Athletes in Civil Engineering – can they survive the challenge?

by Ashok Pandit, Ph.D., P.E.
Professor and Department Head
Department of Civil Engineering

Over the years I have met hundreds of prospective students and their parents. Many of these prospective students are athletes and interested in representing Florida Tech in a sport. Inevitably, sometime during the conversation, the question is asked, usually from a parent, “I know that you have a tough academic program; I am concerned if my son (or daughter) can handle your program while also coping with the rigors of his (or her) sport?”

I have to agree with them with the part about having a tough academic program; I think 100% of our students will attest to that. The students need to start working from Day 1 – there is no easy period. However, my twenty nine years of experience around student athletes at FIT prompts me to reply “Yes, they can; and, yes, they do – provided they go to every class. And, by the way, the coaches and I will do everything possible to make sure that they do go to class”.

Most athletes have already acquired good time management skills in high school and perhaps even before that.  They have to be good time managers if they need to juggle between academia and sport. And, anyone with a college degree will tell you that time management is a necessary skill to have when coping with the rigors of college life. This skill, acquired over the years, helps the student athletes in college.

With the influx of new sports at Florida Tech, the above question has become even more frequent. So instead of relying on my experience, I decided to collect same data to be able to give a more informed answer – an engineering answer if you will. And, here is what I found.

At this time (Fall 2011), slightly more than 17% (23/135) of the Civil Engineering undergraduate students are student athletes. They participate in eleven different sports (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, ice hockey (yes, ice hockey), lacrosse, rowing, softball, swimming and volleyball. And I know that in the past the Civil Engineering department has had several outstanding student athletes in the tennis and soccer teams.

A healthy 30% of the 23 student athletes are women. In fact, I think nearly 33% of the women’s volleyball team is comprised of Civil Engineers!  The GPA of every single athlete in the Civil Engineering program is greater than 2.0 (so all are surviving); the average GPA is 2.94 (!) – so they are more than just surviving. And three of the student athletes have received “Student-of-the-year awards”!

So my “informed” answer to a prospective student athlete will be, “The data states that you can not only just cope with our program, you can shine; just be sure to go to every class”.

Come to think of it this is very similar to the answer that I provide based on just my experience!

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