Ronen Oosthuizen gives us a reflection on his first year at Rice University, and on what makes Rice such a special place to study and compete at.
I remember my first day in Houston very clearly. It was hot, humid, and I was hungry after the long flight in from SA. However, my destination for the weekend was not the campus. Before the regular freshman program started, I had arrived at the Hilton Hotel a few minutes from campus for an “international student preparatory program” that offered all the international freshmen the chance to be “as prepared as any usual American student would have been.”
This is one of the many areas where William Marsh Rice University, located in the heart of the Medical Center of Houston, Texas, exceeded my expectations for college. From day one, Rice seeks to help its students develop, maintain, and grow their relationships and networks for the future. This process continues through their college experience and forever after. Coming in as an international student definitely came with its challenges, like missing home. However, I can say with utmost confidence that Rice has given me a home away from home.
I made friends within my residential college (basically a “koshuis” - but not a standard dorm), that I can see myself laughing with for decades to come. The same goes for friends I have made in the other 10 colleges located on campus. The track team has been a particular home for me. As a student-athlete, I have had the chance to meet some of the most versatile people imaginable when it comes to combining a competitive sport with an academically challenging major. I am proud to call these people my friends. And the great thing is that Rice provides an atmosphere where it is possible to be a great athlete and an even better student.
To borrow the words of our track team’s ex-captain, “we go out and compete with some of the greatest athletes in the world, then we come back home to study along with some of the greatest minds in the world.”
I’ll leave you with this: even with its reputation as one of the top colleges in the United States, Rice would be nothing if not for the special relationships and bonds that its students get to share, starting at college and stretching far beyond into the future.
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In the past, Junior & Community Colleges (JUCO) have proven to be great pathways to NCAA Division 1 schools. They have cultivated and produced some of the most well-known national champions, current world-class athletes, and future hall of famers. In this blog, we take a look at some of the most successful athletes who have opted to take the Junior College route through their student-athlete career.
South African Olympian Bradley Tandy swam at Indian River State College, a National Junior College in Fort Pierce, Florida, before breaking records as an Arizona Wildcat in the PAC-12 conference. Indian River is known for producing outstanding swimmers who have become superstars in top programs in the first and second divisions of the NCAA, and this was the trajectory of Tandy's career.
While at Indian River, Tandy set school records in the 50 freestyle (19.06) and the 100 freestyle (42.76) and contributed to school records in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays. Tandy's four Indian River school records were also NJCAA records.
In 2014, as a member of the University of Arizona swimming team, Tandy became the National Champion in the 50 Freestyle at the NCAA Championship. Tandy is still the record holder of the 50 freestyle at the University of Arizona, with a blitz time of 18.80.
Tandy’s talent has also paved the way for him to represent South Africa at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he finished sixth with Brazilian swimmer Bruno Fratus in the 50 freestyle. At the 2016 FINA World Championships in Windsor, Canada, Tandy, Chad le Clos, Douglas Erasmus and Eben Vorster jointly set a new South African and African record in the 4 x 50 short course freestyle relay.
Why Do People Go The Junior College Route?
Along the way to major college sport or professional greatness, plenty of athletes have made stops in junior college, and for a variety of reasons.
Some students go to JUCO to prove that they deserve big scholarships. Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl and NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer, attended Butte Community College before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley, as only Illinois proposed Rodgers to be a walk-on athlete out of high school. Rodgers declined and took it upon himself to prove himself worthy of scholarship standards.
Many students go to Junior Colleges to straighten out their academics. LeGarrette Blount, a two-time Super Bowl winning running back with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, signed with Auburn in 2006 but did not qualify academically. He then went on to become one of the top JUCO runners at East Mississippi Community College by 2008 before attending Oregon. Before being drafted as a wide receiver by the Jacksonville Jaguars after being a Heisman finalist in Oklahoma, Dede Westbrook was forced to attend Blinn Junior College after an SAT mishap.
Injuries often force students to go to JUCO and rebuild. Alvin Kamara, running back for the New Orleans Saints, was injured and then buried on the depth chart in Alabama. After performing well at Hutchinson Community College and later on in Tennessee, he became an outstanding rookie for the Saints.
Cam Newton is probably the player with the best-known JUCO career. Newton was the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2015 after he led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. Before winning the Heisman Trophy, becoming the best player in college football, and helming a miracle run to a national championship at Auburn, he won the national JUCO title at Blinn Community College. Before all of that, there was the time he bought a stolen laptop at Florida, and was kicked out of the team.
There are many reasons why student athletes can go to a junior or community college. Whatever the reason, there is always the opportunity to enter a top sports university, participate in high-level competitions, earn their degree, and even turn professional.
Last week, we talked about Jimmy Butler, NBA All-Star and former Junior College student-athlete. Watch the Thursday Chat on our Instagram here.
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This week, we talked to Angel Nkosi, star field hockey player at Ball State University, about her time in the USA so far. Angel matriculated from St Mary's DSG after a stellar high school hockey career that included two consecutive selections for the South African U18 team, and traveled with them to Argentina for the Junior Youth Olympics in 2018, where the team placed 4th. Since starting at Ball State, Angel has excelled on the field and in the classroom, earning a selection to the National Academic Squad for the top scholar-athletes across the USA.
How would you describe your time in the States so far?
Angel Nkosi: I would say that my whole experience with moving to study in the US has been a pleasant one.
Briefly describe a typical day for you, in season.
AN: Usually, we train from around 06:30/07:00 to 10:30, with 30 minutes of that time spent doing weights. After that, I would head to classes which would all typically be scheduled for the afternoon up until about 18:00.
What was it like making new friends when you first arrived for your freshman year?
AN: Firstly, it was really helpful that I was a part of a university sports team so I was able to get to know some people that were there before I arrived in Indiana. My team was also really helpful with accommodating me and helping me navigate the city and the campus. The best thing about being a part of a team is that it makes it way easier to find companionship and make friends.
What was it like having a roommate?
AN: My freshman year roommate was a gymnast and she has represented her home country, Chile, countless times - I just thought that was so cool!
What was the biggest adjustment that you had to make, from what you were used to in Suth Africa to what was expected in the US?
AN: The biggest adjustment that I had to make in America was getting used to doing EVERYTHING myself - like scanning my own grocery items at the till instead of having a cashier clerk do it for me. And of course there were times when I would have to adjust my South African accent so that people could understand me more easily. Other than that, the culture shock was minimal, and I’m guessing that’s because we grew up seeing a lot of American culture on the tv and in movies.
What is your favourite memory from your time in the US thus far?
AN: My favourite memory has to be when my mom, dad, and little brother came over for Thanksgiving break and we took a trip to New York to enjoy the festivities there - the Macy's Day Parade is so cool!
Have you been able to see other places in the US? What was your favourite?
AN: Due to being part of a sports team, we have traveled to a lot of towns and states across America - especially towns that are more toward the East Coast. My favourite place that we visited was Virginia. The weather was really nice and it was SO nice being in the heat again!
The Aspire Atlantic organization really helped us with all the admin and helped us get connected with the right people to offer me the opportunities to study that I wanted!
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