2004 graduate provides academic support for N.C. State athletic teams

Alison Ruff  ’04 lost count of how many times she sat down with Emmanuel Davis to explain where he was failing as a student-athlete.

“He didn’t care about school and he didn’t have much motivation to get a degree Ruff says. “He was going to withdraw but after the summer we had an intervention and I gave him some tough love. He didn’t like to hear it, but at the end of the day it is these moments that you hope will change a kid’s life.”

As North Carolina State University’s Assistant Director of Academic Support Programs for Student Athletes this is just part of what Ruff does to help nurture and foster academic success among the student-athletes.

Davis, who graduated this spring, is one of Ruff’s shining examples. Without her encouraging, yet harshly realistic words, Davis says he wouldn’t have a degree today.

“She played a pivotal role. I give her a lot of credit toward my academic success,” says Davis, who competed in the long jump, triple jump and high jump for the Wolfpack. “Coming in I was the average freshman and took it for granted. I was real successful in high school and I didn’t have work real hard. I expected college to be the same way. I started to get in over my head and she took the time to help me be a successful student.”

Davis’ story was so inspirational that he was chosen to deliver the commencement address to all Wolfpack graduating athletes and their families during a special graduation ceremony.

“I definitely gave her a little shout out in the speech. I was honored to be able to reflect on my success and time at State. It wouldn’t have been right to give myself all of that credit,” Davis says. “There were plenty of times when she sat me down and was brutally honest with me … ‘you can’t keep doing this and hanging out with these people.’ You don’t always want to hear the truth. But that’s something I definitely needed to hear.”

Ruff is also a critical part of Mark Gottfried’s men’s basketball program, which reached the Sweet 16 this past season. She just completed her second year as the Academic Coordinator for the Gottfried’s team, as well as her fourth with the men’s swimming program.

She plays in integral role in the academic well being of each athlete through a number of programs and initiatives, including the creation of individualized academic support plans, maintaining daily reports, scheduling classes and providing tutors.

“I really coordinate all of their academic life and make sure they have any academic support they need, and make sure they are making progress toward graduation,” Ruff says.

Associate Head Men’s Basketball coach Bobby Lutz says what makes Ruff successful is how she grasps the challenges faced by today’s student-athlete.

“We had a great academic semester. Alison plays a huge role in that. She understands the mentality of the high-level student-athlete, but helps them understand the need for balance,” he says. “Not every academician can totally understand that you may not get a whole lot academically on some days because maybe they had a bad game and they aren’t as focused as you want them to be. She has a great feel for that, but demands excellence in the classroom. She has a great rapport with our players and has a great respect from them.”

Ruff developed this skill set as a four-year letter winner and Academic All-Ohio Athletic Conference performer for Marietta’s volleyball team. Ruff has contributed to the improved academic health of the men’s program, which had their highest team GPA in the last 10 years.

“I don’t care if it is Division III or Division I, student-athletes face the same challenges and have many of the same goals,” Ruff says. “I always wanted to work in intercollegiate athletics, but I thought at the D3 level. My opportunities as a coach at Grand Valley State opened my eyes to my real passion, which isn’t winning and losing, but rather helping student-athletes succeed in the classroom. I love these guys and I love what I do.”

Even when the obstacles seem insurmountable.

“At the end of day it’s the relationship, and the relationship goes a long way,” she says. “It is a reality that not everyone I work with is going to graduate, but there is still a lot of value in what they learned in one or two years they were with us. And sometimes, you get someone like Emmanuel and you just know you are doing something right.”