The Westminster College community will be watching the opening ceremonies in Sochi with extra pride this year. The liberal arts school in Salt Lake City has more students competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics than any other U.S. college or university.
In all, there are 23 skiers and snowboarders in Sochi right now who are working simultaneously towards a degree at Westminster College. Deb Vickery is their academic advisor on campus.
“We’re all kind of excited, and in awe - in awe of what they accomplish,” says Vickery. She credits the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City for bringing so many athletes to Utah, by creating the venues, in particular the Center for Excellence of the US Ski and Snowboard Association.
“We see a lot of students who are athletes - that maybe typically would have stayed back in Lake Placid to train or Mt. Hood - because of what the facilities are and their proximity, we see a lot more move here,” Vickery says.
On top of that, Westminster College established a tuition grant program in 2005 for students who are US Ski and Snowboard team members, making the school the Official Partner of Higher Education to USSA. The program started with just 2 students, and now Westminster is home to nearly 100 USSA team members. Vickery says that would not be possible without the tuition assistance, since many families of elite athletes use all their resources just to compete.
“They’re having to raise all this money, so then when it comes to education, especially higher education, there is nothing left in the pool to put towards that, and they look to those opportunities and grab hold of them when they’re there, and then realize, wow, I can do both,” says Vickery.
Vickery says the athletes have an average GPA over 3.5. The Westminster community will be cheering on their classmates Friday evening at an Opening Ceremony Viewing Party on campus.