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May 12, 2009

Tech student-athletes continue to put their leadership skills on display

By: Reyna Gilbert

There has always been a debate about whether leaders are born or made. The staff in the Virginia Tech Athletics Office of Student Life, however, believes leadership is a quality that each and every one of the Tech student-athletes possesses. It can and should be fostered throughout a student-athlete’s tenure at Virginia Tech to not only impact the athletics experience, but also to provide a strong platform for enhanced leadership opportunities in the future.

Pedro Graber (left) and Kelly Phillips each won the prestigious Skelton Award for their academic achievements, leadership and community involvement.

This year, several Hokie student-athletes took full advantage of the leadership opportunities available to them and even created a few of their own. At the Athletics Director’s Honors Breakfast held in late April, the prestigious Skelton Award was presented to women’s track and field pole vaulter Kelly Phillips and to Pedro Graber, a men’s tennis player. Academic achievement, leadership and community involvement are all included in the criteria for the award. In 2008, Phillips won the ACC pole vault title and achieved All-America status with a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She is also a three-year member of the Virginia Tech Dean’s List and a member of the Virginia Tech Athletics Director’s Honor Roll. Graber is an ITA Scholar-Athlete and was a member of both the ACC Academic Honor Roll and All-ACC Academic Men’s Tennis Team in 2007 and 2008. Phillips and Graber each will receive a $5,000 scholarship toward their 2009-2010 educational expenses.

In February, women’s soccer senior Mauri Liberati represented the student-athlete contingent at the second annual ACCIAC Student Leadership Conference, which was at Virginia Tech this year. Student leaders from 11 of the 12 ACC colleges and universities had the opportunity to learn through intensive engagement in educational sessions, keynote addresses, topical content exploration, simulations, and experiential application. Liberati was one of the eight Tech students who were selected to take part in the weekend’s leadership activities, which centered on the conference theme “Civility in a Global Society: Going Pro.”

This summer, four student-athletes will travel to Hoa An, Vietnam through Coach for College, a global initiative to promote higher education through sports. This initiative provides a forum for American college student-athletes to help underprivileged youth develop the motivation, confidence and knowledge needed to obtain a higher education. Men’s soccer student-athlete Taylor Walsh, along with women’s soccer standouts Robin Chidester and Ashley Seldon, and former women’s soccer goalie Ashley Owens, will be making the trip across the Pacific. Follow along with their experiences on the Coach for College Blog on

The NCAA also does a stellar job of providing leadership opportunities for student-athletes. Each summer, the NCAA puts on the National Student-Athlete Development Conference in Orlando, Florida. This year, a total of 700 student-athletes from all divisions will attend the conference, providing them with a forum to openly discuss issues that may affect them on their campuses and in their communities, while also providing them with the opportunity to enhance their leadership, communication, decision-making and problem-solving skills. Kenny Lewis, Jr., a football player, has been chosen to represent Tech at the 2009 conference. Upon his return to campus next fall, Lewis will be expected to share his experience and serve as a resource to his fellow Hokie student-athletes.

Lewis won’t be the only Hokie student-athlete working on his leadership game this summer. Men’s soccer player Charlie Campbell is one of the 40 student-athletes chosen from within Divisions I, II and III to attend the first annual Student-Athlete Development Coaches Forum. The forum provides a three-phase coaching development opportunity to student-athletes interested in becoming collegiate coaches in bowling, soccer, swimming and diving or wrestling. Participants will be educated in the areas of program management, eligibility, budgeting, student-athlete well being, diversity, championship play and committee structure. Campbell, a junior majoring in business, hopes to use this experience to learn about the “business side” of coaching soccer and hopes to coach at the collegiate level.

Whether it’s in the classroom, competing in their respective sport, or visiting a foreign land, Hokie student-athletes can’t help but display their leadership. Like a seedling, leadership has been planted in each of them upon stepping foot on Tech’s campus. Watered with care, discipline, and motivation coming from coaches, teammates and faculty, their leadership has been given no choice but to grow each and every day they are members of the Hokie family!