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May 10, 2010

Reyna Gilbert has got the life

By: Matt Kovatch

Reyna Gilbert

A look at how student-athletes become well-rounded citizens of the real world through the Office of Student Life

Performing well on the field of play and succeeding in the classroom are the main goals of every Hokie student-athlete, but it takes a lot more than that to become a well-rounded graduate of Virginia Tech. The task of ensuring that everyone has a chance to do that is left to the athletics Office of Student Life, which is responsible for coordinating the personal development, professional development and community outreach programming for all student-athletes. The head of that office, assistant director of athletics Reyna Gilbert, recently shared some insight into what her role entails.

We try to be active in the community.

“Organizations and schools can request our student-athletes to come out and spend time with them, speak to their students or interact with them and share their experiences. We have a program called ‘Winning Choices’ in which we partner with the Corps of Cadets. An athlete and a cadet will go to an elementary school to talk to the kids about character development, leadership, commitment and responsibility. The majority of our teams have community partners and relationships with area elementary schools. They contact us a lot for different programs that they have going on.”

Our SAAC group is a big part of what we do.

“[Coordinator of Student Life] Danny White and I oversee the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which is a group of two student-athletes from each team. We meet twice a month, and they are the voice of their teams. It’s a forum for them to talk about what is going on with their teams and how they can get involved with things. They do a toy drive during the holidays, and all the toys go to the Montgomery County Christmas Store. They just did a canned food drive at the spring game and collected about 2,000 pounds of food and raised over $500. They do a dodgeball tournament to raise money for Relay for Life. Those are all programs that they wanted to do to and that they’ve initiated.”

Sometimes the teams branch off on their own.

“The volleyball team came up with a few things this year. First, they adopted two families during the holidays and were able to get some goods and services raised for the families to support them. I believe they’re also volunteering at an animal shelter, and they’re also spending time at Warm Hearth, which is an assisted living facility for elderly people. That was something that the ladies came up with on their own and Coach Chris Riley brought it to me. The cross country and track team came up with the idea of doing a shoe drive. They’ve done that for two years now, and the shoes go to programs like Nike Re-Use A Shoe and Soles4Souls. It’s great when the teams take our lead and get creative.”

We’re always trying to find ways to improve and become a better resource for the student-athletes.

“Career development is something that I’d say we need to work a little bit more on. Especially with the state of the economy and the way things are going, it’s important for student-athletes to develop those skills to make themselves marketable when they graduate. We’re more than willing to help them figure out their options. We will help our student-athletes with personal statements, completing their applications and things like that. In the past, we’ve seen seniors coming in to our office who had never written a resume or never been to a career fair. We’re trying to pick up on those things and get them started as freshmen.”

It’s nice to know we’re making a difference.

“I like to see the progress that our student-athletes make. At the Athletic Director’s Honors Breakfast, [tennis player] Martha Blakely won the Skelton Award for Academic Excellence in Athletics and was the keynote speaker representing the student-athletes. Just last year, I had asked her to do a community outreach event and she was really nervous about speaking in front of 100 fifth-graders. Now she’s able to speak in front of a room full of donors, coaches and her peers.”

It’s fun trying to pass the torch.

“I feel young hanging around the student-athletes, and I often think about the person who was in my role when I was in college (Gilbert was a gymnast at Northern Illinois). I still get to see her at different conferences and things, so it’s awesome just to be able to think about the impact she’s had on me and how I can hopefully have that same impact on some of the student-athletes whom I work with.”