More than 260,000 U.S. college students studied abroad in 2009, according to the Institute of International Education, with scores more taking short-term trips to experience life in other countries. You won’t count many college athletes among them.
Parker Goyer, a former Duke University tennis player, hopes to change that. Three years ago, she started a program called Coach for College, which places college athletes in Vietnamese villages every summer to work with local children. Sixty-seven athletes are scheduled to take part this summer, with the first camp starting next week. The athletes will work with up to 960 Vietnamese middle-school students, teaching them how to play basketball, soccer, tennis, and volleyball, and giving lessons in biology, physics, and English.
Now a Rhodes Scholar studying at the University of Oxford’s Said School of Business, Ms. Goyer started the program after observing that few college athletes had the time or ability to spend a semester abroad, and that many also lacked opportunities to do meaningful community-service work.
“Sports in the U.S. have gotten so competitive, you start playing at 5, 6, 7, and specialize really early. If you go on to play at a high level in college, it’s almost like your main focus–playing four hours a day and trying to get by academically,” she said in an interview. “Coach for College helps students become less one-dimensional–to become good citizens that contribute to society.”
She chose Vietnam, a country where she says just 2 percent of the population has a college degree, on the advice of a Duke faculty adviser, and she made connections through a fellow student who had a parent working there. “It’s a developing country, but it’s stable and safe,” Ms. Goyer says. “It offers the kind of experience you’d hope to have as a student-athlete, especially if it was your first time outside the U.S.”
One of this summer’s participants is Christine Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American gymnast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who will be making her first trip to the country. She will teach alongside athletes throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference.
All 12 ACC member institutions have signed on to the program this summer, up from four last year. Each university made a financial contribution–up to $2,500 per athlete–and every player has to come up with another $1,500 by tapping family and friends. Through its International Academic Collaborative, the ACC kicked in $67,800, and several individuals, organizations, and companies also contributed. They include the NBA and Visa, which persuaded Ms. Goyer to add a financial-literacy component to the curriculum.
Because she is living in England, Ms. Goyer’s fund-raising abilities have been limited this year, but she has big plans for the program. She wants to expand Coach for College, which is now being administered by the Duke Center for Civic Engagement, across all of college sports, and eventually operate it as its own nonprofit organization.
“I hope it can be the next Teach for America, but internationally,” Ms. Goyer says. The program’s overall goal is to reduce the school dropout rate in rural areas of Vietnam, and to empower rural Vietnamese students to attain higher education. Ms. Goyer, who spent last summer interviewing Vietnamese students for her own graduate research, plans to use Coach for College to study the obstacles Vietnamese youth face in obtaining a degree. After Oxford, she is headed to Harvard University to complete a doctoral program in education.
She recently was asked to contribute a chapter to a forthcoming book, Education as a Humanitarian Response, on how programs like hers can help vulnerable children. And she sees her role as twofold: “I want to be a social entrepreneur,” she says, “but I also want to be a respected academic, too.”
More information on the program, including how to make a donation, is available on the organization’s Web site.