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UNC student-athlete develops software program with winning potential
Striving to win is built into the DNA of every athlete on a college campus. It’s what they hope to do — on the field, in the gym — and it’s what the fans clamor for.
Often overlooked, though, is the academic world these students simultaneously inhabit.
Kevin Collignon, a member of the men’s golf team at the University of Northern Colorado, has devised a software program that helps ensure that student-athletes stay in winning form in the classroom.
Collignon’s fledgling business, AthleteHall, is being used in the athletics department at UNC and is getting interest from other universities, including the University of Montana and the U.S. Military Academy West Point.
Collignon, an academic senior and redshirt junior on the golf team, is studying computer information systems in the Monfort College of Business. He noticed some flaws in the previous system used to calculate student-athletes’ check-in and check-out times in their study hall. Each athlete, depending on his or her grade-point average and other academic criteria, is required to complete a certain number of hours of studying each week.
On one occasion last year, Collignon signed into the paper log at the entrance of study hall and signed out when he finished. The athletic department had a person stationed at the check-in to transfer the times written by the athletes into a computerized spread sheet. The number of hours Collignon studied that day were incorrectly logged, giving him fewer hours of study than he actually completed.
“I almost got punished for it because of an accidental error by the data entry person,” Collignon said. “Using the computer system, you can’t really mess that up. … It makes everything more efficient and automated.”
Collignon has a background in website development and he began developing the software during winter break 2010.
UNC’s athletic department began using the software in January. Collignon didn’t charge his school anything; it served as a useful trial run of his software.
Jimmy Henderson, UNC’s assistant athletic director for academic success, said Collignon’s program has streamlined the study hall check-in process — lines of students used to stream out the door — and has made the system more accurate.
“It gives us a quick-access academic profile where we can see when they’re checking in to do their work, how much they’re doing, and this semester Kevin is ready to implement it into a grade-check piece, as well,” Henderson said.
The grade-check feature will eliminate paper, as well. In the past, UNC student-athletes had to track down their professors to get a brief written report about their grade at the midpoint of each semester. Besides the hassle of collecting the reports — which allowed for an unscrupulous athlete to potentially fudge the report — the system sent 400-some paper reports flooding into the athletic department at once.
Collignon’s automated system sends each professor an email reminder and allows the grade assessment to be filled out at the teacher’s convenience. The assessment is sent back to the athletic department as an online report, eliminating the paper buildup.
The grade-check program serves as “an early alert system” to the athletic department, which is responsible for making sure the students keep up their eligibility, Collignon said. “You want to be alerted early of kids who are at high risk of failing in class. If we can know a kid is possibly going to fail a class, we can get on top of him before it’s possibly too late.”
Collignon has also developed a feature that sends mass text messages to student-athletes to alert them to class sign-ups or events they need to attend. Student-athletes get to sign up for classes before other students each semester, but they only have a 24-hour window to do so. Collignon said UNC typically had a 15 percent non-response rate to the class sign-up from student-athletes; this year, with the broadcast text feature of AthleteHall, only 2 percent of student-athletes were no-shows at class registration.
Collignon said the University of Montana used AthleteHall in the spring semester and West Point is using it. It’s a subscription-based program, meaning it can be accessed from wherever online service is available.
He charges $1,250 for the study hall portion and expects to charge $2,000 to $2,500 for a school to use the new grade-check feature.
In October, he is scheduled to speak at a conference at Mount San Antonio College in California.
“I’ve had great feedback from all the schools that have seen it or I’ve talked to about it,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting. Without UNC’s help, I don’t think it could be where it’s gotten so quickly. Until you actually get the real people using it, you don’t find the kinks and all of that stuff. It meant a lot to me for them to use it and get their feedback.”
Likewise, the UNC athletic department has enjoyed the responsiveness of having one of their own — a one-handicap golfer, no less — be on hand to quickly tweak the software as needed.
Henderson said similar software on the market would cost UNC $4,000 to $8,000.
“Under the restricted budget we have, we couldn’t ever do something like that,” he said.
UNC’s student athletes enjoy one of the most spacious study hall facilities in the Big Sky Conference. Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion was renovated before the 2010-11 school year, including the study hall with room for up to 70 students, as well as 12 computer stations.
In an NCAA landscape where one athletic program after another has been sanctioned for violating rules — both in terms of athletic and academic conduct — Henderson said UNC has established connections across campus to faculty and academic advisers to ensure student-athletes are connecting to resources they need to not just pass, but thrive, in the academic world.
“That’s one piece of our job — to uphold the academic mission of the university and to make sure our students are doing things the right way,” he said.
Jamie Engelkemier, a junior and member of the UNC women’s golf team, said the old paper check-in system at study hall was time-consuming.
“Sometimes they wouldn’t get the right (study) hours,” she said. “Like, ‘No, I had three hours, not two hours.’ That just, I think, frustrated everyone.”
Engelkemier said she wasn’t aware that a fellow student-athlete came up with the streamlined system that eliminates surprises from the process. “It’s a lot quicker, and it actually calculates (study) hours so you don’t have to do it. … It just helps us out knowing that’s how many hours we need” to reach the weekly requirements.
Darr Tucknott, academic services coordinator at the University of Montana in Missoula, said AthleteHall “worked great” on a trial last spring. But, she said, because Montana doesn’t yet have a study hall space that AthleteHall is best suited for, the university has opted not to continue with the software until its physical space is upgraded.
“He was really great to work with,” Tucknott said of Collignon. “It’s really incredible for him to design that on his own. I was really impressed.”
Collignon is pleased that athletic departments and athletes are getting use out of his system.
He’s quite aware that scrutiny of student-athletic performance is shifting beyond the fields of competition to inside the classroom, as well.
“The grades are really important for athletes,” Collignon said. “It’s not just ‘Is he a good athlete?’ Now the emphasis is that they really have to stay on top of their classes, as well.”
Collignon has no worries there. He is not only a good student, but an enterprising young businessman, as well. He could very well be the next bright light that hails from Las Vegas.
Given the rosy reviews AthleteHall has received from UNC and other colleges, Collignon isn’t exactly rolling risky dice with this project.
“I’m very entrepreneurial,” he said. “I want to see where this can go.”
By Chris Casey, Greeley Tribune