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‘It shows your commitment to academic excellence’: Nearly 70 Sun Devils Balance Athletics and Academics in Barrett, The Honors College

Oct 6, 2022

TEMPE, Ariz. – Already planning ahead for life after athletics with her spring graduation forthcoming, Sedona Gallagher recently wrapped up a series of interviews for potential jobs and internships for next summer – and a recurring theme was present in each conversation.

"People love athletes," said Gallagher, now a graduate student on the Sun Devil Women's Tennis team and one of nearly 70 student-athletes in Barrett, The Honors College. "In all of my interviews, every single one of them skipped right over content and right into, 'What's your experience being on a team? How do you handle leadership skills? What do you do when there's a problem on your team?' 

"They directly correlate athletics with the working world, so I think I've been set up pretty well in that regard [in Barrett]."

Barrett, which the New York Times' Frank Bruni once tabbed it as "the gold standard," offers students "study abroad and globally-focused programs, undergraduate research and internships, social and cultural events and leadership and service initiatives," according to the school's website.

It is consistently ranked among the top honors college destinations while being lauded for its facilities and amenities.

For these Sun Devil student-athletes like Gallagher, athletics are woven into top-level academics over the course of their collegiate careers. Barrett quenches the thirst for those seeking excellence in both.

Several Sun Devils spoke about the impact the honors college has on them, how it creates the path to a better future and what future student-athletes can do to follow in their footsteps.

"Make the time," Gallagher, an Accounting major, said, offering advice to prospective student-athletes interested in joining Barrett. "It is 100 percent worth it."

When Jake Mason, heralded as one of the top high school swimmers to come out of Tennessee's class of 2022, first opened his recruitment, it was paramount that the university he committed to had academics that were on par with the swimming program.

It was the coaching staff who steered Mason into the direction of Barrett, after the Nashville native explained his knack for swimming better when he's excelling in both the classroom and the pool.

"When my grades are up, my swimming is going well," Mason said. "I wanted a school that could challenge me in both ways, and the [swim] coaches suggested Barrett to me as a way to step it up even further. I thought it was a great idea."

Mason is studying Business Management and is just two months into his ASU tenure as a freshman on the Sun Devil Men's swimming team. He's since settled into his new role where athletics and academics are equally valued.

"It's been really fun, it's like it's a home away from home," he said. "I have my athletics and my stuff over by Mona Plummer Aquatic Center and then have a home-base to come back to, relax, shed it all off."

Soccer's Brianna Nunley, a freshman and Psychology major, shared Mason's excitement about his first impressions of Barrett. Both touched on The Human Event course – one of the school's signature classes – and its ability to take older texts and relate it back to modern times and ideals.

Make no mistake – these courses pose great challenges and each can be widely demanding, but Nunley feels it is their structure that makes for a more conducive learning environment. 

"To have that smaller environment where in the class, we all communicate to each other and share ideas," she said, "it's even helped me grow and expand the knowledge that I can have. I've loved that."

"You're kind of sitting in this Socratic seminar type of table," Mason added. "I can network with people, or discuss freely without raising my hand, which is big."

Outside of the course workload itself, much of the challenges for Sun Devil student-athletes in Barrett centers around balancing it with rigorous athletic schedules. Early morning weight-training sessions followed by mid-day practices see classes sandwiched in between. 

Of course, then, it feels nice to have helping hands nearby.

Mason and Nunley each have more than a half-dozen teammates in their respective sports who are also in Barrett, as does Emily White, a junior on the Gymnastics team.

"Our freshmen and sophomores [on the team] in Barrett, I know me and the seniors and the other juniors, we really like helping them out with books we've read and giving them some insight and different tips we have just going through the process," White said.

Nunley has a teammate who shares the same Human Event professor, allowing them to collaborate ideas, clarify questions they may have and generally offer support to one another.

"Instead of just being on your own with it," Nunley said, "it's been amazing to have that."

Gallagher is the lone Barrett representative on the Women's Tennis team this season, a feeling she's still getting used to after having teammate Cali Jankowski alongside her last year. Though Jankowski has since graduated, the two still engage in Barrett-related discourse.

These athletes refer to Barrett as a community within a community – another layer to their Sun Devil experience – and a bond that remains intact even after their collegiate careers are over.

"Even now, I still talk to her and she'll give me advice on certain classes and the thesis," Gallagher said, "so I'm sure she'll be around to help me with my thesis. I really leaned on her a lot."

White is a year away from writing her thesis paper – which presents itself as a tall, intimidating task upfront – but feels comforted at the assistance she has at hand. She's already met with a trio of senior teammates who are currently writing theirs, and they have offered insight on the paper's research and development process.

"I feel like once you get started, there are really so many resources that Barrett has for you," she said.

Collectively, Gallagher, Mason, Nunley and White shared similar sentiments on what it means to be a student-athlete in Barrett. It demands a higher level of accountability, teaches time management and molds them into complete, well-rounded students.

It also opens the door to opportunity for life after athletics.

"For me personally, I want to go to medical school," said White, who's currently a Biomedical Sciences major, "so I know that'll really help me stand out on my application. It just really shows your commitment to academic excellence and I feel like Barrett really embodies going the extra mile in general, so it really sets you up for being prepared to put in the work."

Gallagher and White especially, both upperclassmen, are beginning that preparation for life after their playing days. The stresses and nervousness associated with securing that first job post-graduation remain, but they feel their time in Barrett allows for a smooth transition to the working world.

"I think it provides you with more job opportunities and it's a leg-up on other people," Gallagher said. "It shows you can begin and complete a task. I'd definitely recommend it."

"There is that life after being an athlete," Nunley added, "and I think Barrett will really help prepare me for that."