Academics, Lack of School Spirit Among Key Parts of American’s Athletic Department

School, Sports
Billy Walker

Athletic Director Billy Walker speaks at Bender Arena shortly after he was hired in 2013. Photo Courtesy of AU Athletics

(This was written as an assignment for my Sports Journalism class)

Billy Walker, the current athletic director at American University, made it clear at a recent press conference that the specific culture at the school influences the experiences of its athletes. Walker was specifically referencing the focus on academics and the lack of school spirit for which American is known.

Positive Focus on Academics Makes American’s Athletics Shine

Walker, in his press conference with a sports journalism class about the state of athletics at the university, praised the evolution of the department over the past three years that he has been in charge and the department’s current image.

The students asked a lot of questions about the role of academics in the athletic experience. Walker, on his own, mentioned it often throughout the press conference, clearly showing how important it is to Walker and how committed he is to keeping it an important role in the athletic community.

The focus on academics is something that everyone has to buy into. For example, Walker said that he would never hire a coach that does not buy into this.

This focus even plays a role in the American’s athletic recruiting process which shows just how much academics influences the experiences of athletic community on every level.

Walker said that he talks with all the students and coaches prior to each school year which ensures that they are all on the same page in terms of academics and that they remain committed to this focus as well as their focus on athletic competition. “I want our student athletes and our coaches to understand that our student athletes are coming here to get a great education,” he said.

He believes that athletics and academics are not usually exclusive. In fact, he said that they are usually complementary. “Having a great athletic experience is part of your overall education here if you’re an athlete.”

Megan O’Keefe, a junior and a member of the women’s soccer team at American, agreed that academics has been a major focus of her experience as an athlete.

“American is not typically a school that fosters a lot of professional athletes, so everyone involved in athletics is aware that it is important to prepare yourself for life after college, when it may not include your sport,” she said.

The focus on the classroom pays off for American’s athletic department year after year.

The recognition that American’s athletes receive for their academic achievements seems to occur each school year in multiple sports. Most recently, volleyball player Monika Smidova won the Patriot League Volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year award in Fall 2015.

“That’s the most important recognition that our student-athletes can get. I really take great pride, even though I have nothing to do with it, I take great pride when our athletes are recognized by the league as student-athlete of the year,” Walker said.

For a few of American’s current athletes, recognition for their focus in the classroom has happened multiple times in their college careers. Jesse Reed, a current senior on the men’s basketball team, has won the Patriot League Men’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year for two consecutive seasons while Smidova has won the Patriot League Volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year for three straight years.

With all of the accolades, American’s athletes are proving to Walker that they can be top performers both on and off the court.

Lack of School Spirit Hurts American’s Athletic Community

O’Keefe believes that Walker has been a great addition to the athletic community because of his personality and his willingness to take on an active role.

“He genuinely wants to get to know everyone and know all of our names … He is passionate about sports and is very eager to create the best experience for us as student athletes,” she said.

However, this spirit does not seem to translate to the rest of the school.

American is not known to have a lot of school spirit, which fosters a particular culture at the university and ultimately influences the athletic community.

“Sometimes, those of us who are interested in sports are not the right people to ask because it seems like a no-brainer,” Walker said.

O’Keefe agreed, believing that it is all about one’s perspective.

“There are probably a lot of non-athlete students who come here for a specific major and do not even consider the sports at the school, because quite frankly, they aren’t nationally known to be as popular.” She said if she were not an athlete, the lack of school spirit would not concern her as much.

Walker thinks that school spirit has increased in his three years as athletic director, but wants to work on increasing it more.

He discussed how the department struggles compared to other schools with a Division 1 football team, because they have to hook the freshmen when they arrive to campus in August with the soccer and volleyball teams instead. “That’s hard to do,” he said.

He mentioned that the athletes are good about supporting each other. But, Walker believes that the school spirit has a long way to go, especially when it comes to the school spirit from the rest of the student body.

These two elements are not only a major part of the culture at American, but specifically have been a major part of American’s athletic community during Walker’s tenure. As a result, it will be interesting to see how Walker incorporates them into his future plans for the department.

Letter to the Freshmen

Lifestyle, School
(This article was one I originally wrote for The American Word)

Dear Freshmen,

Welcome to American University. Or, as I heard it referred to more than a hundred times during my freshman year, your home away from home. The following are things I wish I had known or had been reminded of when I got to college my freshman year; I hope this letter helps you.

The American University/DC experience:

First, don’t feel like you have to have an internship right away, especially one on Capitol Hill. While these internships might make you feel important, you are still getting adjusted to a new environment. You should take the time to learn your way around. Next, don’t forget about the Washington, D.C. tourist attractions. You might think you have the next four years to do it and you do. But, you also don’t want to be that senior who still hasn’t been to Georgetown or seen the Washington Monument. In terms of WMATA, never stand on the left side of the escalator. Know that the escalators at the Tenleytown-AU stop break down and break down often. Learn the bus routes. All of these things will make your traveling experience much easier. Lastly, in order to survive at AU, you need to make sure you always have a supply of food. You’ll need it for the weekend when nothing is open, when Subway runs out of everything possible and the many snow days we’re bound to have this school year.

General college advice:

First, be responsible and know your limits. If you feel like you’re in trouble, call Public Safety or 911. Next, there are plenty of events with free food happening around campus. Find them and love them. Speaking of events – go to as many as possible. There is always a variety of things going on from athletic games to speeches to concerts. You should take advantage of all the opportunities. Next, don’t forget about your campus resources. Your RAs are great people to go to for advice. Also, your biggest resources are your professors. Go to their office hours and use them as mentors; that is what they are here for. If you’re still looking for a way to get involved, join a club. I joined two my freshman year and they have had a great impact on me and my college experience so far. You should also make sure you help keep your hall clean. Your floor mates and RA will thank you for sticking to those community standards and not having to have extra meetings throughout the year. Next, don’t spend money that you don’t have; be frugal and spend your money wisely. Check your bank account so that you can know what you have and you don’t have. Lastly, the most important thing to remember is to go to class. Learn what you can. Put in the effort and you will be rewarded. Don’t procrastinate your work and get behind because nobody benefits from that. This is the purpose of you’re being at AU, after all.

I’ll leave you with some basic reminders to keep with you during these next four years.

Remember to ask for help if you need it. I could probably bet that you are not alone. It’s also okay to be homesick every now and then; everybody is at some point whether they admit it or not. Eventually, it will go away.

This is the best time to embrace who you are. You should take the time to be selfish because this time is solely about you.

Breathe. Everything will be okay. These are the best four years of your life. Have fun.


Bryna a.k.a. someone who has been there before

Yakking About The New College Trend



(This article was one I originally wrote for The American Word)

I heard about Yik Yak for the first time in the beginning of the semester. I was on a weekend retreat in Maryland with a group of fellow students. I was surprised to see so many people checking their phones during the two days we were gone from campus. It turns out everybody was using this new app called Yik Yak. They were checking out, for the most part, what happened at the different fraternity parties the night before. Some people were checking on their own parties while others were looking at the ones their friends had gone to. I had only just heard of it, but I could already tell what role it was starting to play on college campuses.

Yik Yak is a new app. Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, two college graduates from Furman University, created it in November 2013.

The way it works is pretty simple. The app allows people to make anonymous posts, also known as “yaks.” Then, the posts are either upvoted or downvoted and commented on. The users earn reputation points, or “yakarma”, with the more upvotes they get. It also works based on location meaning you can only see other “yaks” that are within 1.5 miles of your location.

Yik Yak’s target audience is us; Yik Yak aims their app at college students. Their number of users grows daily and currently it is on more than 1,000 college campuses worldwide.

It has had a huge effect on college campuses even though it hasn’t been around for that long. A lot of college students like to use Yik Yak to get a sense of the community they belong to. TDR even embraced this idea a few weeks ago. They printed out screen shots of different yaks students had posted about TDR.

The effect of Yik Yak’s power has had many different reactions. Some colleges have actually reached out to Yik Yak to see how they can better use it on campus.

But, the power it has is also part of the problem with Yik Yak. The anonymous posts lead to the possibility of cyberbullying and has already seen threats of violence, sex crimes and hate crimes. Many colleges such as Kenyon College and Colgate University want to ban it from their campuses. Norwich University in Vermont has already blocked access to Yik Yak on their college computer network.

Yik Yak has recognized the problems and is working to put more safety measures in place.

Thus, the question is: should I download Yik Yak? Is it worth all of the buzz? I’ll admit, it is fun. I downloaded it to try it out for writing this article. But it was fun only for a while. It has a lot of funny posts, but the jokes are unoriginal. I liked that it allows you to access an entire campus. So, unlike with Twitter, you don’t have to spend the time building a follower base. I also liked that Yik Yak is much more of a community forum than previous anonymous sites. However, I didn’t think it was worth the hype or worth downloading.

Studying Abroad “Brought Out the Best in Me”

Interview, Lifestyle, School

Andrea Study Abroad 2

(This article was one I originally wrote for The American Word)

Many students choose to study abroad during their time at college, which is definitely the case here at American University. According to American University’s website, 60 percent of the Class of 2013 studied abroad during their time as an undergraduate. However, no one person’s experience studying abroad is the same. These experiences come in all different shapes and sizes; each country, city, and study abroad program offers each student a different experience.

Meet Andrea Fenster, a senior here at AU. She studied abroad in Spring 2015 at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) in Copenhagen, Denmark with about 30 other students from AU. She talked to The American Word about her personal experience with studying abroad at DIS.

Fenster is a Law and Society major with two minors in Sociology, and Public Policy. She is also graduating this December. So she knew that if she wanted to study abroad that she needed to find the right program, one that would fit in with her studies and still allow her to graduate early. She started looking at the typical study abroad locations, like London, but immediately decided against it. “It seemed like a safe and boring choice,” she said.

The reason she ultimately chose DIS was because of a “core class” she found out about when initially researching the program. “Core classes are kind of like a UC here at AU,” Fenster described. The particular course Fenster discovered was called Prostitution and the Sex Trade. After learning about this class online, she says that she immediately was “stuck” on taking this class and studying at DIS. So, she went through the application process and found out she got accepted.

After she accepted and put her deposit down, Fenster freaked out a little bit. She had no idea as to what she had just gotten herself into. “All I really knew about Denmark before I left was that it was cold and rainy,” she said. She did a little bit of research on Denmark before she left, but ultimately chose to go with the flow. “I didn’t set any particular goals for myself while I was abroad. I knew I wanted to have a great time and learn about Danish life and culture.”

Fenster found some similarities to AU in her experience as a student at DIS. She took five classes while she was abroad and they were taught in a way that was similar to AU. She also said that like AU, DIS emphasized experiential learning and taking advantage of the city where you are located.

However, she also found a lot of differences in her experience abroad. In terms of the campus, Fenster likened it to GW; you had to take a bus to class and the campus itself was located in the middle of Copenhagen. One of the biggest differences between AU and DIS that she noticed was the work itself. At DIS, they emphasized different types of learning. Fenster recalled that her professors pushed personal creativity and incorporating your own views in your work. They didn’t always want her to have research in her assignments and “they loved first person.”

Traveling is usually a big part of studying abroad and it was definitely the case in Fenster’s experience at DIS. DIS encourages its students to travel to other countries and cities while they study. They even provide their students with three week-long travel breaks. Fenster spent part of one of her travel breaks with her core class, but otherwise, was free to travel wherever she wanted. “My friends and I wanted to make the most of these breaks, so we usually made it to three countries in each break,” she said. Some of the places she visited on her breaks included Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam, Paris, Nice, Marseille, and Barcelona. In total, she was able to visit 12 different countries.

When asked if she had come back from study abroad having learned a lot about herself or feeling like she was a completely different person, Fenster didn’t feel like she had in any noticeable way. But she did notice that study abroad brought out the best version of herself. “I was very happy and content while I was abroad. I was responsible and adaptable in new countries and I loved every minute of it.”

Even though every person has a different study abroad experience, Fenster did have one piece advice that could be for anyone who is getting ready to study abroad, whether they are going to DIS or a different continent entirely. She said to make sure to say yes to anything and everything, whether it is traveling to a new country or going to a new wine bar down the street. This is the time, she said, when you should go explore and do as much as you possibly can. “It’s the same thing I told myself at summer camp: don’t let being tired stop you from having fun. You can sleep when you are back at home.”