Athletics puts the STUDENT back in Student-Athlete

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Arizona Athletics celebrated 90 student-athletes at the first annual “Declare Your Major Day” outside the Hall of Champions on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s a spin on national signing day and I wanted to put that type of emphasis on their academic careers as well, and their life goals,” said Syndric Steptoe, associate director of C.A.T.S. Life Skills. “You choose a major because you see yourself doing something in a certain career.”

The student-athletes committed to 10 different colleges and 39 overall majors.

“The idea is bringing the student part back to the student-athlete and to the forefront,” said John Mosbach, associate athletic director of C.A.T.S. Academics. “Getting them as excited about owning a major and declaring a major.”

Steptoe was the main emcee for the event and was the one who came up with the original idea—a concept based off an event at another university.

“This day is about you guys,” Steptoe said. “Having a day like this lets them know that this is a big decision, but they made it.”

Former Arizona football player and alumni letter winner Anthony Wingate spoke to the crowd and encouraged students to always reach out to their resources.

“When you step off the field, there’s not really an itinerary for the next path,” Wingate said. “Just stay in touch with everybody. Use your resources the whole way through.”

Arizona swimmer Matthew Salerno and gymnast Danielle Spencer were the two student-athletes highlighted at the event.

Salerno, a sophomore from Aurora, Illinois, declared a veterinary sciences major in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“So many people told me you couldn’t be a science major and a Division I student-athlete,” Salerno said. “That between the labs, lectures and classes that are five days a week, you are going to burn out way too early. I’m proud to say it cannot be farther from the truth.”

Spencer, a sophomore from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, shared her story of her decision to become a biomedical engineering major as part of the UA College of Engineering, bringing tears to many in the audience.

“Dani Spencer has an awesome story about why she is becoming an engineer and I truly think it’s the reason why I have my job,” Steptoe said. “Her passion for why she is doing what she wants to do is beyond me.”

Spencer explained that her twin brother James has suffered from seizures for most of his life and has mental and physical disabilities.

“I always enjoy sharing my reason for why I chose my major,” Spencer said. “If that story can impact others, then that’s all I want.”

Spencer was emotional onstage, holding back tears while sharing the emotions of not knowing if her brother was going to survive.

“Whenever I share it, it brings me right back to that time,” Spencer said. “When I was talking about when he was 10 in the hospital, I had the image of him sitting on the hospital bed with wires coming out of his head because they were monitoring his brain activity. I have a visual image and I’m reliving it again.”

Spencer finished the story by sharing that her brother received a new procedure called split brain surgery and has not had a seizure in more than five years. She wants to give back by helping others with mental and physical disabilities.

“I will be able to take my passion and hopefully improves the quality of life,” Spencer said. “It gives me my reason and purpose. If I ever have a tough day, I think about him. It helps me keep the best outlook on my life.”

The event concluded with the student-athletes signing documents committing to specific majors within the various colleges.

The brand new C.A.T.S. Academics facility opens for students on Monday, Oct. 24, at 8 a.m. There will be a grand opening private ceremony on Friday, Oct. 28 as well. 


Follow Matt Wall on Twitter.


Video Courtesy of Arizona Athletics via Youtube.


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