The balancing act: the heart and mind of a champion

Friday, March 25, 2022

Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,

“The balancing act: the heart and mind of a champion!”

Intercollegiate athletics is an essential part of university life here at S&T, just as it is for universities around the world. I witness firsthand on the playing fields and indoor courts of campus the wonderful camaraderie and social cohesion that our intercollegiate sports bring to the lives of our students. The way our student-athletes interact with each other and with their coaches, the seriousness with which our students prepare for competition, and their reliance on each other to master the “game” to win the competition – these qualities all form a strong bond among our student-athletes. Intercollegiate athletics is as much a bonding experience for our students as are academics and other social environments such as fraternities and sororities.

Lately, you can’t help but notice that the collegiate basketball event known as March Madness is upon us, and so are numerous spring sports. The simple act of cheering for the underdog “Cinderella” teams during the basketball tournaments, after two years of what was essentially a hiatus due to Covid, is a reminder that we can never take these simple joys of life for granted. It is also a reminder of other, lesser known but remarkable storylines of exceptional student-athletes who approach their academics with the same diligence, dedication, heart and mindset as they do their athletic competitions.

I am continuously amazed by our Missouri S&T student-athletes and their dedication to academics as well as athletics. It takes a special kind of student to balance the rigors of an S&T education with the challenges of NCAA Division II athletics. Along with their competitive spirit and desire to excel, these students possess tremendous grit, determination, and time-management and project-management skills. These characteristics and qualities will serve them well in their careers and in their lives, as it has for generations of students before them.

Take Nathan Swadley from Willard, Missouri. Nathan is a mechanical engineering student with an electrical engineering minor. He is also a teaching assistant in our EE department, and a member of our track and field team. Earlier this month, Nathan set a new school record in the shot put at the NCAA Division II indoor track and field championships. And he did so just hours after presenting his senior design project in suit and tie, via Zoom, from a converted racquetball court some 200 miles from Rolla! Kudos to you, Nathan!

Nathan is not alone. Our student-athletes have a strong track record of academic success. Since the 1960s, the collective grade point average of these students has been consistently higher than that of the general student body, and nearly 40% make the honor roll. Since our first Academic All-American in 1972 – Miner football defensive back Kim D. Colter, who is now a successful physician – over 100 S&T student-athletes have been added to that list! S&T now ranks seventh in the nation for the number of Academic All-Americans among all Division II institutions.

The success continues to this day. Last fall, our swimming team recorded the highest GPA of any NCAA Division II swimming program. Also last fall, both our women’s and men’s soccer teams earned the Team Academic Award from the United Soccer Coaches. And for the 12th straight season, our volleyball team earned the U.S. Marine Corps/American Volleyball Coaches Association Award for achieving a collective GPA of 3.3 or better.

These are just a few of the many, many academic accolades our teams have earned in recent years. I won’t even attempt to list the academic honors of our individual student-athletes, as they are simply too many to include here.

Needless to say, we are very proud of our student-athletes’ academic accomplishments. But their athletic accomplishments are also impressive. For example, last spring, our men’s track and field team claimed its fifth straight conference title, and our volleyball team clinched the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) West Division and advanced to the conference championships for the first time in history. Our baseball team qualified for the conference tournament for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons. And last fall, our women’s soccer team made it to the conference semi-finals.

Successful scholar-athletes become successful alumni. One standout is former NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, who played women’s soccer for S&T while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in physics. She also completed her master’s degree in electrical engineering from our university and recently was named to the National Academy of Engineering and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame for her career accomplishments. We honor her and many other alumni through our Academy of Miner Athletics, one of several academies that keep our university and graduates connected. 

I am also proud to highlight the fact that, as an NCAA Division II university, we have maintained the balance between academics and athletics and have remained true to the concept of the student-athlete. The academic success of our student-athletes attests to their ability to maintain this challenging balancing act.

So as this season of March Madness winds down, I cheer the many hard-working, hard-studying student-athletes in our midst here at S&T, regardless of their sport, and say, your S&T experience will prepare you well for the biggest game of all: the game of life. For each of you has the heart and mind of a champion!



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Mohammad Dehghani, PhD
Chancellor | 573-341-4116

206 Parker Hall, 300 West 13th Street, Rolla, MO 65409-0910