LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Casey Falcon and Haley Miller received first place in the Spring Learning Fair and Excellence in Information Literacy award at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, for their undergraduate research, “Penn State Fayette Athletics: Covid-19’s Influence on Student-Athletes and the SAGE Program.”
Falcon, a resident of Fredericktown, Pennsylvania, will graduate in the summer of 2021 with an associate degree in physical therapist assistant, with hopes to become a licensed PTA in the commonwealth. Miller, from Masontown, Pennsylvania, will graduate with a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice in 2022.
As student-athletes on the women’s cross country and track and field teams, Falcon and Miller were doubly affected by COVID-19 pandemic-related disruptions to school and competition.
“We wanted to research something personal to us and the campus,” said Falcon. “Ultimately, we wanted to know how COVID-19 affected Fayette’s student-athletes.”
Penn State Fayette established its signature Student-Athletes Graduate and Excel (SAGE) program in 2015. In an effort to reverse competition ineligibility caused by poor academic performance, SAGE mandates two hours of supervised study time in the Student Success Center each week for incoming, transfer and returning student-athletes with a grade-point average (GPA) of 2.5 or less. Consequently, student-athlete academic performance has climbed and eligibility has risen to 94%.
“With the campus being mainly remote [in 2020], the SAGE program had to evolve to fit the situation,” said Falcon. “To address the lack of social connection, SAGE implemented one-on-one [virtual] meetings to discuss each student-athlete’s goals and to check in on how they were progressing academically throughout the semester, instead of having mandated study time.”
“We believe our research provides insightful information to suggest that programs like SAGE can benefit other educational institutions as well.”
—Casey Falcon, Penn State Fayette student
Falcon and Miller collected surveys and conducted interviews with Penn State Fayette student-athletes. Subjects, who could opt to remain anonymous, were asked how the pandemic affected their respective sports and their personal emotional and social well-being. As expected by the student researchers, subjects responded negatively.
“To further analyze the effect that COVID-19 had on the academic performance of student-athletes, we compared the average GPAs of student-athletes from before SAGE, during each year of SAGE and after COVID-19,” said Miller.
The students' data showed that the average GPA of Fayette student-athletes continued to rise by 3.77% even after the pandemic limited the SAGE program’s reach and resources. However, Falcon and Miller acknowledged that Penn State’s alternative, pass-or-fail grading system, instituted in 2020 and 2021, could skew the numbers.
“Our research concludes that Fayette’s exclusive SAGE program has proven to be a success despite the troubling times of the pandemic,” said Falcon. “We believe our research also provides insightful information to suggest that programs like SAGE can benefit other educational institutions as well.”
Falcon and Miller were advised by Stephen Oberly, lecturer of kinesiology and assistant athletic director.