UCCS Mountain Lions winners on and off the court

By Tom Hutton published June 10, 2008

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Jessica Stewart led the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Mountain Lion volleyball team to its first trip to the NCAA Tournament with more than 600 assists last season.

But the senior setter from Strasburg knows the number that will determine her future is the 4.0 GPA she earned for the Spring semester as a history major and communication and film studies

"My goal is to go to graduate school," Stewart, working part-time this summer at a shoe store and as a girl's volleyball camp and club coach, said. "If I'm going to do that, I've got to keep my grades up."

The perspective of student first then athlete is not unique to Stewart. It's pervasive, according to recently compiled statistics about the academic performance of the Mountain Lions who compete in NCAA Division II in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. UCCS fields 12 teams and will begin its first women's soccer team this fall.

Stewart was one of seven Mountain Lion athletes to achieve a 4.0 GPA this spring and one of 31 to have a cumulative GPA more than 3.5.

"More than 53 percent of current UCCS athletes have a grade point average of 3.0 or better," Charles Shub, professor, Engineering, and faculty athleics representative, said. "And fully 83 percent of the athletes have grade averages of 2.5 or better. This reflects well on the athletic operation at the university and its emphasis on the whole person."

For Stewart, who plans to graduate in December and dreams of attending graduate school in Boston or Ireland, volleyball is a passion. She's honed her skills as a setter since her sophomore year in high school and supplements her partial athletic scholarship by working UCCS youth volleyball camps, serving as a coach for local club team, and working at a local shoe store.

But sports, including learned skills of time management and teamwork, are a means to an end.

"I love learning. I want to be a college professor," Stewart said.

UCCS, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in Colorado Springs, is the fastest growing university in Colorado and one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The university offers 29 bachelor's degrees, 18 master's and four doctoral degrees. The campus enrolls about 7,700 students.

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