Academic Coordinator Helps Hawks Win in the Classroom

Posted on 8/17/21 8:00 AM
Dan Braun talks with IUP golfer Colin Walsh in front of a white tent on the sidelines of a golf tournament

Dan Braun, academic coordinator in the IUP Athletics Department and IUP men’s golf coach, talked with golfer Colin Walsh during the first round of the NCAA Atlantic/East Region Championships in North East in May.

Dan Braun is working to dispel a myth: that long-standing notion that student-athletes have it easy.

“Maybe at some schools that is true,” said Braun, who oversees the scholastic progress of more than 400 student-athletes as IUP’s academic coordinator, “but not at IUP.”

Dan Braun headshotInstead, he said, IUP student-athletes are tasked with juggling all kinds of demands, which often create time-management issues. But Braun and the graduate students who help him work to make sure IUP’s athletes learn to balance school and sports in a healthy and productive way.

“There are a lot of demands on their time, with practices and games, plus team meetings, and then 15 to 16 hours of classes each week, and sometimes community service projects,” Braun said. “So we try to teach them about balancing everything they do. A lot of times, our student-athletes just need someone to talk to who listens to them.”

IUP is one of only four universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education that list an academic support staff member in their athletics directory.

Braun, who doubles as the Crimson Hawks’ men’s golf coach, is a rare piece of support for student-athletes at the NCAA Division II level: IUP is one of only four universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education that list an academic support staff member in their athletics directory.

Todd Garzarelli, IUP’s director of athletics, said Braun’s role is critical to the department and the university in their goals of putting students first.

“It’s an important part of athletics and is no different from a strength and conditioning coach or a sports nutritionist, both of which we have. But having an academic coordinator is rare from a Division II standpoint,” Garzarelli said. “It’s important, because as we continue to put the emphasis on our student-athletes, academics will always come first. We’ll continue to use our resources in ways so our student-athletes can be successful on the playing fields and in the classroom and also obtain their degree.”

Braun became IUP’s first academic coordinator in 2018 and has worked with all 19 varsity teams to ensure every student-athlete knows what kind of academic help is available, whether it be tutoring, counseling, study tips, or anything else. Before Braun’s hiring, the teams’ coaches were usually responsible for making sure their student-athletes stayed on track.

“Dan is great about communicating with the student-athletes about their role,” Garzarelli said. “He does a great job setting up a conduit for our student-athletes to get any help they need.”

Dan Braun watches as golfer Jeremy Eckenrode practices his swing in the golf lab in the basement of Memorial Field HouseBraun and his GAs—who are practicum students from IUP’s Student Affairs in Higher Education master’s program—hold study halls for freshman student-athletes five nights a week when classes are in session, have face-to-face or Zoom meetings with any student-athlete who needs assistance, and host Zoom seminars on topics relating to time management, study habits, and other areas of need.

“Each semester the participation gets better and better,” Braun said. “We just try to teach and preach that this is part of the growing process to learn the kinds of skills that don’t always get taught in classes. They need a good solid education behind them in case their dream of playing professionally doesn’t happen.”

The average grade point average for IUP student-athletes has risen every semester since Braun took on the role of academic coordinator.

The work has paid off greatly. Garzarelli said the average grade point average for IUP student-athletes has risen every semester since Braun took on the role of academic coordinator. For the spring 2021 semester, IUP’s student-athletes had an average GPA of 3.4, and for the school year, they set an IUP record with 271 Crimson Hawks earning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Scholar-Athlete Awards, which go to athletes who have a 3.25 GPA or better.

“What we’re doing—yes, it makes me feel good,” Braun said. “It makes the practicum students feel good. The coaches have a lot to do with it, and the quality of student-athlete we have at IUP plays a big role. This is something the whole university and the community ought to be proud of.”