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A team approach

by John Roberts, Communications Director

After graduating from Lee University in 1999, Aaron Simmons took an unconventional approach to selecting a graduate school.

A Florida native, he grew up pulling for the Florida State football team, one of the top programs in the nation throughout the 1990s. But he didn’t feel fully vested in the Seminoles.

“I felt the only way to be a true fan was to be an alumnus of the school, so I chose Florida State,” he laughs. “It’s definitely not something I would recommend to my students.”

Athletics have played a large role in Simmons’ life. He played intramurals as an undergraduate and served as a faculty mentor to the baseball team at Division III Hendrix College in Arkansas, where he taught before coming to Furman in 2011. Since joining the philosophy department, Simmons has been a regular at Paladin sporting events. He’s especially known for his enthusiastic support at home basketball games.

Most recently, he’s found a way to blend athletics with the cerebral and community pursuits of campus life by helping to found the Furman Faculty Guest Coaches program.

The concept is fairly simple. Faculty coaches are selected by the student-athletes of each varsity team. The professors check in on practices, attend some home and away games, and generally act as supportive friends and fans for the teams. They are even welcomed on the sidelines.

But you won’t see a faculty coach calling a post pattern on third down and four. “We are there in a strictly supportive role,” Simmons says.

The program is modeled after the Faculty Fellows initiative Simmons participated in at Hendrix.

“The idea is to encourage faculty engagement with students in all areas of their lives. It is part of a commitment to educate the entire person,” he says. “The faculty members are able to get to know the students outside the classroom and develop good friendships with the coaches. If I have a student who is struggling, the hope is that I have a personal relationship with a coach who I can call. I hope that it will develop into a fantastic program of mutual support here at Furman.”

The program, which currently includes 15 faculty members, is designed to build relationships and cultivate a community where learning and development permeate all aspects of campus life.

“When I get interested in what interests my students, they get interested in what interests me in the classroom,” says Simmons.

Simmons began piecing together the plan last fall with athletic academic coordinator Rob Carson. Last spring they floated the idea to coaches and administrators, who embraced the idea.

Coaches and players worked together to select and invite a faculty coach to join their squads. Some sports, such as football, have several coaches (Simmons, Suzy Summers, Marion Martin and Bruce Clemens). Smaller programs, such as men’s golf (Kirk Karwan) and softball (Tom Smythe), have one.

Football coach Bruce Fowler says the greatest benefit of the program is that it brings different groups together. “We all have our schedules and our jobs, which can be specific. Our faculty are working very hard in the classroom and our coaches are doing their jobs,” says Fowler. “This gives us a chance to get to know one another better. The more we can come together to work on the common goal of educating and developing our students, the stronger our university will be.”

Last month, for example, Fowler, at Simmons’ request, worked to allow football players to attend a lecture on gender violence. “We had about 40 football players attend,” says Simmons. “That kind of dynamic, having coaches and faculty working together to develop our students, is part of what makes Furman such an amazing community.”


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