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LMU Athletes Connect With Middle School Students

Far from the roar of the Gersten Pavilion crowd, Loyola Marymount University athletes are scoring points – big time. Women from the basketball and tennis teams are taking their college experiences to Orville Wright Middle School in the Westchester area of Los Angeles and working with seventh-graders, becoming examples of what it takes to succeed at the university level.

“If I go to college, I will have more of a chance to be successful in life,” said one of the middle school students.

The pilot program, Student Athletes-College Connection, is offered by LMU Family of Schools and the School of Education, and is part of the university’s initiative to connect with the community. Seventh-graders meet once a month with LMU student-athletes to get an introduction to college life and are encouraged to put higher education in their plans. But there is an important lesson for LMU’s student-athletes as well. 

“This is an opportunity to teach our young women that they’re more than basketball players,” said Julie Wilhoit, coach of the LMU basketball team. “After our players leave LMU, we want them to be involved and active in their communities. This program is one way to teach that.”

Senior basketball player Jessica Vargas remembers being inspired by an athlete who visited her middle school. “It’s one thing to hear stuff from a parent or a teacher and quite another to hear it from a peer or a college student,” Vargas said. “The kids are more receptive.” Vargas’ initial sessions with the middle school students were a little stressful, and she had to endure many one-word answers. “But I took a step back and I know that this can make a difference for some of these kids. We’re planting the seeds of interest in college.”

“We’re making a difference,” said Camille Buckley, a freshman basketball player. “We’ve had some wide-ranging conversations, about grades and all you have to deal with at college. We’re also getting to know about them and their concerns.” 

The program is expected to expand next year to include the men’s soccer and baseball teams, said Maggie Bove-LaMonica, assistant director of the Family of Schools.

Posted Jan. 19, 2010