By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - This summer Vanderbilt plans to offer an experience to its student-athletes that is unique among SEC universities. Commodore athletics is sending 11 student-athletes to study abroad for portions of the summer academic calendar. But unlike similar opportunities at major universities, Vanderbilt's trips will be solely funded by its athletic department.
David Williams II, Vanderbilt's Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletics Director, said it's important to offer student-athletes the same opportunities as regular students
"I think these kind of things may be the most important things we do," Williams said. "It's the kind of thing that might not be a requirement or covered by an athletic scholarship. But it's one of the most fulfilling things we do."
Vanderbilt has previously allowed student-athletes to study abroad. Last summer, Commodore running back Ralph Webb studied in Australia, a trip that was featured by the SEC during SEC Media Days last July. Other student-athletes have followed suit.
But Vanderbilt managed to enhance this summer's study abroad opportunities by virtue of its own athletic budget. Following Vanderbilt football's bowl trip in December to the Camping World Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La, Commodore athletics returned with a near-$100,000 surplus from its bowl budget. As Williams studied the applications for study-abroad programs, he realized the budget to send 11 student-athletes abroad - as well as to include $1,000 travel stipends - totaled about $100,000.
So, Williams simply put two and two together.
"I am in favor of putting as much money as we can towards these opportunities for student-athletes," Williams said. "If you can, why wouldn't you offer something like this?"
The 11 student-athletes hail from eight different sports programs at Vanderbilt and are set to venture to nine different countries as part of their respective academic curriculums. The trips will take place at different points in summer sessions in May, June and July, allowing student-athletes to avoid conflicts with their athletic responsibilities.
This is just the latest unique experience to take place for student-athletes at Vanderbilt; the athletic department also offers the country's most comprehensive internship program for student-athletes each summer. In 2016, 69 student-athletes took part in for-credit summer internships in the Nashville area, and the idea has caught on at other universities. Williams said fellow SEC schools Missouri and South Carolina, as well as Oregon from the Pac-12, have contacted Vanderbilt in hopes of replicating the internship opportunity.
Now Williams hopes the same will happen with study abroad programs.
"We're setting a trend at Vanderbilt," Williams said. "We're giving kids an experience that student-athletes generally don't get at this level."
Student-athletes in 2017 study abroad program
Christa Reed (WBB): France
Katherine Stark (Bowling): Italy
Madison Eaker (Swim): Czech Republic
Kaitlyn Fahrner (Soccer): Swiss Alps/Italy
Djery Baptiste (MBB): Spain
Caroline Pietrzyk (Track/XC): Denmark
Devon Grisbaum (Track/XC): South Africa
Fernanda Contreras (W. Tennis): South Africa
Oren Burks (Football): Australia
Ean Pfeifer (Football) England
Wade Freebeck (Football): England