In Fall 2011, a few student athlete leaders approached Siena’s Life Skills Advisor about forming a group to assist their peers with making healthy lifestyle choices. This group, wanting to make a difference, identified an opportunity through the APPLE Training Institute. Housed at the University of Virginia, the organization is dedicated to “promoting student athlete wellness and substance abuse prevention.” In January 2012, Shannon Jones ‘13 (softball) , Melanie Boehrig ‘14 (water polo), and Caitlin Cahalan ‘13 (women’s soccer) attended APPLE’s California conference. The messages regarding safer practices for well-being resonated so deeply that those three students advocated for the creation of Siena’s Student Athlete Mentors (SAM) and launched SAM in Fall 2012.
SAM initially focused its efforts on imparting lessons to counter excessive alcohol consumption. APPLE’s philosophy starts from the premise that college students are not likely to adopt abstinence; rather, balanced, informed data and messaging are needed to avoid the worst consequences of extreme alcohol use. Armed with best practices, including a ‘mocktails and games’ event, SAM moved to re-direct unsafe practices. Siena’s Public Safety reported a dramatic decrease in alcohol violations in Fall 2012 and Spring 2013. Since its inaugural year, SAM has only expanded its purview and now looks holistically at student athlete well being, including mental health awareness and nutrition.
On the eve of its five-year birthday, Women’s Water Polo Head Coach and Life Skills Coordinator, Tamara Perea, assumed the advisory role for SAM. Excited at the prospect of working with committed student athletes, Perea notes, "SAM takes ownership of everything they do. It makes it simple to advocate on their behalf because they are motivated and thoughtful as a group. Their objective to look out for their fellow student athletes and the community is demonstrated in every initiative. I'm looking forward to the next 5 years of SAM!"
Margot Hetzke ‘18, women’s basketball, is this year’s SAM president. Following their fall retreat, SAM worked with the Albany’s Parks and Recreation Department to clean-up Swinburne Park. They also created welcome banners for freshmen and transfer student athletes. In September, mentors hosted an ice cream social during a women’s soccer game so new student athletes had a chance to meet one another. Mid-October, the group hosted a table at Siena’s annual Wellness Carnival open to the Siena campus community. Hetzke notes, “I think SAM reps do a really great job leading teammates to resources. We do not have all the answers, but the individuals involved are committed to assisting the Saints community in understanding all the things we have access to as student athletes, as well as making life as a Siena Saint better. Sometimes that means running fun events, sometimes it means checking in on a freshman who doesn't yet understand how to be a Division I athlete--no matter what the task, our teammates know we're looking out for them, and I think that really makes a difference.” On November 10, members of SAM prepared a dinner at the Ronald McDonald House of Albany. SAM wrapped up the semester with a Holiday Party and trivia night in December to encourage peers to unwind before exams.
Lori Jancik, Director of Student Athlete Engagement, says, “To have students recognize pressing needs and act to address them on their own volition is wonderful. SAM started with a well-defined mission, and they haven’t let off the pedal since. Student athletes are more apt to learn good practices from their peers than take similar messages dictated to them by administrators.”
Armed with solid ideas and committed representatives, SAM looks ahead to another five years of meaningful advocacy on behalf of Siena’s student athletes. Saints fans are invited to learn more about SAM and its sister group, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC)