the student-athletes, Mai-Dalton said. "They richly deserve what anyone can do for them."