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By Randy York
If you ever wondered how Nebraska selects its coveted Student-Athletes of the Year, wonder no more. At Nebraska, there's a finite line between student and athlete, making the final decision every year a fierce competition that can go beyond athletic and academic performance. Sometimes, when everything seems equal, life skills can be a key separator. Whatever goes into this complicated selection process, know this: Professors play a pivotal role, and, in fact, the intercollegiate athletic committee makes the final decision. Jo Potuto, CEO of the national organization for Division 1 Faculty Athletic Reps, heads NU's committee. She also announces Nebraska's Student-Athletes of the Year and presents their respective awards at the Athletic Department's annual recognition banquet.
Potuto, however, is far from a singular faculty force influencing the process. Linda Young, an associate professor of Practice at Nebraska, wrote letters of recommendation for both 2012 winners of Nebraska's Student-Athlete of the Year award. Last spring, Tyler Hitchler was a student in her 450 Medical Nutrition Therapy I class. This spring, he's taking the advanced phase of that same class. Young also taught Ashley Miller in several classes over the past three years and has seen the All-American/Academic All-American distance runner shine as a member of the UNL Peer Nutrition Education Team (PeerNET).
According to Young, Miller's 3.83 GPA is an accurate reflection of her academic and intellectual abilities. Young has watched the Tipton, Iowa, distance runner set and achieve high goals in the classroom. "She's actively engaged in learning and not satisfied with just knowing the course material for the exam," Young said of Miller. "Ashley strives to understand course concepts and how they'll be used in her career goal of becoming a Registered Dietician."
The same could be said of Hitchler, who carries a 3.742 cumulative GPA. "The first time you meet Tyler, you're impressed with his professional demeanor, self-confidence and maturity," Young said. "Despite his demanding competitive schedule, he excelled in both courses I taught and always demonstrated a commitment to gaining all he could from the courses. He was actively involved in learning. Tyler's a very responsible and dependable student."
Hitchler always communicated his competition schedule to Young, but never did he ask for special consideration. "He conscientiously met all course requirements," Young said, adding that Tyler was "the one student I could count on to ask and respond to questions in class."
An All-American and Academic All-American discus thrower, Hitchler continuously demonstrates a strong desire to learn all he can and apply that knowledge to his career goal in medicine. Even though he's been accepted into the University of Nebraska's School of Medicine, Young sees no letup in his competitive push.
"It was during our class discussions on ethics that I saw the caring and compassionate side of Tyler and how deeply he will care about doing what's best and right for his patients and their families," Young said. "This is a young man who is seeking a career in medicine for all the right reasons - he wants to be of service to others and improve their well-being."
Young saw first-hand Miller's ability to take nutrition science information and communicate it to the public in a useful manner, considerably enhancing the chances for that information to have a positive impact on future choices. "Despite her demanding track schedule, Ashley volunteered whenever we needed someone for a last-minute presentation," Young said. "She was always willing to volunteer for an event if there was any way she could make it fit."
No wonder Professor Young is "100-percent confident that Ashley will succeed in whatever direction her future takes her."
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