Each graduation day, Sonya Hopkins feels a sense of accomplishment with each student-athlete who walks across the stage. Butler University’s Associate Athletic Director of Academics knows how challenging it can be to balance training with coursework, so every successful year keeps her coming back for more.

“It’s the fuel to my fire,” she says.

Hopkins has been providing academic support to Butler student-athletes since 2006. She was a team of one for most of those 16 years, but the program has recently grown to include three other advisors. In addition to facilitating peer tutoring, study tables, and development programs, most of their time is spent working one-on-one with athletes.

“We refer to it as academic coaching,” she says. “We talk about managing their time across all the different things they need to do throughout their days—from training, to travel, to classes. We focus on helping them plan out their weeks and making sure each student is progressing toward their degree.”

Butler’s more than 500 student-athletes demonstrate the academic excellence that is common across the University. Athletics teams earn an average combined GPA of 3.4, and several teams have received BIG EAST awards for having the highest collective GPAs in their conferences. The NCAA also recognizes Bulldogs by awarding Public Recognition Awards to multiple teams each year, honoring programs that rank in the top 10 percent of their sports for academic achievement. Butler’s women’s golf and women’s tennis teams have earned the award every year since the program began.

“What we like to pride ourselves on is exactly what Butler has built its foundation on,” Hopkins says. “When our students get here, we walk with them, talk with them, and work with them until they leave. Our goal is that if they come here, we watch them leave with a degree in their hands.”

Hopkins finds that academic support services can be especially beneficial for first-generation students who may not have other role models to help them navigate college. She says the most challenging part about participating in athletics is balancing demands, so she mentors students about how they can isolate enough time to write papers, study for exams, or meet with groups in addition to competing in their sport.

“Being a student-athlete is a grind,” says Hopkins, who coached collegiate volleyball for more than 20 years prior to her role at Butler. “But we make sure they know they are supported and that they take advantage of that whenever they need it.”