SAAC gives voice and service opportunities to student athletes

group photo

SAAC members pose after their December 2012 work at Shepherd’s Pantry. Left to right: Emily Harris (women’s tennis; ’13-’14 SAAC President); Sean Barber (football; ’12-’13 SAAC vice president); Ben Eger (men’s tennis); Molly Lavin (women’s soccer; ’12-’13 SAAC president); Madi Velling (acrobatics & tumbling); Jordan Chesley (women’s track & field); Kelsey DeGan (women’s cross country). Courtesy: Student-Athlete Advisory Committee

The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is a powerful group that advocates for more than 450 students on campus.

The student-led committee provides insight and serves as the student athletes’ voice to Azusa Pacific’s Athletics Department. The members cover topics that range from new rules and regulations to new sports uniforms and apparel.

The committee is composed of an executive board, which includes senior tennis player Emily Harris as president, junior basketball player Andy Jones as vice president, junior baseball player Zach Hedges as community engagement officer and junior Kaitlyn Lee from the swimming and diving team as an administrator.

The SAAC also has three subcommittees (Make-A-Wish, community engagement and student athlete integration) that are formed by five to six representatives from each sport’s team on campus.

SAAC was established in 2009 shortly before APU became part of the NCAA’s Division II Pacific West Conference. According to Sharon Lehman, associate athletics director and the chair of the Department of Exercise and Sports Science, the committee began with Bill Odell, the previous athletics director, who thought it would be worthy of starting before applying to the NCAA, since it is a required committee for all member schools.

Lehman has been serving as the adviser for the committee since it was established in 2009. It has been her goal for SAAC to see the leadership team take more ownership and responsibility of the panel.

“I can push and pull, but until the student athletes realize the opportunity they have to have a voice … they need to do it,” Lehman said.

As president of the SAAC, Harris approached this past year with a similar mentality as Lehman. According to Harris, it has been her goal to get back to being “an advisory committee,” since it’s in the name.

“What’s kind of great about this committee is you get different points of view, so it’s really nice,” Harris said. “I hope what people get out of it is just having an open mind and hearing different perspectives from different teams and really stepping up as a leader from your team giving your own opinion or your team’s view about something, and then just going back to your team and telling them what’s going on.”

Harris keeps the committee running once a month on Sunday evenings to talk about big sports-related events that may be coming up and to discuss any possible issues. The athletics department creates surveys and asks questions to the members to open up discussions and receive input.

SAAC has been able to tackle an array of issues, including student athletes’ absences from class in hopes of bridging communication gaps between athletes and faculty members. To resolve this issue, the committee came up with priority registration for the athletes in an attempt to reduce their absences from class. The faculty senate approved this proposal two years ago.

This academic year, SAAC implemented a study hall, a new program required for student athletes, especially targeted at those falling under a certain GPA who may be having difficulty keeping up with classwork and getting good grades. According to Harris, the committee has been hearing good feedback from students who attend that it has helped them in raising their GPAs.

SAAC also pushes for student athletes to be engaged with their community. The committee has a program called “Teams for Toys,” in which every December, members sponsor the Shepherd’s Pantry in Glendora by donating toys for families who cannot afford to buy gifts for their children. Lehman hopes to branch out of the local community and into the Azusa Pacific cohort by encouraging the athletes to support other programs on campus just like the student body supports them in their games.

Junior football player Luke Siwek is a committee member on SAAC and votes on issues that come up on behalf of the football team. This year, Siwek was part of the student athlete integration subcommittee and was able to set up an all-athlete gathering to recognize their athletic achievements. April 22, 2014, SAAC will award the male and female athletes who performed the best this year.

There are big things in the future for the SAAC. The most recent effort it hopes to establish in fall 2014 is the APU Faculty Mentor Program. It was created by liberal studies associate professor Paul Flores, Ph.D. Flores is the faculty athletics representative of the SAAC, serving as a liaison between the student athletes and professors. The program was designed to increase the interaction and engagement between Azusa Pacific faculty and student athletes.

Lehman also hopes to see SAAC have two representatives in the Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to represent Azusa Pacific in NCAA Division II.

“What I hope to see in the future for the SAAC is for the committee to have a more influential voice. I feel that a lot of the student athletes don’t know who we are, and we’re a committee that is there to help them and support them,” Siwek said.