Merchant Marine SAAC Bridging Gaps Across Campus

Academic Dean Shashi Kumar, Women's Basketball Team Mentor, at 2014 Senior Day
Academic Dean Shashi Kumar, Women's Basketball Team Mentor, at 2014 Senior Day

Kings Point, NY – The United States Merchant Marine Academy Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) has had a specific mission throughout the 2013-14 season.  That mission was to strengthen the connection between Midshipmen-athletes and the faculty and staff at the Academy.  SAAC’s primary initiatives were the launch of the Guest Coach program as well as the continuing improvement and implementation of the Team Mentor program.

Katie Franchois (Perkasie, PA) of the USMMA women’s basketball team is the president of the SAAC and played an integral role in the Guest Coach program.  The women’s basketball team was the first to implement the idea as members of the squad each invited one professor to the most anticipated game of the year, a showdown with rival Coast Guard.  Upon arrival, all professors received a team t-shirt, sat behind the bench and were honored during the game.  Following the contest, coaches, players, and professors all enjoyed dinner and dessert at the post-game meal.

“In a program as multi-faceted as ours, it is important that mentors, teachers, officers, and coaches each get to know us on different levels,” said Franchois.  “While our officers may know us on a regimental level, or our coaches on an athletic level, and professors as midshipmen and students, they rarely are given a chance to see us in our other elements. Inviting professors to our games and competitions is an important step in bridging the gap between students and faculty so they can begin to truly understand our role as student-athletes on this campus.”

Current Athletic Director Susan Petersen Lubow developed a Faculty Advisor program at the Academy for Midshipmen-athletes 23 years ago.  Since then, the name of the program has changed from Faculty Advisor, to Team Advisor, to Team Mentor.  During the past 13 years, the program has become a collaboration with the overall Academy Academic mentoring program. 

Now known as the Team Mentor Program, it is administered through the Academy’s Center of Excellence (ACE) and Midshipmen-athletes are assigned a Team Mentor through their affiliation with their sport.  The Team Mentors express their sport of interest, which creates a great working relationship between the faculty member and athlete.

Iain Bradbury just completed his first season as the Head Volleyball Coach at the Academy and has truly benefited from the program.  Lieutenant Kelly Gualtieri, who works in the USMMA Admissions office, is the team mentor for women’s volleyball.

“The entire volleyball program is incredibly appreciative of our relationship with Lt. Kelly Gualtieri,” said Bradbury.  “From the very beginning, Lt. Gualtieri has been an invaluable contributor to the success of the volleyball program. Her mentoring of our midshipman athletes has helped them on the court, in the classroom and in their own personal lives.”

The SAAC will continue to develop these programs as well as other develop other methods to engage the Academy community.

“Hopefully as more teams start to do these types of programs, the faculty and staff will be more inclined to come to their students games and enjoy the preparation the student-athletes have put forth,” said Franchois.