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Online Courses Gain Momentum Among Student Athletes

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(UVM student MK Cirelli/Photo by Dennis Curran)

Online courses at UVM have helped athlete Megan Nick work toward a degree while pursuing a career in freestyle aerial skiing.

As a member of the U.S. Elite Aerial Development Team, Nick trains year-round at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. Her rigorous training schedule requires the UVM sophomore to take UVM online classes throughout the year.

“Online courses have given me the opportunity to continue my academic career while I train full time,” says Nick, a trained gymnast from Shelburne who was recruited by the U.S. development team when she was in high school. “Since we travel for competitions frequently in the winter, being able to complete classes on our own time is very helpful. It was very important to me when I joined the U.S. team to be able to receive a college education and pursue professional freestyle aerial skiing. Online courses have made this possible for me.”

An Increase in UVM Online Courses for Athletes

As UVM’s online portfolio has grown over the past decade, more athletes at the University are signing up to take online courses. UVM offers about 350 online course sections offered year round by more than 125 instructors.

UVM Associate Athletic Director and Academic Advisor Joe Gervais says online courses are becoming more popular among athletes because they give students more flexibility and allow them to work courses into their busy schedules.

“We’ve seen a marked increase in student-athletes taking online courses over the past five years,” Gervais says. “I would say roughly 25 to 30 percent of our student athletes are taking online courses at UVM.”

Online learning allows for flexibility and convenience in learning, while maintaining academic rigor and high expectations of students. Students may not need to be online at any particular time when taking an online course, however, it is expected that they are online almost daily to complete required course work and meet all course due dates.

“Athletes tend to be able to quickly adapt to online courses, but we do have a conversation with them about the reality of online coursework,” Gervais says. “Some students think online is going to be easier, and it’s not. We caution them that if they are not good with time management or staying on track, then the online option may not be for them.”

UVM junior MK Cirelli, a member of the University’s Nordic ski team, trains year round between 10 to 20 hours per week, depending on the season.

“As an athlete, I have found adding online courses to my schedule has allowed me to be able to take my education on the road,” says Cirelli, a nutrition and food science major who takes online courses during the academic year and in the summer. “In the winter, the ski team is typically gone from Thursday to Sunday, so that schedule allows me to budget my time a lot easier by taking online classes.”

Meanwhile, Nick says all of her aerial ski team teammates take online courses for the convenience and ability to fit in coursework around their training schedules.

Megan Nick

For Nick, a typical day of training includes an hour-long warm up before a two-hour training session, followed by recovery and individual physical therapy before gearing up for a second two-hour training session. After that, the team then heads to workout at the gym and on the trampoline for additional conditioning/strength training.

While Nick says her ultimate goal is to compete in two Winter Olympic Games, she also wants to earn her degree.

“Online courses are popular among athletes at an elite or national level because we’re able to keep training as a top priority while still working toward our degree,” she says. “I strongly believe that academics are such an important component of athlete success, and online courses really help us stay disciplined.”

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