Towson University student-athletes continue to lead in the classroom

With the help of the Athletic Academic Achievement Center, TU's student-athletes have the highest graduation rate of all Division I public institutions in Maryland.

By Kyle Hobstetter on March 2, 2017

When a Towson University student-athlete graduates, he or she is given a special stole to wear at Commencement that features the Towson Tigers’ logo and the words “Student-Athlete.”

That same stole is one of the first objects you see when you walk into Geoff Gordon’s office. Gordon, who serves as Towson University’s assistant athletic director for academic achievement, hangs the stole up for a simple reason: motivation. 

“I have it there to show every student that walks in here, that sash is the ultimate goal,” Gordon said. “You need to graduate and get out into the working world.”

TU’s student-athletes seem to enjoy taking Gordon up on his challenge. According to an October 2016 report, Towson University has a student-athlete graduation rate of 71 percent — the highest for any Division I public institution in Maryland. 

To go along with those statewide numbers, Towson University is ranked in the top five percent nationally in African-American male student-athlete graduation rate according to the Federal Graduation Rate compiled by the US Department of Education. These rankings go along with student-athletes having higher graduation rates and grade point averages than the rest of the Towson University general population.

These accolades don’t surprise Gordon. In fact, he sees them first hand working at the Athletic Academic Achievement Center in Linthicum Hall.

“All the credit in the world goes to our student-athletes,” Gordon said. “In my opinion, Towson University athletics is lucky these students are willing to put the work in. And it’s not just with their sport, but they also put the work into their studies and making themselves better.”

The Athletic Academic Achievement Center features seven full-time staff members serving as athletic academic advisers for their respective sports. As advisers, the staff helps student-athletes with papers, note-taking, studying and tutoring.

They also help student-athletes with their time management, which might be the most difficult aspect of the job. Most student-athletes’ schedules include games, practice, travel days and a full class schedule. Some students even have mandatory study halls that last from two to six hours per week.

“They help us stay organized,” said Daijha Thomas, a junior on the women’s basketball team. “They make it a priority that we know our schedule for the week. We even get to schedule an hour or two with them on travel days because they are usually on the road with us.”

Thomas is just one of the over 400 student-athletes on TU’s campus. Her athletic academic adviser is Dixie Wingler, who has been with the program for almost three years. 

Wingler, who serves as an assistant director and learning specialist, works with men’s and women’s basketball and gymnastics. It’s a common sight when you walk into her office to see a student-athlete behind her hard at work on a project.

Wingler estimates that she receives over 100 student-athlete visits per week. One of her regular visitors is junior men’s basketball player Deshaun Mormon, who is quick to credit his time with Wingler for his success in the classroom.

“There is never a dull moment with Dixie,” Mormon said through a laugh. “We have a real amazing relationship together. Whenever we're together, she has me hitting the books hard and getting work done. 

“Spending time here has not only helped me in the classroom, but it has also helped me become a better person.”

While it’s her main priority to help students in the classroom, Wingler sees her ultimate goal is helping them become a contributing member of society.

“I try to teach them to be more than a college student,” Wingler said. “I want them to learn skills that will make them successful as not just a student-athlete, but adults as well. When they graduate, I want them put those skills to use.” 

In college athletics, it’s usually the coaches who are the public faces of the athletic department. The staff members at TU’s Athletic Academic Advising Center seem to know they are more of the behind-the-scenes group.

But that doesn’t stop the student-athletes from showing their appreciation. Wingler remembers one student who graduated during the 2016 Spring Commencement and made sure to call her afterwards.

“He thanked me and said ‘I couldn’t have done this without you,’” Wingler said. “That means everything to me. The students are why I do what I do. In our field we don’t get a lot of recognition, and we don’t get a lot of thank yous. But we do get moments like that, and, honestly, that means everything.”