Identical twins Lisa and Lorena Cedeno grew up loving the game of soccer, but both readily admit that they did not hold the same enthusiasm for their schoolwork. That didn’t come until they entered the University of North Florida.
Once at UNF, Student-Athlete Center for Excellence (SACE) staff immediately saw the potential in the women’s soccer players. Recognizing that their GPAs may not have been as high as the typical UNF recruit, staff created a comprehensive approach to support the Ospreys in their academics. The staff’s dedication was not unique to the Cedeno sisters, but the same high level of attention they give to every student-athlete who comes to UNF.
In fact, at the close of the Spring 2019 semester the average GPA of student-athletes was the highest in history at 3.4. Seventy-five percent of student-athletes had GPAs over 3.0, and 37 Ospreys had perfect 4.0s! The department has recorded 16 consecutive semesters with the average GPA at 3.0 or higher.
Much of that success is attributed to the SACE staff. As soon as new Ospreys land at UNF, the staff provide them with a sense of belonging, understanding and a unique strategy to soar into their futures. Their all-encompassing programs have many touch points to make sure student-athletes succeed not only on the field, but in the classroom — and in life.
In 2009, SACE was operated by one staff member. Fast-forward to present day, the center now has three full-time counselors with two part-time assistants, an office for students to meet with their advisors and a permanent three-credit-hour course, Developing the Student-Athlete, to assist student-athletes with transitioning from high school to college and understanding expectations and regulations of the NCAA.
There is also a study hall in the Thomas G. Carpenter Library, mindfulness meditation sessions at the Counseling Center, writing skills for resumes at the Writing Center, and leadership programs with the Taylor Leadership Institute and the Military and Veterans Resource Center. The integrated approach allows student-athletes to use the resources available to them while giving people from across campus an opportunity to interact with them, building a stronger a sense of community at UNF.
Study hall is required for all freshmen, new transfers and athletes who need extra help. Student-athletes also meet with their counselors weekly to get organized and plan ahead for the semester. The staff members help them cultivate an organized and tangible plan for the upcoming semester and future after college, even for a future after professional athletics.
Dee Kennedy, former UNF associate athletic director of academic services who recently became the assistant director of enforcement, investigations and processing for the NCAA, said that the program is also designed to encourage students to discover their identities outside of their athletic title. “Statistics show that the transition from athletics is difficult because so much of their identity has been embedded in being an athlete,” Kennedy said. “From freshman year, the staff focuses on developing the student-athlete’s sense of self: Who are you outside of athletics? By the time they are seniors, they have started the conversation of what is next.”
Now preparing to make their way across the graduation stage in December, Lorena and Lisa Cedeno praise their academic advisors and the support staff for helping them navigate the strenuous and challenging demands of university life.
“If it weren’t for the academic advisors, we would have been lost. They gave us all the tools and resources to figure out how to transition into college better,” said Lisa, who will be graduating in sport management and a minor in marketing. “They would settle our minds if we had any questions like: what does this mean; how do I figure out if I’m on track?”
Lorena, a communications major with a concentration in public relations, also attributed her drive for academic success to her advisors. “I know how much the University has done for my sister and me, so to get myself to tutoring is just a way of honoring them for all they that they do for us.”
The assistance has not only impacted their grades, but also motivated the sisters to spread the message about the importance of education and setting goals. During outreach soccer programs sponsored by the team, the twins love talking with middle and high school students about their futures, and they see a motivation in them to not only succeed in sports, but to do something great in their lives.
“We see a lot of potential in the next generation because they are so ambitious and active,” said Lisa. “You can see that they want to do something and be the change.”