Just before the Christmas break, the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) Student-Athlete Advisory Committee — the UIW SAAC as it is more simply called — filled 35 crates of school supplies and delivered them to the teachers of Agnes Cotton Elementary School in the San Antonio Independent School District.
The Cardinal Crates, as this event was known, was particularly significant for Karina Velez, a member of UIW’s track-and-field team and the current UIW SAAC president.
“Teachers do so much for us,” she said. “We wanted to be able to give something back to them.”
Over the course of the academic year, UIW’s student athletes participate in a variety of community-service events. And leading the charge for this community activism is the UIW SAAC, which also has worked with such organizations as Pets Alive, the Salvation Army and the Ronald McDonald House.
Under the guidance of the SAAC, UIW’s student athletes are living out the university’s Mission of not only educating students, but transforming them into men and women who will become citizens of the global community.
But SAAC is also inherently geared to the competitive nature of the student athlete.
Consider the community service award hunt — a two-part contest that not only includes friendly competition among UIW’s 23 athletic teams, but a larger contest in which all of the school’s teams come together as one to make UIW the community-service leader among the 13 schools that make up the Southland Conference.
UIW took third place in last year’s conference-wide contest — clocking in a total of 5,496 hours in the Fall 2015/Spring 2016 academic year, according to Amanda Pulido, life skills coordinator for UIW athletics.
“Our hope,” said Pulido,” is to take first place this year.”
The students are off to a good start. By the time the school’s athletes had gone on Christmas break, they had already accumulated 3,290 community-service hours.
One upcoming spring event Velez is looking forward to is the SAAC Canned Food Field Day, which will be held at the Alice P. McDerrmott Convocation Center on April 6 — which happens to be National Student Athlete Day, Velez pointed out. The fall event netted 1,000 pounds of canned goods for the Food Bank. True to the competitive nature of the athlete, Velez is predicting an even bigger turnout of athletes for the spring field day.
OUTSIDE THE BOUNDS
Competition — be it on the field or within the community — is but a small part of the UIW SAAC.
“Our goal is to prepare them for life after sports,” Pulido explained, “to be better people and contribute to the overall betterment of the world.”
Indeed, as UIW completes its transition to a Division I university, the SAAC will play a pivotal role in the life of the student athlete beyond the field, court, track, etc. Case in point is a new SAAC initiative called Cardinal Concerns, which will serve to inform administrators of the issues that UIW’s student athletes face. The first task was to have each member of SAAC go back to their respective sports and get feedback from teammates. Next, the SAAC met with the administration. Now begins the work to come up with a strategic plan for addressing these concerns, Velez said.
The goal, Pulido added, is to not only address the wellbeing of student athletes, but of the larger student body of UIW as well.
Just being a part of the SAAC has been a transformative event for students like Velez. “I’ve learned to interact with a lot of different personalities, a lot of different perspectives,” the UIW junior said. “I’ve learned how to take advice and criticism.”
Recent UIW graduate, and former SAAC President Karly Brightwell ’16 BS, also credits the organization with helping her overcome one of her greatest fears — speaking in public. “Initially, I was not one of those who liked getting up and talking to people,” recalls Brightwell, who ultimately found herself sometimes talking to as many as 500 athletes at a time.
The organization prepared Brightwell for the challenge of handling several responsibilities at a time — a skill that will be crucial with her anticipated studies at the college of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University in College Station.
It also continues to serve as a reminder of the difference one person can make — in as little as four years of a lifetime.
“You truly can have an impact,” Brightwell said, “you can leave your mark on the school.”