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Eagle Edge initiative debuts to support Emory's student-athletes

Emory Athletics’ new Eagle Edge initiative will provide one-stop assistance to aid student-athletes. Audrey Hester (center), assistant athletics director for Eagle Edge, discusses the program with cross-country and track-and-field athlete Bennett Shaw (left) and tennis player Anna Fuhr. Photo by Tina Chang.

In the world of intercollegiate sports, Emory Athletics is a powerhouse, with 23 NCAA Division III national championships, 109 NCAA Postgraduate Scholars, 191 UAA conference titles and 940 CoSIDA All-Americans, among other honors.

Now, Emory is poised to expand its impressive portfolio of victories on the field and in the classroom with Eagle Edge,  a program that addresses the unique challenges of the university’s 400 student-athletes.

Eagle Edge will provide one-stop assistance to aid student-athletes in their academic, athletic and personal development by holistically focusing on four core areas: academic support, health and well-being, life skills, and leadership and service.

“Emory Athletics is a tremendous program,” says Joyce Jaleel, senior director for athletics. “We’re giving student-athletes an edge to become even better.”

While Emory student-athletes are consistent winners in sports and scholarship with the excellent support that the university already provides, Athletics Director Michael Vienna believes such support can be even better. Eagle Edge embodies that philosophy.

In fact, Eagle Edge is offering comprehensive student-athlete support and development rarely seen at the NCAA Division III level.

“As Emory Athletics continues to strive to be the national model for intercollegiate athletics,” Vienna says, “our intent is to take the Eagle Edge program to the next level so our student-athletes fly higher in all aspects of their growth and development.”

Empowering Emory athletes

The initiative is the brainchild of Vienna’s predecessor, former Athletics Director Tim Downes. When Vienna joined Emory in 2015, he continued to build on the concept by challenging staff to give increased focus to the program’s planning and development and by successfully securing a NCAA Strategic Alliance Grant to hire staff to run it. 

Jaleel recalls those days and how individual requests for help from student-athletes dealing with challenges from scheduling classes to mental health issues prompted staff conversations about how to provide more support.

“We wanted to empower our Eagles to have an edge academically, athletically and personally,” Jaleel says. “We had a slow start, but with the addition of Audrey Hester on our staff, and the dedication of some real attention and resources, the program is set to take off.” 

Hester, who came on board last August as assistant athletics director for Student-Athlete Success and Compliance, is responsible for overseeing Eagle Edge. 

She has spent this academic year working to grow the initiative from its current status as a source of informal assistance to a one-stop resource for more structured support that speaks to athletes’ unique needs. Her efforts so far have included examining what’s already going on, conducting a needs assessment with student-athletes and coaches, and forging partnerships with other campus offices.

“With all the data I have been able to put together, I think next year we will be able to hit the ground running,” says Hester, a former four-year lacrosse student-athlete for Randolph-Macon College and an NCAA postgraduate intern. 

Success on and off the field

Meanwhile, Hester acts as an advocate for student-athletes, helping them navigate campus resources. Both she and Jaleel consider Eagle Edge as much a benefit to coaches as it is to student-athletes.

Head baseball coach Mike Twardoski couldn’t agree more.

“When I recruit a student-athlete, the word ‘student’ has always been a very important part of the equation,” Twardoski says. “Helping our players compete off the field is as important as competing on the field. That’s why Eagle Edge is so important.” 

Eagle Edge also has an endorsement from members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, like Bennett Shaw, who competes for Emory in cross-country and track and field.

“I really like the idea of providing these services,” says Shaw, a junior biology major. “It’s really a good way to incorporate all the needs of athletes outside of competition.”

Anna Fuhr, committee co-president and Emory tennis team member, believes athletes need all the help they can get. Eagle Edge, she says, checks off all the boxes.

“I think it will be great,” adds Fuhr, a senior psychology and sociology major. “I’m excited about it. I think it’s a good thing for student-athletes.”

And what will success look like for Eagle Edge?

“Of course, there are the formal assessments that we can do,” Hester explains. “But getting an email from a student-athlete or a coach saying thanks for helping them get the resources they need, those are the little moments when I would count this as a successful program.”

Emory’s 18 intercollegiate teams — divided evenly between women and men — compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III and the eight-member University Athletic Association (UAA). CoSIDA is the College Sports Information Directors of America.

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