Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Communication (MA)

Degree Level





Patricia Amason

Committee Member

Myria Allen

Second Committee Member

Lindsey Aloia


Academic Advisor, Academic Success, Academic Support Services, Learning Specialist, Student-Athlete


The current study explores how academic success is defined and socially constructed between athletic academic support professionals and at-risk student-athletes. There continues to be an increase in academic support services provided to student-athletes, including learning specialists, academic advisors, and academic buildings (Wolverton, 2008). Although a significant relationship between support services and academic output of student-athletes has been found (Hollis, 2002; Ridpath, 2010), the relational and communicative dynamics of these groups have not been fully explored.

Using qualitative methods, one-on-one interviews were conducted with participants, and grounded theory and thematic analysis were employed to identify overarching themes for the research questions. Academic advisors identified academic achievement and personal development as academic success. Learning specialists identified academic success as maximizing individual potential. Student-athletes identified meeting grade-based standards and work ethic resulting in reaching personal goals as academic success for themselves. Student-athletes also perceived that their advisor would identify eligibility and effort as academic success, and that their learning specialist would view academic success as building academic skills and work ethic. In addition, overarching themes were found to explain how success is socially constructed among these groups. Academic advisors used communication and instrumental support, while learning specialists created accountability through problem solving and aided in socio-emotional development. Student-athletes identified that their advisor provided information and acted as a safety net, while their learning specialist facilitated academic success and helped them develop socio-emotionally. This study adds to research on the professional roles of learning specialists and advisors, explores at-risk student-athletes’ experiences with academic support staff, and identifies how the communication and relational dynamics between these groups may be improved.