Just before the 2016 winter break, Nancy Swanger learned that the university was looking for its new faculty athletics representative.

A lifelong sports fan – particularly of college basketball – Swanger was intrigued. The NCAA-required position serves as an envoy between the president’s office and athletics officials, ensuring compliance, and academic integrity while promoting the well-being of student-athletes.

“College athletics plays a vital role in the well-being of universities like Washington State,” said Swanger, who is preparing to begin her second three-year term as WSU’s faculty athletics representative. “Success on the field opens a window for those from far outside of Pullman to look in on what our university has to offer, while at the same time galvanizing alumni and keeping their Cougar spirit burning bright.”

But she almost didn’t apply. Already busy with her sizable responsibilities as director of the Carson College of Business’ Hospitality Business Management program, Swanger deleted the first email.

Another was waiting in her inbox when she returned from break.

That’s when it hit her like a wide open 3-pointer from the top of the key. The kind of nothing-but-net sign that doesn’t come along too often. This time she responded and got the appointment.

“Being a student-athlete is like having at least two full-time jobs,” Swanger said. “I was immediately impressed by their discipline in fulfilling the robust academic expectations WSU has and their ability to manage their time and resources effectively.”

Among the strides WSU has taken to ensure academic and athletic harmony is greater inclusion of students, staff and faculty across the WSU system on the Athletics Council. The group meets to discuss issues impacting student-athletes and now includes representatives from each of WSU’s physical campuses.

The latest NCAA data on student-athlete graduation rates suggest WSU’s efforts are working. Among those who arrived at WSU during the 2012-13 academic year, 86 percent graduated within six years, eclipsing the previous high of 81 percent. Three sports – women’s and men’s golf and women’s tennis – had a graduation success rate of 100 percent for the 2012-13 school year.

A snapshot of student-athlete academic performance during the summer of 2019.

Of particular note, many are first-generation students and athletics has become their path to higher education. Approximately 31 percent of student-athletes this year are first-generation students.

Student-athletes in the classroom have shown consistent success, maintaining a 3.1 GPA average each of the past three semesters. Twenty-seven student athletes scored a perfect 4.0 GPA in the fall of 2018, the same number of WSU student-athletes who are in the Honor’s College. Student-athletes at WSU represent 47 different majors, from biological sciences to business.

WSU also continues to see success with its Summer Bridge program, which allows newly admitted student-athletes to take six credits during the summer semester and get used to life at college. This summer, 57 student-athletes collectively earned a 3.61 GPA, the highest mark in more than a decade.

A newly implemented Dining with the Deans program also gets student-athletes at the table alongside deans and other officials from the University’s 12 colleges.

“A vast majority of student-athletes will not go on to the professional level,” Swanger said. “We have to prepare these students for lives after college, and afford them opportunities to take on valuable internships in their field or find mentors that can help guide them to success.”