Phil Hughes, director of the academic success program, praised the role of the Ross Academic Center in addressing the needs of student-athletes in a talk to the University’s leading faculty governing body yesterday.

Hughes told the Senate Assembly that he feels student-athletes are under greater daily pressure than the general student body, due to the amount of time devoted to practice, game travel and other educational athletic courses. But because of the system in place at the academic center, Hughes said student-athletes have been able to maintain high academic standards.

“The student-athletes are hanging in there, and they’re competing at a very high level on par with the general student body,” Hughes said.

Referring to statistics on his PowerPoint presentation, Hughes said based on a six-year period beginning in 2003 student-athletes had an 80-percent graduation rate compared to the 90-percent graduation rate of the general student body.

When athletes first come to the University, Hughes said the academic center offers them academic support, including help with tutoring and class scheduling, as well as general time management skills. The center also tracks the academic progress of the athletes, Hughes said.

With the academic center open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. most weekdays, Hughes said he has seen student-athletes use the facility regularly, with an influx of students coming to the center for tutoring in the evenings.

Hughes added that because the students are representatives of the University’s Athletic Department, he feels the center is important in shaping the students’ decision-making and overall image.

“Student-athletes have to feel connected to the University,” he said. “They have to feel that the University is connected to them, and therein is the hope that they’ll make better and more ethical decisions about their behavior.”

Addressing a question from a member of the assembly, Hughes said he realizes that some athletes prioritize their sport above academics. He said the structure in place at the academic center helps the students understand the importance of their academic life as well.

Robert Frost, an associate professor in the School of Information and a member of the Senate Assembly, said though he thinks the resources at the center are helpful, he is concerned about the segregation it creates between student-athletes and the general student body in the classroom. Hughes echoed Frost’s sentiments, saying that he was also concerned about that disconnect.

In an interview after Hughes’s talk, Anna Bielinska, an assistant professor in the University’s Medical School, said she was concerned about the academic center’s amount of control over the lives of student-athletes.

“(The program) helps the young person to pass from the first year to the next but not to get a personality developed or a habit of self studies,” Bielinska said. “It’s completely guided from 7:30 in the morning. Somebody watches him, what he does.”

Hughes said though the center does heavily guide and monitor students initially, they are gradually weaned from the system. He added that the academics of an athlete must be tracked to determine whether they are able to play during practice and games.

Tech transfer at ‘U’ launches new businesses

Ken Nisbet, executive director of Tech Transfer at the University, also spoke at yesterday’s meeting highlighting the importance and success of Tech Transfer in helping faculty commercialize their research.

Nisbet said the Tech Transfer program is composed of two parts — one to help faculty with the licensing of their technological inventions and another that searches for start-up businesses. He said the licensing program also conducts market research to find companies that would be interested in adopting faculty inventions.

Nisbet said he believes the program is doing very well, adding that the program placed 91 technologies with entities in 2009. In 2008, the program placed 78 technologies with entities.

Past inventions licensed through the Tech Transfer program, Nisbet said, include MedImmune, which made the the FluMist influenza nasal vaccine, Sakti3, an advanced battery lab, and Health Media, an online health coaching program.

He added that Tech Transfer is important for the success of faculty inventions as well as for the reputation of the University, as high-profile commercialized inventions may attract new faculty to campus.

Currently housed in the 28-building North Campus Research Complex, Nisbet said he is excited that the program is in a collaborative space with other researchers. As the program launches other start-up companies through its business accelerator, he said he is glad the NCRC will be home to those companies.

The Tech Transfer program also contains the Michigan Venture Center, which was established a year ago to develop start-up businesses based on technological inventions from faculty, Nisbet said.

Nisbet said the center features a “Mentor-in-Residence” program in which experienced entrepreneurs help assess whether various inventions are viable for the market.

The center gives students the opportunity to participate in a summer internship program, in which they learn about the licensing and development process and after which they may continue working for the Tech Transfer Center.

Jonah Most contributed to this report.

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