Most academic advisers work with a handful of students each year. Verity Powell is responsible for more than 800.
As senior advising consultant for the athletics department, Powell talks with players on Stanford's 33 varsity teams about course loads and majors, and reviews their transcripts every quarter. She may send a note to a coach that says, "These two kids are really struggling, and they haven't come to see me yet." Or, "You have an amazing group this year."
Sounds like a mom? Her daughter, Katy, '00 and son, Greg, were varsity water polo players at Stanford and Princeton, respectively, so Powell empathizes with parents' concerns. She has worked on campus for more than two decades as a professional academic adviser -- and for the past three years, she has been based at the Arrillaga Family Sports Center. The new study hall there, which opened last January and has a bank of Macintosh computers along one wall, is a big, airy improvement over the cramped quarters where athletes once worked on problem sets.
"We used to have four computers in one small room, and if four linebackers came in to use them, it was pretty intimidating for little gymnasts, who would peer inside the door and then back out," Powell says. "But today we have [enough room for] a much better mix of athletes."
Because players spend so much time at Arrillaga, Powell encourages them to come to the study hall whenever they are between activities.
"If an athlete's in the building getting treated for an injury, and he has an hour before practice, I tell him to try studying here rather than going back to the dorm and wasting that time [en route]," she says. "Our kids try to be the best they can be in their academics, but the reality is that they also have a 20-hour-a-week job. So they have to learn to be superb time managers."
Powell's schedule is equally demanding. She spent one recent morning answering questions from the parents of visiting track-team recruits: Will my son get priority housing? (No.) Will there be enough food? (Absolutely.) And weekends often find Powell and her husband, Geoffrey, '64, cooking turkey dinners for the defensive line of the football team or helping baseball players with community service projects.
Powell says many of Stanford's varsity student-athletes--who make up 10 percent of the Class of '04--are used to getting straight As in high school. "But if they come from weak high schools, it can be tough the first year here," she adds.
To help those who decide they need tutoring with perennially tough courses -- chemistry, math, physics and economics -- Powell can call upon a Rolodex full of graduate students. Of the 55 players who knocked on her office door in fall quarter, she says, most needed only a half-hour of tutoring per week, and many met with their tutors just once or twice.
When varsity teams hit the road for tournaments, each victory adds new dimensions to Powell's job description. As the men's soccer team advanced through the NCAA championships two years ago, final exams were approaching. "Players were calling me every day, saying, 'We won another game and we have to stay on another day, so could you please get hold of Professor X for me?'" Powell recalls. "In the end, I picked up 23 different exams from various departments to fax to the team's hotel back East."
In return, teams have come up with sport-specific thank-yous for the many term papers and tests Powell has downloaded from her e-mail, printed and delivered. "Last year, the baseball team flew me to Omaha for the College World Series," she says. "It was an incredible experience, and I got to watch a lot of baseball. Of course, there isn't much else to do in Omaha but watch baseball."