Michigan State University student-athletes Taylor Mullins and Jasper Koenen have hear the stereotypes: Athletes focus too much on their sport and enough on class.
But that’s not how they see their time in college.
Mullins is a sophomore on the track and field team at Michigan State University. She is studying advertising with a minor in public relations. She was a recipient of the Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Award in 2017. The honor is given to student-athletes with a minimum GPA of 3.7 for the previous academic year.
Koenen is on the men’s tennis team at MSU. He is a senior studying hospitality and business carries a 3.5 GPA.
Spartan Newsroom talked with them about how they balance their sport with school.
Spartan Newsroom: How do you balance being a student-athlete along with making sure your grades are up to par?
Jasper Koenen: Each sport gets an academic coordinator, so mine is Danny Sager. They really focus on making sure we are doing well in our classes and if we need tutors. They really keep us on track, especially being so busy with traveling and practice.
Taylor Mullins: I would say that I am very blessed with the different opportunities and people around me that really keep me in tip-top shape. My adviser Jeremy makes sure that if I’m stressed about something, he’ll send me a quick little reminder, like, “Hey, you need to turn this in.” I carry a planner with me. I talk to my coaches and my tutors about what I need to do so we pretty much stay on top of everything.”
SN: How important is it to you as an athlete to succeed in academics?
Taylor Mullins: Unfortunately, the stereotype with athletes is that we care too much about our athletics and not enough about our academics. Unfortunately, for athletes who take that position that they don’t have anything that they can do outside of college, after their career. So my position going into college was I wanted to excel in both realms. I want to be the one who’s different, so that’s where I strive the hardest.
Jasper Koenen: I think sometimes student-athletes are put at a disadvantage because a lot of sports are here during the summer. Some are taking summer classes and during that time they aren’t able to have internships or further their work experience. And I know so many athletes that are so motivated to do so well in the classroom because they know that they’re gonna have a career other than being a professional athlete. We have some really special and high-achieving athletes here at Michigan State, and as an athletic department we’re only getting better each year, as our cumulative GPA as a whole.
I serve as president for the student-athletes for the past two years and I just see so many passionate and hard-working athletes, and it can be tough at times when you’re sitting in classes and people can see you’re a student-athlete by all the gear we’re wearing.
They assume — and it’s hard because if one student-athlete is showing up late to a big lecture hall, it kind of hurts that stereotype. But I think at Michigan State we can only control the athletes here and that we do a great job at keeping each other accountable on our teams and as well as having our coordinators and our athletic department doing a great job.
SN: Are there any difficulties you face sometimes? What do you do when you are stressed?
Jasper Koenen: Sometimes it can get tough depending on the class times. My major is pretty specific and sometimes classes might interfere with practice time. But the school and athletic department and also our coordinators do a good job of making sure we plan really well during the off-season (which is fall). So we try and do classes that conflict more during that time, rather than spring when we’ll always be in practice. I think that being so busy keeps us in line, like when we have time to study and do homework we do it because we know that there’s not gonna be a lot of other times to do it.
Taylor Mullins: When I’m stressed I really try and go to the Bible, and I try to go to church because he’s (God) the only one that’s gonna be there for me all the time every day so, I mean, when I can’t talk to someone that’s who I go to. Another technique that I use is really long baths just to keep to myself and keep private.
SN: Are you planning to go pro or what do you plan on doing with your degree?
Jasper Koenen: No. I always knew I wanted to go and play four years of college tennis and then to pursue a career not in tennis. This past summer I was an intern out at Nike headquarters in Oregon, and as of two to three weeks ago, I accepted a full-time offer to go back. The department that I’m working in is called Workplace Design & Connectivity. We’re not exactly sure what my job’s gonna be, but the department really focuses on real estate for Nike, the interior design of buildings and exterior.
Taylor Mullins: I’m hoping to go to grad school. I really want to go into law, so I’ll probably be going to law school, potentially a grad position here on campus so I can continue working with athletics. So, if the opportunity presents itself professionally, I mean, I’m working really hard to get there. Hopefully that will proceed and I’ll be able to do that, but if not then I do have educational opportunities I’m pursuing.”