Saturday, May 22, 2010

Unexpected Turns Mark Athletes’ Journey

The New York Times

Four years ago, Jen Ward’s was at the end of the hall, and she was at the end of her rope as a softball coach. She had spent a year trying to recruit a catcher. At the last minute, she got one, but the catcher transferred after one season.

Ward’s only notable recruit that year was an outfielder/pitcher from Green Brook, N.J., Cassandra Searls.

“I didn’t think of Cassandra as a pitcher,” Ward said recently, looking back to 2006. “And while I knew she was a good player, I didn’t really know how good.” Searls became Ward’s pitching ace and the team’s career home run leader during four winning seasons.

A few doors from Ward’s office, Coach Dave Beccaria had a similarly perplexing baseball recruiting season. He also wanted a catcher and never got one. “Plenty of arms, but I’m not sure who will catch them,” he said.

In the next four years, pitching depth proved to be a backbone of his teams that twice advanced to the Centennial Conference championship game while compiling a record of 90-60-2.

In the middle of the coaching row, Amy Bergin seemingly had one of the least productive volleyball recruiting seasons four years ago. She had contacted more than 1,000 players and landed two, twins from La Canada, Calif. Rachel and Rebecca Salvo, the “volleyball twins” as they are now known on campus, became all-Americans and led Haverford to four conference championships and four N.C.A.A. tournament appearances, including one run to the Round of 16.

As recruit after recruit went elsewhere in 2006, Bergin was asked how she absorbed the disappointment.

“You go home and cry, maybe pound a few beers,” she said.

Bergin laughed recently when she was reminded of that remark.

“I guess it turned out pretty good after all, huh?” she said. “It’s crazy when your job is based on the decisions of 17-year-olds. But I’m getting better at it. And I’ve got two little kids now, so I can’t pound beers anymore.”

The New York Times examined the increasingly competitive athletic recruiting environment at small colleges in a 2005-6 series. For a year, Haverford, a highly selective college outside Philadelphia, granted access to its athletic recruiting and admissions process.

The college admitted about 65 recruited athletes, or about 15 percent of the 2006 incoming class. Most of them graduated from Haverford last weekend.

Team success is one way to evaluate the value of the recruiting process, and almost universally, Haverford athletics prospered with nine sports winning 23 conference championships in the past four years. It is perhaps just as revealing, and pertinent, to note that about 25 percent of the recruited athletes had limited playing time, or had careers cut short by injuries or chose to pursue other interests.

The Haverford recruiting class of 2006 included a talented women’s soccer player, Monica Stegman, who spent last fall — what would have been her senior season — at a marine biology laboratory on Cape Cod.

“Academics and other things eventually took precedence,” said Stegman, who also stopped playing because she feared recurring concussions.

Another senior, Nick Farina, was a track and field recruit who stopped running because of an ailment that caused him extreme chest pain. Last year, Farina started a blog and a business geared toward advising students on financial matters. He researched the enterprise during a year abroad at Oxford.

Stefan Pappius-Lefebvre was a recruited pitcher who lost interest in baseball and quit during his freshman year. He returned to play the next two seasons and developed into one of the conference’s best pitchers. An arm injury as a senior ended his collegiate career.

“I played baseball for a long time,” said Pappius-Lefebvre, who will enter law school this fall, “and I know the whole college recruiting thing can be a long and crazy process. It worked out for me; I have known other people who would say otherwise. And that’s the biggest message. You better pick a college where you will be happy even if you never play a single game. Because you might not.”

A vast majority of recruited athletes competed for four years at Haverford. A not insignificant portion of them would probably not have been accepted without their athletic credentials.

To that end, their graduation represents the culmination of a process that began when many of them were in middle school and started playing on travel teams. That commitment usually led to specialized year-round tutoring, then a grueling regimen of recruiting events and a dizzying schedule of summer camps meant to showcase their talents to college coaches.

Most of the Haverford athletes were veterans of this demanding and sometimes dehumanizing recruiting routine.

Four years later, was it all worth it?

“It was for me, and I would do it all again tomorrow,” said Searls, who went to pitching instruction twice a week as a teenager and often missed Thursdays and Fridays in high school to attend softball showcases.

Searls, who earned a degree in chemistry, said: “All that work helped me get into a great academic college where I learned and grew. The youth sports recruiting process is unpredictable and fickle, but without it, I’m not the same person.”

Brian Fleishhacker, one of Haverford’s top lacrosse recruits in 2006, did not disappoint, helping the program reach the N.C.A.A. Division III quarterfinals for the first time last weekend. In high school, Fleishhacker was busy on the recruiting circuit.

“It was a lot of work week after week, and maybe you’re at some summer camp while other kids are at the beach,” he said. “But where you go to college is a huge decision. And every little thing adds up to giving you more exposure and the chance to make the best decision.”

Fleishhacker, who graduated with a degree in economics, was among 10 lacrosse recruits admitted in 2006, all of them on a list Mike Murphy, then the coach, presented to the admissions department. Murphy hoped their athletic credentials would buttress their academic qualifications, which in most cases were within Haverford’s admission standards, or fairly close.

“Was it all worth it to take those 10 kids?” Murphy, now coaching at the University of Pennsylvania, said recently. “What does opportunity cost? Did they take 10 spots from 10 other kids who weren’t athletes? Maybe, maybe not. But I know Haverford is a better place for having those kids around for four years, and not just for all the games they won.”

Three of Murphy’s top 2006 recruits who submitted early-decision applications provide snapshots of the possible outcomes in the ever-evolving recruiting dance.

Alex Guy, a midfielder from Easton, Md., had his application deferred to the regular decision process.

“It was an awful feeling,” said Guy, who was finally accepted in the spring.

But Kevin Friedenberg, a standout lacrosse goalie from Needham, Mass., was rejected outright.

“I was devastated,” he said.

John-Paul Cashiola of Houston recalled the joy of opening his acceptance letter, which he knew he received in part because he had been the top goalie on Murphy’s list.

Guy was not the significant contributor he expected to be on the field, but he played all four years and graduated last weekend.

“I made friends on the team that will last for life,” said Guy, who will soon apply to graduate schools and hopes to become a college history professor.

On Sunday, Friedenberg will graduate with a degree in history and English from Swarthmore College — 10 miles from Haverford, its chief rival. He was a two-time all-conference lacrosse player.

“They say everything happens for a reason, and maybe it does,” Friedenberg said. “Does Haverford wish I ended up there? Probably. Do I wish that? Not at all.”

Cashiola never realized his promise as a goalie. He played some as a freshman, lost the starter’s job, then sustained a serious back injury that ended his athletic career. Cashiola has taken a year off from his studies but says he expects to graduate from Haverford next year.

“I didn’t work hard enough as a goalie, and there’s no cutting corners at that level,” said Cashiola, who is working for an international development company in California. “I wish I had done more. But you could say I used lacrosse as a tool to get a great education, and that is going to serve me well. I’m excited about my future.”

In the end, Friedenberg, who had a rough ride on the recruiting carousel four years ago, was the most philosophical.

“The recruiting process can have some unfortunate outcomes,” he said. “But if you look around, one way or another, most of us are doing pretty well. It’s a long, wild ride, but we are happy survivors.”

Despite rampant growth, Advanced Placement classes still impress college admissions officers

By Rebecca Catalanello, Times Staff Writer
Posted: May 22, 2010 05:45 PM

Nearly 30,000 high school students in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties bent over Advanced Placement tests this month, striving to earn college credit before they ever set foot on campus.

AP courses, once reserved for a school's best and brightest, have gained broader popularity among schools and students not always known for their academic rigor. In Florida, the numbers of students taking the college-caliber classes almost doubled from 68,000 in 2004 to 131,818 in 2009.

And while some educators worry that AP's diminishing exclusivity could undermine the program's value, college admissions counselors throughout Florida say, for them, AP hasn't lost its shine.

"Quite the opposite," said J. Robert Spatig, director of graduate admissions for the University of South Florida. "We want students to have that experience, the exposure to rigorous material that is standardized nationally."

A handful of universities elsewhere appear to be rethinking that.

James M. Glaser, dean of undergraduate education at Tufts University, said a four-year, 33 percent surge of AP score submissions forced faculty and administration to reconsider the wisdom of granting unlimited credit to incoming freshmen who stacked their transcripts with AP classes.

"In the view of the faculty," Glaser said, "it just feels a little out of control."

The school wanted to do a better job encouraging students to be well-rounded, he said. So, starting with the 2009-10 incoming freshmen, credits for AP scores were capped at five.

At University of Florida, by comparison, where 98 percent of 2009's incoming freshmen completed an AP, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge University's Advanced International Certification of Education, freshmen could claim as many as 45 college credits if the qualified.

Glaser said the Tufts faculty recognizes that a student who takes AP coursework shows a level of motivation that is attractive, but ultimately professors felt that the AP classes didn't always align with what would have been taught at Tufts.

Still, no one seems to doubt that AP does a good job of preparing students for more rigorous coursework.

The College Board, creator of the AP exam, boasts that students who complete an AP course are more likely to graduate from college within four years than those who don't.

"It's exciting to see more and more high-quality students take freshman classes every year," said Ed Gillis, executive director of admissions for the University of Miami, where overall applications are up 18 percent over last year. "It keeps the faculty very happy."

Figures show that just as high schools are administering more AP courses and tests than ever, colleges are raking in more and more freshmen with course credit earned through the tests.

The University of Tampa in 2005 admitted 283 students with AP credit. By last year, that number climbed 68 percent to 477. The story is similar at USF, where in 2005, 29 percent of the freshmen admitted brought AP credit with them. By last year, that was up to a whopping 46 percent — almost half of the freshman class.

"We still view it as a positive," said Dennis Nostrand, vice president for enrollment management at UT. "It's a sign that the students are stretching themselves to try to take more challenging courses."

The Ivy League also appears to remain impressed with the curriculum and the caliber AP students.

"It is a curriculum we all know and understand and have respect for," said Jim Miller, dean of admissions for Brown University.

Florida admissions counselors who spoke to the St. Petersburg Times said that ultimately they are less interested in the exam scores than in the fact that students attempted the higher level courses, in part because senior scores aren't available until months after students have been admitted.

A national report released in February showed that Florida ranked No. 5 among states in the percentage of graduating seniors who scored a passing 3 or above on at least one AP exam. But as more students took the tests, the state's overall passage rate was dropping.

Bill Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard University, said that at his university, AP scores provide a more important indicator of a students' academic caliber. And the school only rewards the highest scores.

At University of Florida, a score of 3 out of 5 in Art History could earn a student three college credits, while a score of 4 or 5 could bring six college credits.

But an incoming Harvard student must earn a score of 5 out of 5 to get any college credit at all. Even that only awards the student a half to one full credit, depending on the subject.

"The AP continues to be a very good predictor of how well students achieve at Harvard," Fitzsimmons said, adding that the growing ranks of students taking AP classes doesn't alarm him. "Florida is known at Harvard as a place that does offer lots of IB and AP students, so we know those students are going to be well-prepared."

Steve Orlando, spokesman for University of Florida, cautioned that while a student's penchant for taking more challenging classes can't hurt, it still doesn't guarantee admission. AP hasn't lost its luster, but neither has class diversity — economic, athletic, ethnic and more.

"We're looking at the whole student, and what that student can bring to a campus," he said.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (727) 893-8707 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or

Thursday, May 13, 2010

For Students, a Waiting List Is Scant Hope

DURHAM, N.C. — Ashley Koski, ranked third in the senior class at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, Va., has wanted to attend Duke University since she was 12.

Late last month, she learned that Duke had neither accepted nor rejected her. It had offered her a spot on the waiting list — along with 3,382 other applicants. That is almost twice the size of the incoming freshman class.

“I kind of just went quiet the rest of the day,” Ms. Koski said. “I’d rather have a yes or no. I can’t make plans and be excited like the rest of my friends.”

Duke, which had a record 27,000 freshman applicants, has placed 856 more on its waiting list than a year ago. The reasons include the uncertain economy, which makes it hard for Duke to estimate how many of the 4,000 it has accepted will say yes.

If Duke’s best guess holds, no more than 60 will be admitted through the narrow gate of what is essentially a giant holding pen.

Other schools are also hedging their bets this spring. Most Ivy League colleges had sharp jumps in applications, as did similarly selective colleges like the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Many students hedged bets of their own, and submitted more applications — in some instances 15 or more.

The admission process is a complicated dance of supply and demand for colleges. And this spring, many institutions have accepted fewer applicants, and placed more on waiting lists, until it becomes clear over the next few weeks how many spots remain.

M.I.T., which had a 6 percent increase in applicants, increased its waiting list by more than half, to 722. Last year, it accepted fewer than 80 from that list. Yale, which had a slight dip in applications this year yet still admitted fewer than 8 percent of applicants, placed nearly 1,000 others on its waiting list, an increase of more than 150. Dartmouth increased its list by about 80, to 1,740.

No selective college, though — at least none that makes its figures public — has placed as many applicants in a holding pattern this spring as Duke, which has seen applications surge by 30 percent over the last two years. And those applications were filed long before its men’s basketball team won this year’s national collegiate championship, a victory that could prompt more students to say yes to Duke’s offer of admission, and thus leave fewer slots for those in waiting.

In an interview on a recent morning on Duke’s Gothic-style campus, which was mostly built in the 1930’s but looks centuries older, Christoph Guttentag, the dean of undergraduate admissions, likened his task to that of a sculptor finishing a work of art — and the waiting list to his last palette of materials.

“I have no idea what I’m going to need to finish sculpting the class,” he said, his voice echoing off walls of native knotty pine. “From an institutional perspective, it’s important that I have some flexibility.”

Like its competitors, Duke does not rank students on its waiting list. Instead, decisions about who will rise to the top are often a function of what the admissions office perceives as deficiencies in the next freshman class. There might be, for example, a surplus of aspiring engineers and not enough potential English majors, or too few students from Florida. Or there might be an unexpected shortage of oboe players.

While Mr. Guttentag encourages students on the waiting list to send him a one-page letter — or a video of 60 seconds or less — letting him know how strongly they wish to attend, and why, they can do little to improve their chances.

“The student can’t know, ‘Gee, did all the violinists decide to turn us down?’ ” he said. “They can’t affect this very much at this point.”

Since waiting list offers went out in late March, Mr. Guttentag and his colleagues have been deliberating whether to end the suspense for at least several hundred who are on it — those who probably have little hope of coming off.

Another reason the list is so long this year, he said, is that he and his colleagues were so overwhelmed by the volume of applicants that they ran out of time.

“What we could have done, had we had another week,” he said, “was to look at everybody on the waiting list and say, ‘Do they all need to be on?’ ”

“Of all the priorities,” he added, “that was not in the top two or three.”

If there is a risk for Duke, it is that the university may decide later that it wishes to admit an applicant who in the interim has set sail for other shores.

Ms. Koski, the only daughter of a single mother, said she was still eager to attend Duke if selected; if not, she said, she would probably say yes to an offer of acceptance from the University of Virginia.

Daniel Wong, a senior at San Francisco University High School, said he had been offered a spot on the waiting list this spring at Duke, as well as at Pomona, Cornell, Northwestern and Washington University in St. Louis. He has decided, instead, to eliminate any further suspense and go to the University of California, Los Angeles, which has offered him a $1,500 scholarship to supplement the $10,000 he will receive from the state, under the so-called Cal Grant program.

“It was frustrating to know I was still on the fence, and couldn’t really get on either side” he said.

If the past is any indication, Mr. Wong will be one of perhaps 1,000 students who take themselves off the Duke waiting list before May 1. Final decisions on who will be accepted from waiting lists are not typically not made until at least mid-May.

Some who wait for Duke will lose registration deposits at other colleges.

While playing hard-to-get with those students, Mr. Guttentag has been simultaneously wooing others. This month, he hosted several “Blue Devil Days,” in which admitted applicants and their families were invited to walk among the blooming magnolia and redbud trees on the sprawling 9000-acre campus.

Among those who attended was Rafi Pelles, a senior at the United Nations International School in Manhattan. Though he was accepted into Duke’s engineering program, he said he was weighing a competing acceptance from Cornell, and still hoping for good news from the University of Pennsylvania, which placed him on its waiting list.

“If he gets in to Penn, I think he’ll go,” said his mother, Kathy Pelles, a superintendent in the New York City public schools.

Her son was more diplomatic.

“It’s not so black and white to me,” he said. “First I have to wait for another yes or no.”

Computer Science at Harvard Sees Large Gender Imbalance


When Jean Yang ’08 arrived at Harvard in the fall of 2004, she was in many ways a typical, undecided freshman, contemplating concentrations ranging from economics to biology.

But after enrolling in CS50, Harvard’s introductory computer science class, she instantly developed a passion for the subject.

Yet in Yang’s early semesters of studying computer science, she faced challenges that she never expected. Having graduated from an all-girls high school, she was surprised to find herself in classes with fewer than 10 women, and she struggled with the persistent sense that she was unwelcome or unqualified.

“When you’re an undergraduate woman, and you don’t have a ton of self-confidence, you’re going to have to really assert yourself in a field where you’re being treated by others as if you don’t know anything,” Yang said.

Despite these difficulties, Yang decided to concentrate in computer science, and after graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2008, she is now pursuing her computer science Ph.D. at MIT.

But as some women interested in CS face similar challenges, few remain in the field long enough to experience the same success.

In fact, computer science is the most gender-skewed concentration offered at Harvard, with women comprising only 13 percent of undergraduate CS majors.

The proportion of female CS majors is similar at some of Harvard’s peer institutions—including Princeton, where it stands at 19 percent, and Stanford, where it is 14 percent.

But interviews with over a dozen women involved with computer science revealed no clear consensus on the issue. While some believe this disparity is due to the difficulties faced by female CS concentrators at Harvard, others say that they have found a welcoming environment in Harvard CS and ascribe the variance to experiences that women face prior to college.


According to statistics provided by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the gender imbalance within CS classes seems to grow with each subsequent course on the CS track.

While 34 percent of students in CS50 were female when the class was offered last fall, female enrollment in CS51 and CS61—the two classes that typically follow CS50—are 25 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

By the time students reach CS124, a class that usually comes later in the track, female enrollment drops to 18 percent.

Women are also more likely to concentrate in another coding-heavy field or to minor in CS than they are to actually concentrate in the subject.

According to data collected from the Registrar’s Office, 43 percent of students concentrating in Applied Math: Computer Science are female, 36 percent of students concentrating in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science track of the Engineering Sciences degree are female, and 25 percent of students pursuing a CS minor are female.

From this data, it seems that women are moderately likely to enroll in introductory CS courses. But subsequently, some women opt for CS-related concentrations or the CS minor, which require less intensive exposure to the subject, while most women abandon the field entirely.


Several undergraduate women involved in CS said that factors leading to the gender imbalance at Harvard include social pressures and men’s broader exposure to the topic in the time leading up to college.

“In high school, I think girls are more sensitive to peer pressure and don’t want to be perceived as ‘nerds,’” said Prajakta D. Jaju ’10, who has completed a secondary field in computer science.

Cansu A. Aydede ’11, who works as the head TF for CS50, said that the male “gamer” stereotype may also indirectly contribute to the gender skew.

“The people who come in with a strong CS background may be the types more interested in computer games...and so [they] may more often be boys than girls,” she said.

The high school disparity is evident among those who take the Advanced Placement Computer Science A and AB exams. According to data from the CollegeBoard, 84 percent of test-takers were male when the test was given in 2006.

According to many women interviewed for this article, the fact that females often come to Harvard with a weaker CS background leads fewer of them to try out the subject at all.

“There’s no real encouragement for women who are considering CS but aren’t sure,” said Nivedita Sarnath ’12, a current computer science concentrator who is switching to Applied Math for reasons unrelated to the gender skew.

And even for those women who do enroll in CS courses, some fear that they are somehow unprepared for the challenges of the concentration.

“I think there is always a sense that you are playing catch-up,” said CS concentrator Lee E. Evangelakos ’11.


Multiple women also pointed to gender differences in college work habits that may also deter undergraduate women from concentrating in CS.

One widely reported issue was the difficulty in finding partners for problem sets in early CS classes.

“Freshman year, I found it really difficult to find people to work with,” Yang said, adding that she believed many males “wound up [living] with other guys who did math or physics or CS, and they all worked together,” but she lacked this option because her roommates were all studying humanities.

Sarnath agreed with Yang: “It is still true that guys tend to work with guys, and that makes it a little more difficult if you don’t know any other girls in your class, to find someone to work with.”

Some women also noted that collaborating on problem sets in larger groups often brought out gender-related differences in work habits and communication styles.

Evangelakos said that her interactions with male CS concentrators had sometimes led her to doubt her own qualifications.

“Even the guys who you take all your classes with will sometimes try to explain things to you that you already know,” Evangelakos said.

Jaju agreed, adding that group work could also lead to social discomfort.

“A lot of times, I felt like I didn’t fit in when people would have conversations about technology or gadgets [or] video games,” Jaju said. “Classes were fine and the work was fine, but talking in problem set groups made it hard to relate.”


Several female CS concentrators said that they were able to cope with these issues and enjoy their coursework simply by having a high degree of confidence in their own abilities as students.

Batool Z. Ali ’10, a CS concentrator who will be working at Google after graduation, said she has “never felt disadvantaged” due to her gender but added that she is an “in-your-face kind of person.”

And Neena Kamath ’11, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in CS, said that there are “many advantages to being in the field as a woman,” but that she, too, has a “strong personality.”

Both women acknowledged that the gender imbalance could be more intimidating for women who entered Harvard with less faith in their abilities.

“Walking in, you need to be able to deal with the fact that you are going to be in the minority,” Kamath said.

And even among women who reported few problems with feeling like “the only girl in the room,” some still expressed a desire to see more women in their classes.

“All the people I’ve worked with have been pretty much male. It doesn’t really bother me,” said Tiffany J. Au ’12, an engineering concentrator who is considering a switch to CS. “But it would definitely be nice to have more females.”


Despite the difficulties that some of them have faced, nearly every undergraduate woman interviewed for this article stressed that she had found the faculty in the CS department to be welcoming and supportive.

Several CS professors indicated that encouraging more women to study the subject was among their top priorities for the future.

“It’s something that we talk about a lot,” said Associate Dean for Computer Science and Engineering J. Gregory Morrisett. “We are coordinating with a bunch of departments around the world and are trying a lot of different things in the hopes that we will uncover some of the issues and correct for them.”

Morrisett said he hoped to increase the number of female CS faculty members, which currently stands at four out of 18, in order to provide role models for female students considering CS.

He also praised the efforts of CS50 Lecturer David J. Malan ’99, who has worked to make the introductory coding class more accessible to those without a CS background. Under Malan’s tenure, CS50 has attracted record levels of female enrollment, though this has not yet translated to higher numbers of female concentrators.

CS Professor Radhika Nagpal said that while she has grown “more and more puzzled” over the gender disparity, she believes that Harvard can look to some of its peer institutions to improve female participation in CS.

In particular, she highlighted MIT—where 31 percent of CS concentrators are now female—as a school where a concerted effort to improve gender ratios in CS had been extremely successful.

“It isn’t as if there is one factor [causing the imbalance], but that isn’t a reason to give up,” Nagpal said. “I think at Harvard, we have to find a solution. We have to find one that works.”

—Staff writer Evan T.R. Rosenman can be reached at