University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

A Winning Strategy for UVM

UVM President Tom Sullivan
Photograph by Sally McCay


A Winning Strategy for UVM 

In all of our pursuits—academic, athletic, and extracurricular—the University of Vermont’s core mission is to prepare students to be ethical leaders who serve the global community. Every day I see this mission in action in colleges and departments across UVM. As you will read in the inspiring story on page 22, this student-centered commitment is on display in our varsity athletics program as well.

By all accounts, our varsity Catamounts have been highly successful on the playing fields so far this academic year. The fall season was highlighted by the nationally ranked men’s soccer team’s advancement to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Senior Brian Wright became the first Vermont player ever drafted in major league soccer when he was picked in the first round by the New England Revolution. Other fall successes included our women’s field hockey team, which earned its highest win total in the past eight years; and the women’s soccer team, which advanced to the America East semifinals. Our winter teams have continued the winning ways, with men’s basketball undefeated in conference play and our nationally ranked men’s hockey and women’s hockey both competing at or near the top of their respective leagues as I write this article in early February.

This momentum on the playing field underscores the steady rise to greater competitive levels for UVM sports. But UVM’s winning strategy has more at its core than physical prowess and well-honed team dynamics. At a time when the trend in the highly competitive environment of NCAA Division 1 athletics is toward ever greater commercialization of intercollegiate sport, UVM’s dedication is to the development of our players as student-athletes and to their individual maturity and personal growth. 

Our varsity athletes are earnest students who take their academics as seriously as their sport. As our coaches meet with potential athletes, UVM’s focus on “academics first” is their top talking point. Those athletes who choose UVM know that our first-level commitment is to their academic performance and their overall development as leaders and citizens. This doesn’t mean that our goal for every team is anything less than competing at the championship level. Make no mistake: we play to win. But we are convinced that winning on the field and winning in academics go hand-in-hand. 

Competitive athletes, who are also serious students, play at the top of their game in both arenas. For the last twelve years, our varsity athletes—more than 400 students each year on eighteen teams—have scored a collective GPA above 3.0, higher in twenty-two of those twenty-four semesters than the student body as a whole. UVM is in the top three percent of the NCAA in terms of graduation rates of our student-athletes. We have taken home the Academic Cup twice as many times as any of our competitors in the America East conference. Our student-athletes are business majors and budding engineers, pre-med and pre-law students and environmental studies majors—every major at UVM boasts students on our current or past athletic teams.

Athletes who sign on to play at UVM know they are expected to excel in their studies, for their team, and for their community. In addition to a full class schedule and Division 1 competition, every varsity athlete is involved in community service. Teams volunteer for the Special Olympics, assist at the Ronald McDonald House, and help the Make-A-Wish Foundation to realize kids’ dreams. Last year the Athletic Department and our student-athletes provided more than 700 hours of volunteer time to the community of Burlington and beyond, giving back to the community that so enthusiastically turns out for and supports our UVM players. They are a source of pride and energy for UVM students, faculty, staff, and alumni as well as for of all Vermont. 

The energy level in the Athletic Department and throughout our whole campus was recently ramped up even higher with the unveiling of an exciting concept for a transformational facility. A new Multi-purpose Center initiative includes an almost six-fold increase of dedicated health and wellness space for our students (from 15,000 to 86,000 square feet) and a new Events Center that will host cultural, social, academic, and entertainment events, as well as serving as the home for UVM Basketball. The Events Center will be integrated fully with the iconic Gutterson Field House, which will be improved significantly and preserved as the home for UVM Hockey. The Board of Trustees provided an initial endorsement of the concept at its February meeting as well as funding to move forward with the next phase of design and cost estimating. The summer issue of Vermont Quarterly will carry a feature on this new facility, which will be a wonderful resource for our students, alumni, and the wider Vermont community.

As its core, the University’s central responsibility is to promote the health, well-being, and safety of our students as we support them in their successful educational journey through UVM. Our investments in scholarship, financial aid, great learning opportunities, and competitive facilities portends well for all of us.

—Tom Sullivan

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