In describing the debut of “Speaking to Communities,” a class designed to help student-athletes at West Virginia University hone their public speaking skills, a local sportswriter said Carolyn Atkins was “opening a door and not knowing where it would lead.”
“That was a profound statement,” Atkins, an award-winning speech pathology and audiology professor in WVU’s College of Human Resources, said of the comment. “I really had no idea what I was getting myself into and how the experience would change me.”
Twenty years later, her class still takes some surprising and unexpected turns, whether in the form of impromptu classroom comments or personal perspectives that form the students’ final motivational speeches presented to area middle and high school students. Speeches are also presented to a community audience as part of Atkins’ program, Student Athletes Speak Out. The next presentation is from 1 1:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, at the Jerry West Mountaineer Room, Coliseum. The public is invited to attend. Video clips of speeches from the spring 2010 semester are available at http://hre.wvu.edu/saso_2010.
Atkins has chronicled both the ridiculous and touching in her book, ””Great Unexpectations: Lessons from the Hearts of College Athletes””:http://www.msnsportsnet.com/greatUnexpectations/index.html available at wvugame.com, Sam’s Club and other Morgantown stores that sell Mountaineer merchandise.
“The book emphasizes what they taught me, not what I taught them,” Atkins said.
It highlights four major themes in the athletes’ lives; academics, adversity, athletics, and attitudes.
“Their adverse experiences constitute the most poignant part as readers find themselves amazed that some have been able to survive such horrendous circumstances and managed to establish decent lives for themselves,” Atkins said.
Through brief vignettes pulled from classroom activities and personality sketches, the book gives a behind-the-scenes look at what makes the student-athlete tick. Many of them come from harsh backgrounds and beat long odds to earn college scholarships and degrees. But not all the stories are of unqualified success. Through anecdotes—some told without revealing the students’ real names Atkins illustrates some of the struggles student-athletes have away from home and in a structured, academic setting.
Positive and negative, Atkins saw student-athletes as role models with the potential to influence young, impressionable minds because they’re among the most visible members of the University population.
“The student-athletes at WVU are role models whether they want to be or not,” Atkins said. “I wrote the book with that in mind and wanted to make the content appropriate for a young adolescent. I wanted to make sure that if it were my young son or daughter, I’d want them reading it.”
Of WVU’s current crop of student-athletes, Atkins said Devine, a senior tailback, made remarkable progress when he took the class as a freshman. Introverted and reluctant to reveal much about his background, Devine gradually opened up and became more relaxed. Atkins says he stays connected with the class, often showing up for his teammates’ speeches and asking questions.
“Noel is one of my favorite SASO alums; I’m so proud of the leader he has become” Atkins said.
In Repella and Jones, Atkins sees two examples of role models who can provide life lessons, particularly to youngsters. A senior, Repella is an Academic All-American and all Big East performer who embodies and embraces the idea of serving as a role model. She was one of nine student athletes featured on Atkins’ two-volume SASO DVD Character Education Series which was sent to all public middle schools in West Virginia.
Jones overcame a severe injury to his right arm as a child and the emotional devastation of being cut from his high school basketball team to become one of the Big East’s premier players. He is a junior.
Atkins will sign copies of “Great Unexpectations” before several WVU men’s home basketball games. Details are still being finalized.
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CONTACT: University Relations News