BOCA RATON, Fla. - Student-athletes left Florida Atlantic University at the conclusion of the 2013-14 academic year, but for many their individual growth and development continued throughout the summer.
Whether FAU student-athletes were taking classes in Boca Raton or online, each found a way to improve over the summer. More so than ever, it was common to see athletes leaving the weight room, academic center, court or playing field after an individual workout.
The growth did not end there. FAU student-athletes were challenged by FAU Director of Athletics Pat Chun at the beginning of the athletic season to become better leaders. Several took that to heart and began to mature into the individuals their coaches recruited and knew they were or would be.
One student-athlete who has taken the initiative to better the entire athletic department and not just her team is senior midfielder Amanda Odato, from Sanford, Fla. For the second-consecutive year, Odato represented FAU at the Conference USA Student Athlete Forum. The Forum, hosted by C-USA in Irving, Texas, was a gathering of Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) members. Odato, who attended Seminole High School, served as the Owls' SAAC President in 2013-14 and will hold the same position in 2014-15. She was one of 15 representatives who participated in a number of interactive presentations with topics ranging from academic success to the role of student-athletes in the new governance structure.
"It was an honor to be able to go to Dallas for a second year in a row to represent FAU at the SAAC meetings," said Odato. "Meeting with all the C-USA representatives and being able to discuss our concerns as well as ideas is always great. It also is a chance to hear issues and successes from other universities in our conference."
The three-day forum allowed representatives to focus on items most relevant to student-athlete welfare, from time demands to overall health and safety. Participants discussed community service initiatives, including the league's "Let's SAAC Hunger" program, and using social media and branding to create awareness of the mission and goals of SAAC on each campus.
Last year, Odato and the FAU SAAC Committee led a food drive at FAU as well as a fundraiser to help support Devon's Den, a home for Devon Walker, who sustained a severe spinal cord injury while playing in the Tulane vs. Tulsa football game September 8, 2012.
The event preceded the recent NCAA vote and was an opportunity for the representatives to hear how the changing landscape of college athletes may or may not affect them via round table sessions by C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky, followed by presentations from NCAA Assistant Director of Academic and Membership Services Quintin Wright and NCAA Assistant Director of Leadership Development Justin Paysinger.
Odato and FAU student-athletes completed the first year of tracked community service hours in 2013-14 with a tally of 2,000+ hours. She kicked off 2014-15 at the Forum by joining in with the SAAC representatives in a community service activity, at The Stewpot in downtown Dallas. The representatives helped facilitate The Stewpot's Family Stabilization Program by organizing grocery orders and distributing them for pick up for families experiencing serious financial hardship. They also took part in street cleanup and distributed bottled water to the homeless.
The SAAC representatives also enjoyed an evening outing to a Texas Rangers vs. Oakland Athletics baseball game at Globe Life Park. During the game, the representatives engaged in a "Life After Sports" conversation with Rangers' Executive Vice President Joe Januszewski and Assistant Vice President Breon Dennis.
"There were SAAC representatives from every C-USA school and nearly every sport," added Odato. "Heading into my senior season I know that `Life After Sports' is just a few games away and this event refocused me to make this year and my last season the best ever for myself and FAU."
Odato and the women's soccer team will open the 2014-15 athletic seasons when the Owls travel to Tampa, Fla. where they will face USF at 7:30 p.m.
To follow Odato and the Owls visit www.fausports.com