Academic-Athletic Fellows Spotlight – Kathy Rohrer

Kathy Rohrer is the Vice Provost for Academic Programs at Princeton and has served as an Academic-Athletic Fellow for the women’s squash team for ten years. In her role at the University, Kathy works with Provost Christopher Eisgruber on academic initiatives. Kathy recently took some time out to answer a few questions about her service as an Academic-Athletic Fellow and how her time working with the student-athletes and coaches on the women’s squash team has impacted her.

1. How would you describe your experience as an AAF?

I have just finished my tenth season as the academic-athletic fellow for the women’s squash team. I enjoy the many sides of the experience: attending matches, feeling like part of the team, meeting parents and squash alums, making myself useful to the team members, trading insights with Coach Gail Ramsay.

2. Why did you become involved with the AAF program?

The previous fellow for women’s squash, Jeremy Brown, was my office mate in Nassau Hall at the time. I remember asking him about the stream of undergraduate women who came by his office, which is how I learned about the AAF program. When Jeremy left for a new position, he and Gail asked if I would like to get involved, and I did. I had begun my administrative life at Princeton as a director of studies in one of the residential colleges—essentially, a professional academic adviser—and I thought I might be useful in connecting the team members with all the good academic resources that are available for them here at Princeton.

3. What is the greatest benefit you have derived from serving as an AAF?

I could talk about lots of benefits: getting to know the wonderful students, having a great relationship with Gail, feeling that I can be of service, learning how to get to the Yale squash courts and where to park . . . but let’s be frank: how many people get a chance to accompany a varsity athletic team to Cairo? Our training trip to Egypt over fall break in 2008 was a highlight for the whole team. The culture shock—not to mention the squash, with some of the world’s top junior practitioners—was intense and stimulating. Not many miles outside the center of town, agricultural scenes appear to be unchanged since the ancient world: for example, your tour bus shares the road with men driving donkey carts, or astride the donkeys themselves, carrying a bundle of corn stalks to market. On the other hand, did you know that the great pyramids of Giza are in a suburb of Cairo and that you can see them out the window of the Pizza Hut across the road? Or that Egypt cares so much about its tourism industry that one must study for years to become a licensed tour guide (and that only licensed tour guides can legally answer your questions)?

4. How has your perspective on student-athletes changed as a result of your service as an AAF?

I’ve  ever been any kind of athlete myself, but for many years, as a singer of Anglican choral music, I’ve been a performing musician in a group setting. The disciplines are in some ways parallel: the singers in my choir spend hours in rehearsal several days a week and then perform in one or two services on the weekends. Occasional travel or church festival days can wipe out an entire weekend. I appreciate the commitment that the members of the women’s squash team make to combine a rigorous training and competition schedule with the intense academic demands of Princeton.

5. What advice would you give student-athletes to help them maximize their time at Princeton?

Take advantage of the rich diversity of people and ideas that come through Princeton, as students, faculty, staff, and visitors. Make a point of meeting your professors and preceptors during office hours. Hang out with some people who come from a completely different background (this is almost guaranteed for squash players, since we always have international students among our men’s and women’s teams). Take the time to perform small kindnesses for others.

6. How has your service as an AAF helped you as an educator at Princeton?

I work with Provost Christopher Eisgruber to help oversee the University’s operating budget and academic planning. Since I no longer teach regularly, having access to undergraduate opinion and experience through the squash team has been very helpful for me. The more I can understand about every aspect of the University’s mission and operations, the better I can do my job.

7. What interaction or situation as an AAF gives you the most pride?

Two ends of the spectrum: I write a lot of personal references for squash team members, both while they are at Princeton and after they graduate (I talked with a member of the Class of 2005 this morning about her current job search, for example). I really enjoy getting to know the team members well so that I can help them in this way. On the other side, the women occasionally call on me for emergency help: someone is in the middle of an academic meltdown, or needs to make a big decision in a hurry, or has run afoul of some regulation or other. I like being a person to whom they can turn for help and advice in navigating the system and making good choices when things get tough.