Dr. Ryan's prescription aids student-athletes' success
On one shelf behind the desk is Mickey Mouse in his Sorcerer's Apprentice garb. On the closet door is a collage of pictures of young people and on the visitor's chair is a bright, colorful pillow with the Longhorns insignia on the front. The bookcase is filled, almost to overflowing.
It could be a student's dorm room.
And for Dr. Randa Ryan, senior associate athletics director for student services, that would be fine because that is the comfort level she wants each of the student-athletes to feel when they are in her office.
However, it is a poster on the back wall that gets your attention and also explains what the program is all about. The words on the poster: Leadership, Discovery, Freedom, Learning, Individual Opportunity and Responsibility.
Make it heavy on the responsibility. That is apparent from the last page of the UT Athletics orientation schedule Ryan had for all her incoming student-athletes in August.
The message: Sit in the front of the classroom; be on time; introduce yourself to your professors.
"Randa establishes a structure that is custom built to assess the needs of the individual," said Chris Plonsky, women's athletics director and senior associate athletics director for external services. "Her whole life is about the students."
Not that Ryan, the mother of four sons, would have it any other way. Such has been her M.O. since she arrived at The University of Texas in 1984 to work on her master's degree.
"I was a teaching assistant in swim class and brought to the attention of Richard (Quick, then-women's coach) and Eddie (Reese, men's coach) an article dealing with how kids could train longer," Ryan recalled.
That conversation begot further research and then-Women's Athletics Director Donna Lopiano became involved, suggesting to Ryan that there was a need to look into numerous issues concerning women's athletics.
Lopiano made Ryan the performance team director, dealing with the health and performance of women athletes at The University of Texas. From psychology to nutrition, Ryan looked at all facets. She was doing research that hadn't even been done at the Olympic Center in Colorado Springs.
"Student-athletes are my passion," Ryan said. "They might be the most misunderstood class of people -- the stress they are under. They are expected to achieve at a high level academically and athletically, and they have their own drive and dedication in addition.
"They are trying to do all of this at a most challenging time in their own lives. These are not adults. These are children, no matter how big they are or how fast they run."
Ryan's model creates a very positive environment, with a highly trained staff that provides an atmosphere where the student-athlete knows she/he may ask for help.
"I have an agenda and am an advocate for every student-athlete we work with," she said.
None better known than men's basketball standout Anthony Leon Tucker, Jr., aka P.J. (standing for Pop Junior, given to him by his dad at his birth), who became academically ineligible in the second semester of last season. It was at that time all men's athletics, save for football, moved under Ryan.
"I will tell you that I have great admiration for P.J.," she said. "I admire him for how he handled failing so publicly and how he had to live with that disappointment so publicly. He had to live with letting people down, most of all himself.
"Now he is willing to share his story. He spoke to the Longhorn Foundation Advisory Council recently. He talked about how he didn't have the confidence in himself that he could do the work. He was committed to do whatever it took, and we were committed to show him that he could do it."
Ryan further explained that it is about experiencing success, just as any student-athlete would on the field, on the track, in the pool or in the gym. The student-athlete has to believe he/she is capable to succeed in order to have the confidence to do -- thus a further example that Ryan and her staff are "student services," because it is so much more than simply academic services. It has to be to make it all work.
And when it all works?
"Nothing is more gratifying than to have a student-athlete come and tell me about accomplishing a task," Ryan said. "I just love that. It's just so much fun."