Tech Forward: More Than A Game

Michigan Tech students study at high tables at the Van Pelt and Opie Library
Michigan Tech students study at high tables at the Van Pelt and Opie Library
Suzanne Sanregret, director of athletics, explains how a commitment to excellence prepares student-athletes for success beyond the game.
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Michigan Tech’s thought leaders share their ideas to prepare students and the University for a rapidly changing future. Director of Athletics Suzanne Sanregret explains how a commitment to excellence prepares student-athletes for success beyond the game.

Four years ago, Michigan Tech recruited three-sport high school athlete Andrew Rose out of De Pere, Wisconsin. A mechanical engineering major and running back for the Michigan Tech football team, Andrew has been recognized with GLIAC All-Academic Excellence Team honors three years in a row. When he graduates, Andrew will go to work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston as a SPARTAN flight controller specializing in the International Space Station’s power and thermal control systems.

Andrew is just one example of what it means to be a successful student-athlete. In the world of collegiate sports, the definition of success is too often confined to a win-loss record. At Michigan Tech, excelling in and beyond the classroom is equally important to excelling in competition. Because of this, the University attracts a different kind of student-athlete. Our recruits are more than athletically gifted — they’re dedicated scholars and community leaders.

Our coaches embrace this “student-athlete-plus” culture. Each is committed to recruiting talented student-athletes who can perform academically as well as on the court, ice, field or track. Over the last decade, our athletics programs have seen significant and increasing success — in competition and in the classroom — even though the demands of both Michigan Tech athletics and academics are rigorous and time-intensive.

On the academic side, our roughly 370 student-athletes carry an average GPA of 3.40, with more than 70% majoring in a STEM field. All teams are above a cumulative 3.0 GPA average, and 197 student-athletes — more than half our roster — were recognized with academic all-conference honors. In fact, our women's basketball team has an average GPA of 3.796, the highest across all divisions of collegiate women's basketball.

Four members of Michigan Tech’s cross country running team wearing medals.
Michigan Tech’s roughly 370 student-athletes carry an average GPA of 3.40, and 197 student-athletes were recognized with academic all-conference honors.

In athletic play, our recruits are making their mark. The women’s basketball team, for example, just finished their first season under Head Coach Sam Hoyt with a 21-9 record, claiming the program’s 16th GLIAC North Division/Conference title. In 2018, our cross country running team finished seventh in its first-ever NCAA championship appearance. On the pitch, our women’s soccer team has qualified for the postseason seven years in a row and recorded double-digit win totals in five of its nine years as a varsity program. And on the ice, the Hockey Huskies were WCHA regular season champions in 2016 and playoff champions in 2017 and 2018, and they’ve qualified for the NCAA tournament in three of the last five seasons.

Balancing school and sport – and flourishing in both – is not a simple equation. The once-in-a-lifetime experience of being a Michigan Tech student-athlete brings its share of sacrifice. First and foremost, there’s no such thing as a day off. Even on Sundays, when no events or practices are scheduled, team members are in academic meetings, making sure they’re on top of their studies.

For every away game, match or meet, our student-athletes travel an average of eight hours, often arriving back on campus in the early morning hours. When they get off the bus during the winter months, they frequently put in a couple hours of shoveling (un-burying cars, driveways, sidewalks and steps) before they can make their way to bed.

With all the demands on a student-athlete’s schedule, time management is critical. Effective time management often means sacrificing the things that many view as integral to the college experience. Student events like Winter Carnival, for instance, are usually not an option.

Yet with all that’s required of an MTU student-athlete, we never struggle to bring in top-quality recruits. Michigan Tech is an environment that requires character traits commonly found in successful athletes — tenacity, a strong will, a thirst for adventure. It makes sense that our players thrive here, and that they're comfortable in a place some may not understand, because they know that meeting a challenge brings great rewards.

Michigan Tech student working at a computer and wearing clothing with the University’s spirit mark.
Michigan Tech student-athletes are expected to be leaders in the classroom, which includes prioritizing classwork.

When I asked Andrew Rose — the student-athlete mentioned earlier — about his new job, he told me that being a student-athlete at Michigan Tech set him up for success. He said that the job requires technical competence, which he learned through his studies, and solid communication skills, which he learned from football. A SPARTAN flight controller also needs to be a dynamic problem solver, an ability Andrews says he learned both on the field and in the classroom.

How do we attract student-athletes like Andrew? Our coaching staff lay the groundwork. When scouting and recruiting, they focus on bringing in student-athletes who have demonstrated they are prepared for the rigors of a Michigan Tech education. We sell not only the quality of our athletic program but the quality of the education as well. Given the University’s reputation for academic excellence and return on investment, promoting Michigan Tech to potential student-athletes is easy. We’ve had more than one recruit tell the media they chose Michigan Tech because the degree will make them competitive in the job market.

Once student-athletes have signed letters of intent, the Athletics Department takes a holistic approach to ensuring their success. All student-athletes are required to follow the Michigan Tech Student-Athlete Code of Conduct, which promotes community and accountability, and makes clear that attaining an academic degree is a top priority. The code also emphasizes the partnership that exists between the student-athletes and Athletics Department coaches and staff. We provide them the resources to be successful, from facilities and coaching (both as a team and one-on-one), to academic tutoring and leadership training.

But in order to maintain the privilege of being a Michigan Tech student-athlete, they need to live up to their part of the partnership — namely, bringing their best every day and committing to their education. Because student-athletes engage in the academic environment as much as they do the athletic environment, they are expected to be leaders in the classroom. This means engaging in class discussion, treating professors and classmates with respect, and prioritizing classwork. Remember that eight hours of average travel? Many teams use bus time as study time. In fact, many team itineraries specifically include dedicated study time while on the road.

Of course, our success wouldn’t be possible without the support of Michigan Tech’s faculty. They work with our student-athletes to ensure they stay focused on their studies, and provide accommodations when travel and competition conflict with the academic schedule. Two of the most gratifying aspects of my job are when student-athletes receive academic and leadership awards, and when I hear affirmation from faculty that our student-athletes are engaged leaders in the classroom.

As the University looks to the future, I’m reminded through our Tech Forward discussions that student-athletes embody what is best about Michigan Tech. It affirms that we’re staying true to our values and honoring our Code.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.

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