JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – It is well-known that collegiate athletics departments across the country place a common emphasis on graduation, but Arkansas State has taken it a step further with a bold promise of 100 percent job placement for all its graduating student-athletes.
A-State has already fulfilled that goal through its newly-developed Red Wolves Leadership Academy, which continues to strengthen with a new study abroad component added to foster global awareness which is often cited by employers as a positive attribute they seek.
This month Arkansas State student-athletes are taking part in the first study abroad program offered by any university and their athletics department in the nation. The program goes hand-in-hand with the Red Wolves Leadership Academy, designed with the sole purpose to obtain 100 percent job placement for ALL student-athletes upon graduation.
"We place the highest priority on education, and Arkansas State University provides one of the best in the nation," said A-State Director of Athletics Terry Mohajir. "When you take that kind of education and add experiences such as this outside the typical classroom environment, it becomes a very powerful combination that, as of right now, only our student-athletes will have.
"You have to look at the big picture, and truly say 'in the end, what is our purpose here?' Yes, we want our student-athletes to be successful in competition and win championships. However, it all comes down to making sure they graduate and leave here in the best position possible to succeed in life after college. This is about personal and professional development – gaining experiences that otherwise couldn't be obtained to enrich their chances for more job opportunities."
The Red Wolves are taking a ground-breaking step by sending the group of student-athletes to London on a faculty-led academic program. For Mohajir, this is just one of the many ways it all comes back to providing the Red Wolves with the most comprehensive experiences possible to be successful in life.
According to a recent CNN article (2014), titled "Studying abroad could give you an edge in the job market," only one percent of U.S. college students manage to study abroad. The author can now count these and future Red Wolves among that one percent.
Research conducted by UC Merced backs up what Mohajir, the A-State Athletics Department, and A-State Chancellor Dr. Tim Hudson, who has led hundreds of such programs, believes – adding the study abroad component to the Red Wolves Leadership Academy puts its student-athletes among the most desirable employees in the nation coming out of college and helps create global citizens.
The UC Merced research also showed that 97 percent of study abroad students found employment within 12 months of graduation, while only 49 percent of college graduates found employment in the same period. Additionally, statistics revealed study abroad students had a 25 percent higher starting salary than those college graduates who did not study abroad.
Graduate school also falls under the all-encompassing umbrella provided by the Red Wolves Leadership Academy and is included in its goal of 100 percent job placement since it has a significant impact on future employment. According to IES Abroad research ("Recent Graduates Survey: The Impact of Studying Abroad on Recent College Graduates' Careers", 2012), 90 percent of alumni who were accepted into one of their top two choices for graduate or professional school studied abroad.
The inaugural group of Arkansas State student-athletes taking advantage of the study abroad program represent seven different sports, including football, men's and women's basketball, volleyball, women's soccer, women's golf and women's tennis.
"I'm looking forward to exploring a new culture and enjoying the interaction with some of the international sports like rugby and soccer," said Booker Mays, a junior on the A-State football team. "I want to experience that atmosphere and see how it all kind of ties us together as a society.
"I believe this kind of trip is definitely an investment into your personal future and gives you an edge in the job market. Some of the things that stand out for me are that this not only makes you more culturally diverse, it puts you in a situation where you are taking on and completing a major assignment. This could be a life-changing experience, and it is also a great opportunity to be an ambassador for the University."
Leading the student-athletes will be Dr. Gabriel Tait, an A-State assistant multimedia journalism professor who holds a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary. Abby Wilson, the Red Wolves' Associate Athletics Director for Student Services, will also be part of the official travel party.
Tait, who has traveled to 29 countries during his academic and professional careers, will be the Red Wolves' professor. Prior to joining Arkansas State, he led three study abroad assignments in Kenya, Tanzania and Haiti as an instructor.
"I took my first study abroad trip to Scotland in 1993 when I was a young kid from urban Pittsburgh," said Tait. "When I initially participated in the program, my mentors and advisors said it would be life-changing, and it truly was. So, we're hoping that some of these students, who may or may not come from similar backgrounds, will be transformed by the experience from learning in a different culture and community."
Partnering with International Studies Abroad (ISB), Arkansas State University will be sending its student-athletes to several site visits, including Arsenal Stadium, St. Paul's Cathedral, London's Olympic venues, Lord's Cricket Ground, Wimbledon and Twickenham Stadium. A-State's travel party also has a confirmed meeting with the minister of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
"The fun part is that the classroom is literally going to be the streets of London," Tait said. "I'm grateful that I've had the opportunity to lead this first trip, and I think it will not only bolster who we are as the Arkansas State Red Wolves, but also enrich the lives of our students. I am grateful for the vision of the study abroad program and also for the vision that all parties have offered to make this assignment happen."
Like Mohajir and Tait, Dr. DeeDee Hudson, Director of the Office of Study Abroad at A-State, and Dr. Osa Amienyi, Chair of the Department of Media at Arkansas State University, were a part of the study abroad vision and instrumental in bringing it to fruition.
A-State's student-athlete representatives on the trip have already participated in several orientation sessions for the study abroad program and will depart for London May 11. The class explores sports culture and photography. It will focus on how sports and culture intersect while using photography as part of a research method created by Tait called "Sight Beyond My Sight," which will help the students better explain and understand what they are seeing.
The student-athletes will be required to blog as part of the course, and those online posts may be available to the public at a later date.
"I never thought as a student-athlete I would have this chance because you don't really have an offseason until your last semester," said Hannah Robey, a senior on the A-State volleyball team. "The fact (A-State) came up with this and it was something I could actually pursue just made me excited that it worked out.