The first year of college can be an overwhelming experience for students, but for student athletes, the experience can be even tougher. At American International College there is a program that helps make the transition a little easier. "Academic Camp" introduces first-year student-athletes recruited for fall sports to the academic demands and stressors they will face, the resources to assist them, and the policies/procedures important to their success in the classroom.

The program begins on Friday, August 16, and will run through Thursday, August 29.

The program, which has gotten national attention and was featured in the NCAA publication "Champion Magazine," gets these freshmen into the classroom with a professor within 72 hours of arrival to pre-season camp.

Time management is the key lesson as first-year student-athletes balance class time and short homework assignments with the demands of pre-season, practice on the field. Students graduate from Academic Camp with a “can do” attitude towards academics and the knowledge that they are not alone as they begin this journey as NCAA Division II student-athletes.

Some of the subjects covered during Academic Camp include, the key attributes of a student-athlete, an overview of the course syllabus a discussion of roles and expectations of student-athletes, and a session focused on plagiarism and cheating.

This innovative model was presented at the NCAA’s annual Faculty Athletics Representatives (FAR) Conference in 2010 and at the annual National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) conference in 2009.

Jill McCarthy Payne, a criminal justice professor at AIC and a Faculty Athletics Representative, collaborated with Head Football Coach Art Wilkins to create and conduct Academic Camp.

“The athletic programs traditionally begin pre-season training well before classes start. First-time players arrive at campus nervous and excited about playing college sports. These student-athletes quickly adapt to the routine of athletics. Their days are spent playing sports, eating in the dining commons, and hanging out in the dorm free from restrictions from home," she said.

While the pilot program in 2005 concentrated on football, Payne said it was so successful, it now encompasses all fall sports, including football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s field hockey and volleyball.

"We knew we had something that worked when the eligibility rates for freshmen football players doubled after the first year of the program," Payne said.

The four-week academic camp was developed to introduce new players to the other required aspect of their college lives, namely course work. For a number of first-time student-athletes the academic schedule and work load is a shocking, difficult adjustment. Ultimately, some do not experience the same success in the classroom as they do on the field. When athletes fail to perform in the classroom, they become ineligible to play, often leading to withdrawal or dismissal from the college.

This non-credit program is intended to bring reality to pre-season athletics by reducing the shock of academic expectations. It identifies weak students for early intervention and increases the confidence of first time college students who are concerned or worried about the rigors of college work.

Payne said Academic Camp has been structured as an academic lead-in to fall orientation and the First-Year Experience course. The purpose of the program is to get first-year student-athletes who are attending pre-season camp ready for the classroom by learning about college expectations and time management strategies. The motto is “eligibility isn’t about playing, eligibility is about graduating."