Division III is remarkable. The student-athletes who attend and compete at DIII colleges do so without monetary compensation and often in conjunction with rigorous academic schedules and a good deal of extracurricular activities thrown in as well. Over the course of my own collegiate career, I shared pool space with athletes who developed robots, helped with political campaigns or competed in foreign countries. It is these stories and these athletes who best exemplify what it means to be a student-athlete at the Division III level.
What follows is a tribute to the athletes of Division III, showcasing seniors from across the country who have brought their own passion to swimming and academia. This series of articles strives to capture some of the many incredible, interesting or quirky things our swimming and diving seniors have done while out in the wider world.
All hail Division III.
Teach for the Love of Children
Wesleyan senior Angela Slevin likes kids. She loves working with them, teaching them, coaching them. This past summer – and in the course of her collegiate career – she has spent time doing a little bit of all three.
“I’ve always loved working with kids,” Slevin said. “In high school and the beginning of college I coached for my summer league swim team and gave lessons.” Once more firmly set in college, Slevin put in some more effort, trying to find kids to connect with and guide. “There [are] activities fairs at the beginning of every year,” she said. “My sophomore year I got involved with SAAC.” That acronym stands for Student Athlete Advisory Committee.
SAAC is a nation-wide organization, but there are also smaller meetings. The NESCAC itself has several meetings a year with SAAC reps from various schools. Then there’s also a Division III committee. This year, Slevin is the co-president of the Wesleyan SAAC. She has helped with the maintenance of the Recess Program Wesleyan has with local school McDonough. “Every Friday, a couple teams will bring some student-athletes over and play with the kids at recess,” Slevin explained. “It’s a lot of fun, the kids love having Wesleyan athletes come over.”
With such a good experience working with kids in school, Slevin also decided to spend her summer working with children. Slevin lives in Arlington, Virginia – just a short ways outside of Washington DC. She spent the summer commuting into the city from home to work at a bilingual preschool in DC. “All spoke mostly Spanish but then also English,” Slevin said. “I’ve taken four semesters of Spanish, so I felt like I was pretty capable of communicating with three-year-olds!” Even so, the children delighted in teaching her while she taught them. “Definitely we’re all learning there,” she concluded.
One of the programs Slevin has become involved with to reach children is called Jumpstart. The program recruits and trains college students like Slevin to help preschool aged children in low-income neighborhoods (75% of the students live below the poverty line). Jumpstart is an Americorp program, just like the Teach For America work that Slevin was considering applying for as well.
A typical day for Slevin this summer began with early morning practice, then a 45 minute commute into the city. “The beginning part of the day was mostly classroom assistance, so helping out the teachers there,” Slevin said. “For an hour each day, a couple times a week [the eight Jumpstart students working there] went into one of the classrooms. This was a group of mostly two and three year olds and we would do sessions.” The sessions were small groups that would read together, discuss the book and then do activities related to the material.
“We’d do circle time, where we’d talk about what we read and do different songs and games,” Slevin added. “A lot of what Jumpstart is focused on is reading and making sure kids are prepared when they start kindergarten,” she explained. “There are so many kids in these low-income communities who start kindergarten and they’re already so behind their peers who have had access to preschools where reading and learning always has such a big emphasis.”
Looking to the future, Slevin was very excited about the possibility of continuing to work with children, especially those from low-income backgrounds. She applied for – and has been recently accepted as – a 2015 Teach For America member in the DC region. Slevin will be working with Early Childhood Education, so her students will be in the preschool to third grade range. “I am incredibly excited for the opportunity and happy to be returning to my beloved DC community,” she said.
As a member of the NESCAC schools, acceptance into TFA isn’t the only wonderful thing about this time of year for Slevin: since November first, official practices are now on the table for the NESCAC schools, and today marks the first official practice at Wesleyan. “Spirits are high and I am looking forward to an exciting final season,” Slevin said.
Quest and Questions
Wabash senior Stephen Batchelder is also a candidate for Teach for America, and has decided to enroll in the program for 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.
“I’ve known about Teach for America for a long time. I remember when I was thirteen, my mom mentioned something about it,” Batchelder said. “I kind of put aside those thoughts for a while. Then last year, I met with a recruiter on campus.” The recruiter spoke with Batchelder about educational inequality, and that was a message that struck home for the Orland, California native.
“I felt like – once I started engaging that conversation with him – I really became interested,” Batchelder said. “I grew up in a rural community where not many people go to college or receive beyond a high school education. I felt like I had sort of lived educational inequality.” With this feeling that he had much to give back to his community, Batchelder got involved in the TFA program.
These sorts of revelation style conversations are not unusual for Batchelder, who helps lead the Wabash vocational group known as Wabash Callings. The group is sponsored by a grant for vocational education of the school’s community. “I worked with a religion professor in our career services office to lead a small student focus group called Quest and Questions,” Batchelder said. “We engage vocational questions: questions like what’s our purpose in life? What direction do we see our lives headed in after college? […] What do I want to do with my life in the sense of how can it be the most fulfilling?”
Batchelder helps students in the group find their own answers through the reading of texts and involvement in an off-campus quest.
The quest serves as both a physical and spiritual search. In the physical sense, the group takes a car trip somewhere: last year it was a three hour drive to Southern Indiana, following a map made for them by the religion professor. “We visited various locations to do spiritual reflection, but we were also meeting people along the way who were engaged in the same type of questions.” Batchelder recounted. “It was giving us a physical look at how someone lives their life – what does that look like.”
One of the people they met was a Wasbash alum who had retired from teaching to return to New Harmony, Indiana to start work as a craftsman. “He spoke to us about his mission to live a simple life,” Batchelder explained. “He gave us a sense of how fulfilling – how asking deep questions about what gives us joy can lead to finding fulfillment in life.”
For a Division III athlete, many times it’s the choice itself that gives us fulfillment. That we choose to be here, that we choose to work hard, that we choose to be the best we can be without outside incentives. For student-athletes like Batchleder, making the NCAA meet is a goal for the sense of accomplishment, not for keeping a scholarship.
Batchelder spoke a little about the team’s goal for this coming year. “It’s also a goal to do everything I can every practice and every opportunity I have to help my teammates move towards our overall team goal as well.” That team goal is getting athletes to the NCAA meet.
“I think our team needs to learn how to step up in big occasions,” Batchelder said. “We know how to come to practice and work hard every day. We know that we’re training at the level that we need to and that our coach has us geared to accomplish our goals.” After the meet this past weekend, I think it is fairly safe to say that Wabash is starting out on the right foot in that area this year.
It is difficult, swimming in a conference with the top dogs in Division III, but Batchelder sees it as a challenge to be embraced. “I love it,” he said. “There’s always going to be someone to compete with. […] I love how competitive it is. The conference just brings a lot of spirit and energy to the sport.”