When Fort Mitchell, Ky., native Aaron Noll arrived in Nashville in 2008, he must have decided that studying pre-med at Vanderbilt was not enough of a challenge. So in October of his freshman year, Noll attended a walk-on tryout for the varsity men's basketball team.
"I was taking a full load already, and then I threw basketball in there out of nowhere," Noll said. "That was a pretty big change."
But the former Covington Catholic star has more than adapted to the rigorous schedule. Noll has been named to the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll in each of the past two seasons and already has been accepted to the medical schools at Vanderbilt, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.
A biological sciences major, Noll's course of study has been carefully planned out since organic chemistry that first year. For other student-athletes, however, finding a major that is a perfect fit takes a little more effort. In fact, some do not find exactly what they are looking for, so they create it.
Vanderbilt's College of Arts and Sciences offers 49 defined undergraduate majors, but when that list is found wanting students can create an interdisciplinary major "to explore connections between traditional academic areas, and to pursue their emerging scholarly interests in the intersections between multiple disciplines and methodologies."
Three starters for Head Coach Kevin Stallings' 2011-12 basketball team are pursuing these interdisciplinary courses of study.
"It allows for you to have a little bit more flexibility with what you're interested in," senior Jeffery Taylor said. "You can mold it after your own personal interests instead of just following the strict guidelines that some of the majors have. Especially for me, that's what I was looking for--to have the opportunity to take the classes that I felt I was interested in."
A self-professed history buff, Taylor wanted to combine his love of U.S. and European history with contemporary sociology classes that he also enjoyed. "Comparative Cultures: The U.S. and Europe" was born.
Classmate Lance Goulbourne also chose to go the interdisciplinary route. He combined economics, sociology, accounting and business classes into a "Social Economic Theory" major.
"You have to write a proposal to the dean," Goulbourne said. "You have to choose your classes and get it approved, take them, and do well in them. I like the way it is and how I set it up."
And Senior Academic Counselor Neal Clark likes the amount of forethought required of the student, noting an impressive letter of interest that Goulbourne submitted with his major proposal.
Even the SEC's leading scorer, junior John Jenkins, has created his own major. It is entitled "Religion and Cultural Studies."
These four student-athletes underscore the importance that Stallings and his staff place on academics. Every student-athlete that has stayed for four years under Stallings has earned his degree.
In the latest NCAA graduation success rates, Vanderbilt was the only SEC school whose men's basketball team outperformed the overall national average. The NCAA set a single-season record by graduating 82 percent of the student-athletes who began college in 2004. For the same year's report, the Vanderbilt men's basketball team boasted a graduation success rate of 93 percent.
According to senior Brad Tinsley, who works as a teacher's assistant in the sociology department for Dr. Laurie Woods, that's no mistake.
"One of their main goals is to make sure we graduate," Tinsley said. "Our coaches always say that we're students first and then athletes second. Especially at this prestigious school, it can be tough being gone on road trips and catching up on class, but they definitely put a strong emphasis on getting to class, getting good grades, getting the help we need and graduating."