Finishing What They Started: Degree Completion Program Helps Former Student-Athletes Thrive after Competition

With their competitive playing days behind them, former Hurricane student-athletes are returning to the Coral Gables campus to complete their degrees, earning the one tool that will help them succeed for their rest of their lives.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

Earl Little left for the NFL before completing his UM degree.

Former UM student-athlete Earl Little played safety for three NFL teams. When his professional career ended, he returned to UM to complete his studies and is now the head football coach at Miami Jackson High School—a position he could not have attained without a college degree. Photo by Andrew Innerarity.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 16, 2014) – As much as Earl Little knew that football was a way out of Liberty City’s crime-ridden James E. Scott housing projects, he also understood that a professional career in the sport would be fleeting and that he would need something more tangible to sustain him long after his playing days in cleats and shoulder pads had ended.

So when the final whistle blew on a nine-year NFL career that included stints with the New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers, Little, who played a position—safety—regarded as the quarterback of the defense, made the call of his life. He telephoned the University of Miami, where he starred as a defensive back from 1993 to 1997, to find out what it would take to complete his degree.

“God blessed me with incredible athletic talent,” said Little, who, coming out of North Miami High School in 1992 was recruited by college football powers such as Notre Dame, Michigan, and USC. “But knowing the attrition and injury rate of the NFL, I knew I couldn’t play in the league for very long. I needed to have that piece of paper.”

It turned out Little was just one course shy of earning his degree. He quickly reenrolled at UM, registered for a statistics course, and graduated in a semester, fulfilling a promise he made to himself and his mother, Mamie Morris, who had always stressed the importance of education to her six children.

Little is now the head football coach at Jackson High School in Miami’s Allapattah community. He is also among a growing number of former UM student-athletes who, for various reasons, left school without completing their degrees but are now returning to finish what they started. Helping them accomplish that goal is the University of Miami Athletics Degree Completion Program, an initiative that invites former scholarship athletes to return to the U to complete their degrees, providing them with tuition reimbursement.

“While we want our student-athletes to compete at the highest level, we also want them to achieve academically, whether it’s going for a Rhodes scholarship or trying to get into medical or law school,” said David Wyman, associate athletic director for academic services and assistant dean of undergraduate education. “A future in professional sports is guaranteed to no one. Only a select few make it, and when they do, it doesn’t last forever. They must be able to transition into something else, and a college degree gives them that opportunity.”

Octavia Blue, who left UM in 1998 to play in the WNBA, knows that better than anyone. After her professional basketball career ended, Blue wanted to go into coaching, but she needed a college degree to land a job with a Division I program. She emailed UM President Donna E. Shalala for help. “She stepped right in and helped make it all happen, making sure the right people got in touch with me about finishing school,” Blue said of Shalala’s assistance.

Today, Blue has her sociology degree and a position as an assistant on the Miami women’s basketball squad, working with head coach Katie Meier to inspire young women to use education as a tool to advance. “I didn’t go to UM just to play basketball, and obviously for me to attain some of the goals I wanted in life I needed a degree. So that was always the plan,” said Blue. “The WNBA is great, but it’s not a league where I was going to be filthy rich and wouldn’t have to work again. I owed it to myself to get my degree.”

Since Shalala began enthusiastically supporting the athletic degree completion program in 2006, at least 18 other ’Canes like Blue and Little have come back to complete their studies. Many have been baseball players, like catcher Charles Johnson, who departed early for the Major Leagues, eventually helping the Florida Marlins win a World Series. But they come from all sports, from football and basketball to tennis and track and field.

Wyman said the program solidifies UM’s already strong reputation as a school committed to the success of its student-athletes on and off the playing field. Last year, Miami recorded a 92 percent graduation success rate for its athletes, placing it in a tie for third among Atlantic Coast Conference schools and tenth overall among FBS institutions.

Director of Athletics Blake James calls the initiative a trendsetter at a time when the NCAA and schools are being criticized for not doing more for student-athletes. “We’re definitely at the forefront,” said James. “Given everything that is going on publicly regarding scholarships, potential pay for play, and all the things playing out in the court system, we’re seeing more and more institutions step up and provide this opportunity for their student-athletes, which again I think is such a great credit to the vision and commitment President Shalala has had for student-athletes at the University of Miami for so many years.”

It was Shalala who helped Audra Cohen return to UM to finish her degree after the former NCAA singles champion and No. 1-ranked collegiate women’s tennis player in the U.S. left Miami to turn pro in 2007. “Without her initiative in helping me, I would be three steps behind in life,” said Cohen.

Little doesn’t use stories of his NFL career to motivate the high school players he coaches. He uses his college degree, which he says made his mom happier than the day he bought her a house with some of his NFL earnings.

“Even if I had lost everything I earned through the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears expended in the NFL,” said Little, “I knew I always had my degree to fall back on.”


Posted in Features, Freeze Frame, NewsComments (0)

Cosford Cinema Kicks Off Fall Semester in 3-D

The Cosford Cinema screened The Lego Movie, it's first 3-D film, last week.

The Cosford Cinema screened The Lego Movie, it’s first 3-D film, last week.

By Megan M. Ondrizek
UM News

GABLES, Fla. (September 5, 2014)­—Screening the first 3-D film shown on campus, The Lego Movie, last week, the Bill Cosford Cinema inaugurated the ambitious technology upgrades the Division of Student Affairs, in partnership with the School of Communication and the student Cinematic Arts Commission (CAC), completed over the summer.

“This technological upgrade for the Bill Cosford Cinema is terrific and timely for the University of Miami,” said Patricia A. Whitely, UM’s vice president for student affairs, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the Cosford’s new BARCO digital cinema projectors and Dolby 3D system. “This new cinema system will allow us to not only screen movies in high-definition and 3-D, but also allow the opportunity to offer even more ‘sneak-peek’ films on our campus.”

Student Robert Pinney, chair of the CAC, added that, “As the movie industry begins to shift from reels to a digital format, it is necessary for us to adapt to the changing environment. This projector puts us on the same level as the major movie theaters, such as AMC and Regal, in terms of our capability to show the latest movies and bring sneak previews to campus. Ultimately, all this is done so that CAC can keep providing quality entertainment to students on this campus.”

A full schedule of film screenings at the Bill Cosford Cinema can be found online.

Posted in FeaturesComments (0)

Data Visualizations ‘Worth Millions of Words’ Debuts at UM

Places & Spaces, a traveling exhibition of 100 maps that present data in visually stunning formats, opens at UM.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News 

Fifty data visualizations are now on display at the School of Architecture's Stanley and Jewell Glasgow Hall, where UM students, faculty, staff, and visitors got the opportunity to examine some of the works at the Places & Spaces exhibition opening.

Fifty data visualizations are now on display at the School of Architecture’s Stanley and Jewell Glasgow Hall, where UM students, faculty, staff, and visitors got the opportunity to examine some of the works at the Places & Spaces exhibition opening.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 5, 2014) – From a visual guide that shows how your federal tax dollars are spent, to an interactive chart capable of simulating a naked-eye view of the sky from anywhere on Earth, Places & Spaces: Mapping Science debuted on the University of Miami campus Thursday evening, showcasing 100 maps that present data in visually stunning formats. Read the full story

Posted in Features, Freeze Frame, NewsComments (0)

Faculty and Staff Support the U: Frost School of Music Lecturer Leaves a Legacy for Future Students

Devin Marsh

Devin Marsh

As a teacher, Devin Marsh shares his considerable energy and vast experience in the music world with his students every day. But the lecturer in the Frost School of Music’s Media Writing and Production program yearned to do more. “That’s why I designated the University as the beneficiary in my will,” Marsh says. “In that way, my planned gift will help provide financial assistance to talented music students in the future.”

A native of Florida, Marsh studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, on a Gary Burton Scholarship, later continuing his studies at UM, where he earned a Bachelor of Music in music education in 1991, a Master of Music in media writing and production in 2004, and a Doctor of Musical Arts in composition in 2007. In addition to teaching, he is an accomplished performer, writer, arranger, and instrumentalist who toured internationally with his Caribbean band, Nori Nori. He has composed, recorded, and produced music for films, commercials, ballets, dance groups, and other artists while managing his Miami-based commercial recording facility, The Chill Lodge.

At the University, where Marsh has been employed for more than a decade, he helped develop the Frost School of Music’s technology program, designed studios, and is always eager to help student performers. “From building performance skills to writing and producing for other artists, our students are well prepared for careers in the music industry,” he says. “I encourage them to listen, practice, be open-minded, and learn how to run a business. Every day brings a new lesson.”

Marsh also serves as the director of broadcasting and of sound and recording at the Arthur & Polly Mays 6-12 Conservatory of the Arts magnet school—one of several sites that benefit from the Frost School’s MusicReach mentorship program. Through MusicReach, UM students mentor and teach young musicians. “Music can help young students develop their sense of responsibility and take pride in their accomplishments,” Marsh says.

Reflecting on those themes, Marsh says UM employees can enjoy the personal satisfaction of making a financial contribution to their school, department, institute, or program. As he says, “With a planned gift, you can help ensure the future of our great University.”

Read about other faculty and staff who support the U.

Posted in FeaturesComments (0)

Reboot: Artist Transforms Tech into Art

By Meredith Camel
UM News


Miami artist Patricia Van Dalen transforms a motherboard into a piece of a mural that now hangs in the main office of the Center for Computational Science.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 21, 2014) —When Miami artist Patricia Van Dalen saw the motherboards, microprocessors, and heat sinks in storage at the University’s Center for Computational Science (CCS), she didn’t see an electronics graveyard.

“Instead I saw a ‘liveyard,’ with endless possibility,” she says.

The components are the remnants of CCS’s first IBM-built Pegasus supercomputer, disassembled in 2013 to make way for Pegasus 2, which is five times faster than its predecessor. Now the hardware enjoys a second life as part of Data Hall, an art installation that adds color and kinetic energy to CCS’s main office on the sixth floor of Gables One Tower.

Van Dalen’s recent works include Natural Intersections, a vast network of bright pink ribbons at The Kampong, and her homage to power grids and wires in High Voltage, an Art Basel satellite exhibit. Sawsan Khuri, CCS director of engagement and assistant research professor in the Department of Computer Science, recommended Van Dalen for a commissioned work at CCS after taking note of the artist’s approach to mapping connections in science and nature.

Data Hall was installed last week

Data Hall, which was installed last week, will be on long-term display on the sixth floor of Gables One Tower.

Data Hall begins on one wall and wraps around to the adjacent corridor, each motherboard a canvas for zigs and zags of blue, yellow, red, and green plastic lacings. Van Dalen built this color palette using only those hues found in the wires and data cables of Pegasus. Her goal was to infuse the boards with the lively spirit of data processing, reminding observers that these components once carried trillions of data per second on investigations of the human genome, cancer, engineering, music, climate, and more. Data Hall may seem like a mixed media sculpture, but for the artist it’s a mural.

“These are drawings,” Van Dalen explains. “It’s me painting without a brush—applying color and establishing a sense of balance with the direction of the lines. At one point they all seemed to have too much personality, like a screaming teenager. So I added white vertical and horizontal lines to create boundaries.”

Van Dalen will return to campus October 2 to speak on a panel with fellow artists Nela Ochoa and Xavier Cortada about how science inspires their art. The panel is part of Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, a scientific visualization exhibition of images that prompt discussion about the meaning of data and the art of info graphics, hosted at the University of Miami during the fall 2014 semester.

Posted in Features, Freeze Frame, NewsComments Off

  • Features
  • Tags
  • Popular
  • Subscribe
  • Subscribe to the Veritas RSS Feed
    Get updates to all of the latest Veritas posts by clicking the logo at the right.

    You can also subscribe to specific categories by browsing to a particular section on our site and clicking the RSS icon below each section's header.

UM Facebook

UM Twitter