Aug. 23, 2011
Dr. Gary Waters has high goals for Auburn's University's nearly 500 student-athletes.
"We want them to leave Auburn with diplomas in their hands and championship rings on their fingers," Waters said. "That is ultimately the goal."
Waters was recently named Senior Associate Athletics Director over Student-Athlete Support Services at Auburn Athletics. He came to Athletics from the Auburn College of Business, where he taught accounting and finance and most recently served as Associate Dean.
The 2010 National Champion football team, Waters said, is an example of what Auburn student-athletes can achieve on and off the field.
"Everybody knows that we won the National Championship on the field, but they were also successful in the classroom," Waters said. "We were No. 2 in the nation in the number of players who competed with their undergraduate degrees already completed."
A first-generation college student who grew up on a Cullman County farm, Waters understands Auburn and Auburn people. While his father, D.R. Waters, didn't finish high school or attend college, Waters spent ample time around other Auburn graduates who were in the poultry and cattle business like his father. That was enough to convince him Auburn was where he wanted to be.
"All of the college graduates that I happened to spend time with graduated from Auburn University," Waters said. "It was amazing how passionate they were about Auburn. It was about the institution and their Auburn experience and of course that spilled over into athletics. That had an effect on me."
Waters has been an Auburn man ever since his parents sent him away to college.
"I look back on it now, and it was one of those things where I viewed it as my momma and daddy handed me off to Auburn and left it up to Auburn to finish out the process," Waters said.
Not long before Waters took the job as Senior Associate AD over Student-Athlete Support Services, Waters' father passed away. He was buried on Father's Day. The lessons he taught his two sons-Gary has an older brother who farms in North Alabama-live on.
"He believed in 'work, hard work,' just as the Auburn Creed talks about," Waters said of his father. "The thing he gave me more than anything else was that commitment to get the job done rather than just put in eight hours. You worked until you got the job done."
Getting the job done at Student-Athlete Support Services is Waters' new challenge. The good news is he inherits a program that last year helped all 21 of Auburn's teams exceed the minimum graduation and academic requirements mandated by the NCAA. That's not to mention the three Rhodes Scholar finalists, Rhodes Scholar winner and the three SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar Athlete winners Auburn has had in the past two years. Auburn became the first school in SEC history to sweep the male and female McWhorter awards last spring.
Water also notes that Auburn student-athletes graduate at the same rate as the general student population-and that a record number of student-athletes, 235, were honored last year for making a 3.0 or better GPA.
"That says a lot," Waters said.
While his position is new, his involvement with Auburn Athletics isn't. Waters served as Faculty Athletics Representative from 2007 to 2010. In that position, which is appointed by the university president, Waters learned what he already knew from his years of teaching classes with a mix of students and student-athletes.
"Serving as Faculty Athletics Representative taught me that our student athletes are probably the best individuals on campus as far as time management is concerned," Water said." When I look at going to class, preparation for class, practice, athletic competition, it's amazing to me to look at the academic success of our student-athletes. They are great time managers and they come here with the idea of earning a degree and winning a championship."
Waters said the job is not without its challenges. One of the biggest is helping student-athletes balance all of their demands while ensuring they finish college fully prepared for careers in something other than sports.
"One of the biggest challenges is being able to effectively manage a class schedule and study table schedule, meet with tutors and mentors and carve out time for practice and competition," Waters said. "We're constantly trying to work with the students when they are registering for classes to make sure that they get the classes they need to keep on schedule for graduation but also classes that meet at times to allow for their other responsibilities."
Another challenge is ensuring that student-athletes meet the NCAA's "progress toward degree" requirements.
"The student-athlete is very unique," Waters said. "We have some progress toward degree requirements for NCAA eligibility that are completely foreign to any other student on this campus. That means that it's difficult for a student-athlete to change their major, for example. That is not a complaint about the requirement because I understand the basis of the requirement. The NCAA is trying to make sure student-athletes leave here with a degree in hand."
While Waters is pleased that all of Auburn's teams exceeded the NCAA's so-called Academic Progress Rate requirements last year, meaning they met minimum standards for graduation and retention, he says there is room for improvement.
"Our goal is to improve graduation rates and APR scores each year," he said. "Our job is not done until we have a 100 percent graduation rate and perfect APR scores. Long-term that is what we are striving for, but in the short term, we want to make improvements each year."
Waters oversees an SASS staff that currently includes six academic counselors and three learning specialists. He plans to add another academic counselor. The support staff also includes administrative support employees, Graduate Assistants, undergraduate tutors and mentors for the nearly 500 student-athletes in his care.
All of them work toward one goal-ensuring student-athletes are prepared for the day when their athletic careers are over.
"We want them to be just as prepared for that day as they are for any athletic competition they've ever had," Waters said. "We want them to graduate with a championship ring on their finger and a diploma in their hand. Barrett Trotter is a perfect example. He's our starting quarterback and he graduated from here in three years."
Waters said he is excited to be at Auburn Athletics and, in particular, to work with Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs.
"One of the things that I found most appealing about coming to work at the Athletics Department was the opportunity to work for and work with Jay Jacobs," Waters said. "The Absolute Values at the Athletics Department (to always tell the truth and treat others the way we would like to be treated) are a great way to describe Jay's life. That was a major part of my excitement in coming to Athletics was an opportunity to work with Jay."
Jacobs said Waters is the perfect fit for the job.
"Gary Waters is a great Auburn man, and he knows more about the academic programs at Auburn University than anybody I know," Jacobs said. "His passion for students is a great asset for Auburn. He is demanding and has high expectations, but he couples that with compassion. Dr. Waters will have a significant impact on our student-athletes. I couldn't be prouder to have Gary Waters not only in this position with our Student Athlete Support Services but also as a member of my senior staff."
Waters and his wife, Jackie, have two children, Levi and Emily. Levi is a senior at Auburn High School, and Emily is an eighth grader at Auburn Junior High School.
"I finally have a job that my kids think is pretty cool," Waters said.