Faculty mentors provide added support for student-athletes

Stuti Shrestha

The faculty mentor program at Augustana is designed to support student athletes by providing each sports team a faculty mentor. 

Men’s soccer captain, senior Nicholas Dispensa, has turned to his faculty mentor for help managing his time as a student athlete. Even if a student athlete has played their sport their entire life, once they come to college they have to develop time management skills in order to succeed. 

“Growing up from a seven-year-old, playing soccer has been a journey for me. Being a student athlete really allowed me to manage my time and having a faculty mentor has been helpful for me,” Dispensa said. 

Dispensa has been able to connect with his faculty mentor because his mentor also played college soccer. 

“If anyone needs anything, our faculty mentor was also a soccer guy in his college, so it’s great to have a relationship with someone who was in our shoes.” Dispensa said. “It’s nerve wracking to meet a faculty mentor, but it’s also exciting because you know they are someone who really cares.” 

Men’s cross country captain, senior Karsten Zielinski, turns to his faculty mentors for questions about school. He feels extra support from them because they also come to support him at practices and games. 

“We have two faculty mentors, and they are super fun to be around because they show up to practices, and it’s nice to stop and chat with them,” Zielinski said. “They’re there to help us out and if we have any academic questions, we go to them.” 

These faculty mentors help students prioritize academics and help them find a balance between sports and school. This balance helps them perform better both in school and in their sport. 

“It’s super fun seeing faculty come out, especially faculty mentors. They inspire me to be a better runner.” Zielinski said. “Programs like this are very important for athletes and this program also shows that Augustana really places academics first.” 

Many student athletes, including senior baseball player Joshua Wintroub, have been able to get advice and frequently communicate with their faculty mentor. Some athletes have even had their faculty mentor as a professor for a class. 

“My faculty mentor is good to go to with any problems that I have and is easy to talk to,” Wintroub said. “I took Swedish with him my freshman year so we have a good relationship.”

Student athletes sometimes have to miss class for games and the faculty mentors are there to help them with catching up on anything they might have missed and help them communicate with their professors about what they missed. 

“While I’m on field, I don’t have to worry about off-field problems because our faculty mentor is there to handle problems like missing classes and other stuff,” Wintroub said. “He’s good at negotiating that sort of thing.” 

Faculty mentor for the men’s soccer team, Dr. Michael Scarlett, is an expert in the education department and was a student athlete himself. 

“I played soccer when I was in college, so I was excited when I found out college was creating a program to partner faculty members with different athletic teams,” Scarlett said. “For the men’s soccer team, I introduce myself first at the beginning of the session, set up an appointment with a first year soccer player and introduce myself. This way they’ll know me and we can have individual appointments if they want.” 

Academic advisors are also great mentors for student athletes, but if a student doesn’t feel comfortable asking their academic advisor something, the faculty mentor is another person the school provides for them to be there as support for anything they need. 

“Since I’m not their coach nor their professor, students come to me to share their problems. If any student is nervous to talk to their academic advisor, I try to encourage them to think of us like human beings and our job is to help students,” Scarlett said. 

The faculty mentor for men’s cross country and baseball, Dr. Mark Safstrom, is an expert in Swedish language and Scandinavian literature and history. Much like Scarlett, he was a college athlete and can relate to his players. 

“I myself was a cross country runner from middle school to college, it was exciting to be part of this program. So, it’s a natural fit to kind of want to get to know these students who do something similar like me,” Safstrom said. 

Despite COVID-19, many student athletes still set up virtual meetings with their mentor. 

“During the pandemic, I set up some google meet for 20 minutes or depending on how long a player wanted to talk, and we talked about open topics and had good conversations,” Safstrom said.