ARISE program opening new doors, ideas for HBCU student-athletes

At a recent networking event, Claflin men’s basketball guard Allen Hatchett sat across from business executives and asked them questions he never would have thought of a few months ago. Their answers led him to new ideas, graduate school among them. 

The moment represents a snapshot of the benefits Hatchett and dozens of other student-athletes at select historically Black colleges and universities are enjoying as part of the ARISE program, which stands for Authentic Resilient Innovative in STEM Excellence. A 13-week virtual e-learning and mentorship program, ARISE was launched this year by the NCAA leadership development department in conjunction with athLEDA, a company that helps athletes transition from college to professional careers.  

Claflin was among three HBCUs, along with Florida A&M and Grambling, selected for the first cohort for ARISE. Tony O’Neal, Claflin’s director of athletics; Tracey Hathaway, co-founder of athLEDA and a former student-athlete; and Hatchett discussed the program’s purpose and impact on a recent Social Series episode.

For Hatchett, the impact has been vast. He’s gained a mentor, knowledge and confidence from the program, all of which have helped push him outside his comfort zone to grow. The most recent example of this occurred at Claflin’s networking event, sponsored by ARISE, that welcomed business leaders from across the country. 

 “If I wouldn’t have been in this program, I probably would’ve never done anything like that,” he said. “I just feel like (the program’s) beneficial in all those areas to any student-athletes.”

Hathaway said the program’s priorities “build on athLEDA’s framework of helping student-athletes assess their strengths to unlock their leadership abilities and styles, discover their ability to make an impact, learn about potential career fields that complement who they are, and accelerate their pathways to success.” 

For the student-athletes in the program, ARISE features interactive modules to help them gain a better understanding about themselves, while also learning more about potential careers in the STEM industry. In addition to STEM basics, other topics include leadership, personal branding, time management, perseverance and online social platform development. Hathaway described the modules as “bite-sized content,” an intentional TikTok-like approach for this generation of students. 

“It literally takes them less than 1 minute and 50 seconds to look at the content because we know how busy student-athletes’ schedules are,” said Hathaway, whose background includes playing basketball at Rhode Island, coaching basketball at Roger Williams and serving as director of athletics at Salem State. 

Additionally, each athlete is matched with a mentor who may come from an unfamiliar career field but also comes from a relatable background. Hathaway said more than 84% of the mentors are people of color, 70% of the mentors work in STEM, more than 60% are women and about 60% are former student-athletes. The mentors give the athletes one-on-one career advice, though Hatchett said his experience has gone far beyond this foundational expectation. 

“It’s allowed me a safe space with my mentor to communicate what’s going on with me,” he said. “On top of that, we’re getting advice from people who were in our situation, who were once student-athletes, did the same things we’re doing, who branched off athletics and found a life outside of sports into a career, whether they were studying it or never expected to. So, it’s a good way for us to get life advice while building our own brand, while working on our networking skills and also working on our mental health.” 

O’Neal, who’s been an administrator in college athletics for more than 20 years, echoed Hatchett’s point and pointed to the networking event as a prime example. 

“They brought in VPs, regional managers who looked like us,” O’Neal said. “They had a female VP that, when she grabbed the microphone, you could hear a pin drop in the room because she was able to communicate with the young ladies. Just to see the young ladies light up … even our male student-athletes, they were like, ‘Wow.’ It’s powerful, but it put things in context for our student-athletes.” 

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