Burke, NSU academics staff take part in NCAA Accelerating Academic Support Program Conference

Photo: Former Northwestern State softball pitcher Mariah Denson (second row, fourth from left) was selected as part of the inaugural NCAA Leadership Enhancement & Academic Development Academy. Credit: Greg Burke/NSU Athletics

As the second summer academic session came to an end, a handful of members from the Northwestern State Athletics Department spent two days in New Orleans working to continue the in-class momentum built by NSU student-athletes.


For the second straight year, NSU Director of Athletics Greg Burke was a presenter at the NCAA’s Accelerating Academic Support Program (AASP) Conference held July 31-Aug. 1. Additionally, former Lady Demons softball pitcher Mariah Denson, now a student assistant in the NSU Academic Center, was selected for the inaugural NCAA Leadership Enhancement & Academic Development Academy across the two-day period.


Denson was one of 17 student-athletes chosen to attend sessions related to professional and personal development.


“I’m so blessed to have been surrounded by such a great group of student-athletes and mentors at the first NCAA L.E.A.D. Academy,” Denson said. “I am also grateful for the opportunity to network with so many sport administrators. It was a life-changing opportunity to be part of the first-generation NCAA L.E.A.D. Academy. It is a blessing within itself, and I am very grateful for the chance.”


Burke joined Southwestern Athletic Conference Senior Associate Commissioner for Administration Jason Cable, Tennessee State Director of Athletics Teresa Phillips, and Norfolk State Associate Athletic Director for Student Services Alisha Tucker to make a presentation entitled “AASP Grant Writing: From Application to Implementation.” Also presenting at the conference was Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett, who joined three other commissioners from across the region in making a presentation entitled, “Important Role of Conference Commissioners in Accelerating Academic Success.”


Northwestern State received a three-year NCAA AASP grant totaling $794,000 in 2015 and has maintained a close relationship with the program, helping build an athletic department that has produced a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better for seven of the past eight semesters, a 987 Academic Progress Rate in the most recent cycle and a department-high NCAA Graduation Success Rate of 78 percent that is expected to be even higher in the next report due this fall.


Joining Denson and Burke at the conference were Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development Kaitlyn McCanna and Academic Coordinator Tim Zinzel, both of whom spent the two-day event in professional development seminars.


“Being able to attend the NCAA AASP Conference was a tremendous opportunity to connect with other staffs of similar sizes and resources,” McCanna said. “With the NCAA covering the conference fees and travel, I think it shows the level of investment it has in institutions of all shapes and sizes. Providing our staff with professional development enhances our ability to offer the best academic support and student-athlete experience we can.


“As a staff, we are always seeking to be better for the student-athletes we serve every day. Getting to network with other academic and student-athlete development staffs was a key takeaway.”