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Athletics Program Highlighted in Esteemed Education Journal

Academy of Art University’s athletics program received praise and introspection in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  The piece highlights the humble beginnings and great aspirations of the program and ran recently in the print and Web versions of the publication.

The article describes how Athletics Director Jamie Williams battled the stereotype of the klutzy, sports-averse artist, as well as the challenges of creating a dynamic athletics program with limited facilities and resources.  In spite of adversity, he told the Chronicle, he “ revels in the challenges of building a new program and proving that athletics and art can coexist.”

Williams’ broad range of experience is highlighted in the piece.  A former NFL tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, he went on to earn a doctorate in education.  In addition to heading the Academy of Art University athletics program, he writes screenplays in his spare time and served as a technical consultant for Oliver Stone’s film, Any Given Sunday.

Academy President Dr. Elisa Stephens talks about the inspiration to create an athletics program in the article.  She said that leaders in the professional art world told her again and again that artists needed to know how to collaborate to be successful.

“People who are coming to the Academy … want to make a living being an artist,” she said in the piece, “If the athletics program can influence them, either as participants or spectators, to bring that teamwork or collaboration to their art, I believe they’ll be better artists.”

Aileen Nasypany, head coach of the women’s soccer team, described the relative ease of recruiting players.  “They’re harder to find, but there are so many artistic kids out there who have never had an opportunity to do both” art and athletics, she said in the piece.

The article highlights the mix of art and athletics in the classroom and on the playing field as being different from most other schools.  Johnathan Burnett, a men’s basketball player from Illinois, wants to be a filmmaker.  “My passion is film, and I love basketball,” he said in the article.  “It’s almost like I’m not going to school, because I’m doing what I love and playing sports.”

Mark Sembrowich, head coach of the men’s basketball team, explains that artists who can hold their own on the field aren’t as rare as some would think.  “I’m not sure why they have to be mutually exclusive,” he said in the Chronicle.  “You can be a scientist and go to medical school and play, so why can’t you be an artist and play?”

The article talks about Williams’ dedication during the early days of the program and how he used his connections in the sports world for insight and guidance throughout the process.  He has assembled an advisory board of 19 celebrities and heavy hitters in sports and entertainment.  The list includes former Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson, soccer star Brandi Chastain, and Hollywood actor Dennis Haysbert. 

When discussing the creation of the athletics program at Academy of Art University, Williams’ compared it to the early days of Silicon Valley.  “You have to have a start-up mentality,” he said in the article.  “You have to have a sense of ownership.  Some people don’t want that.  They want to go in and it’s established.” 

As the program continues to grow, Academy of Art University is on track to become the first art school in the NCAA.

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