Liberty Bracken (above right) has a critical job in the UW athletic department: she helps student-athletes keep on top of their academics. Last year, the Husky football team earned an NCAA-record APR score of 999 (out of 1,000).
What is your job?
In my role, I oversee the academic team that works with our football program, as well as serve as academic adviser for football and men’s soccer.
How did you get into this field?
I’ve always been interested in education and athletics. When I came to the UW, I had a work-study scholarship and when I was looking for opportunities, I saw that there was a position in academic services in the athletic department. I applied, was interviewed and hired on the same day to work in the tutorial office as an office assistant. I got to see the support and resources that are available. I had no idea there was something that combined my love for education and athletics.
What is the secret to getting student-athletes to succeed in the classroom?
The secret is meeting players where they’re at. Every student is so different. Something that motivates one person is not going to be the same for somebody else. You have to build relationships and get student-athletes to understand that we’re here to support them. You’re a passenger on their journey to get them where they want to be academically, athletically, and looking at their career goals after sports.
Do you set goals for each school year, such as achieving a certain APR score?
No, we don’t. The 999 score last year was amazing—a huge testament to academic excellence and its part in their mission. You go into the team room and look at their goals, and you try to achieve academic excellence. And we prove it year after year. The fact is we’ve been No. 1 in the Pac-12 three years in a row and have broken the NCAA APR record. Having the record-breaking score of 999 this past year has been a huge accomplishment and is a testament to the commitment Coach Petersen, and now Coach Lake, have to academic excellence.
With so many student-athletes on a football roster, how do you stay on top of everyone?
It’s a group effort. There are seven of us who meet weekly with student-athletes. Every freshman is assigned to meet with someone on a weekly basis for a year. After their freshman year, they will continue to meet with us on a weekly basis, or they’re moved to a different schedule. We come up with a plan that everyone is comfortable with.
The football team achieved a nation-best APR score last year. Can you repeat that?
I’ve asked myself that question. But, first, that’s not our driving force, and second, it would be extremely challenging. Our plan is to continue supporting our student-athletes through collaboration with our coaches, teams and our staff.
Does a team’s performance on the field affect its academic performance?
It’s a challenge to be a student-athlete. You have a lot of outside pressures. We want to make sure their focus is not just how they’re doing athletically but on their mental health, too. Same thing when they feel confident and on top of the world.