The Ohio State University wasn’t Mac Podraza’s initial choice for college, but it was the right choice.
“The stars aligned for me to come here. I don’t think I realized what was right in my backyard,” she said. “The thing that stood out to me was the network post-graduation, the amount of people I can connect with after I’m done with classes. SASSO and the EDSLI set us up to have so many good connections.”
SASSO, or the Student Athlete Support Services Office, and the Eugene D. Smith Leadership Institute (EDSLI) work with student-athletes at the university to ensure they have the skills they need to be successful during their years in Columbus and beyond. In particular, SASSO provides academic support for student-athletes ranging from schedule planning to tutoring to study hours. SASSO also helps students maintain compliance and eligibility with organizations like the NCAA and the Big Ten.
In April, 788 student-athletes were recognized at the university’s scholar athlete awards. To qualify, students must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Of the 788, 52 had a 4.0 GPA.
“I aspire to help my student-athletes think outside the box,” said Shaun Swearingen, associate director of athletic academic services at SASSO. “Not every student is going to professionalize in their sport. There are other pathways to success. We have the luxury of helping them figure out how to meet their new goals.”
Swearingen oversees the academic support services for three sports at Ohio State: men’s ice hockey, baseball and women’s volleyball. Podraza is a setter on the women’s volleyball team. She met Swearingen her freshman year when he came to practice to introduce himself and SASSO.
“Shaun is really hands-on. He does a good job of meeting with the team,” she said. Podraza’s roommate is also a volleyball player. “She has Shaun on speed dial. If she needs help, she’ll say ‘I’m going to call Shaun.’ Even if it’s 10 o’clock at night! But he always answers. He is always at our fingertips.”
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted Podraza’s athletic eligibility. Despite graduating this spring, she has the opportunity to play for additional years. As a result, she needed guidance on her academic options, eventually deciding to pursue a master’s degree in sports administration at Ohio State. Swearingen has helped her to decide what that will look like.
“He has been great about giving me options. ‘We can do grad school with a certificate, we can do just grad school, we can make grad school last two years, we can make it last a year and a half.’ I want to be smart about this,” she said. “We’re working on which classes I need to take and when.”
Swearingen has been with SASSO since 2011. While the day-to-day work has not changed much in the last decade, he has seen more of an emphasis on post-graduation planning, he said.
“One of the cool things that our athletic department has done is put a focus on career development. You have the Eugene D. Smith Leadership Institute right here on campus,” he said. “There’s definitely a focus on trying to help students post-graduation. We want to get them to graduation, and we also want to put them in the best possible position to succeed.”
While Swearingen’s office is the starting point for students, he is quick to acknowledge that SASSO does not work alone.
“Our campus partnerships are what help us advocate for and support students. It’s not something that we could do alone,” he said. “Students have a team around them – academic trainers, sports performance managers, academic advisers, coaches, administrators – we have a lot of eyes on them. The adage ‘it takes a village’ is true.”