Central Islip, N.Y. - The next school up in our ECC On Campus feature will focus on our newest conference member, Roberts Wesleyan College. Through written and recorded interviews, this feature will take a look at some of the positive people, activities, and acheivements that are connected to the athletic programs at Roberts Wesleyan.
Current Student-Athlete: Vanessa Sell, Women's Soccer and Lacrosse
There is no question that Vanessa Sell has grown from her
experience as a student-athlete at Roberts Wesleyan College and
that Roberts Wesleyan has benefited from having Vanessa Sell as a
student, an athlete, and as a leader. A senior Physical
Education major from nearby Brockport, N.Y., Vanessa has excelled
academically and while she first came to RWC to play soccer for the
Redhawks, she was also able to participate in another sport she had
played in high school, lacrosse, when RWC added that sport in
Currently doing her student teaching as she prepares for a career in the classroom, Vanessa says she is open to teaching in the U.S. or even internationally and sees this career choice as she sees her life, as a chance to practice her faith and help others.
As Senior Woman Administrator Becky Bonner noted when she suggested Vanessa as a great Student-Athlete representative for the Redhawks for this feature, Vanessa has shown her commitment and leadership repeatedly during her time at Roberts. In addition to playing two sports and doing well in the classroom, Vanessa has been team captain for women’s soccer, past president of the Physical Education Club, active in SAAC and their community service and engagement activities, and is finishing her term as President of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at RWC, a position and organization she feels has had a significant impact on her as well as the institution and the student-athletes involved.
In this February 2013 interview and accompanying podcast, Vanessa talks about her life at Roberts Wesleyan and how her experiences there impacted her and helped her grow.
Vanessa, Can you tell us why you chose to attend RWC?
I chose to attend Roberts because of the Christian aspect. I wanted to go to a school where your faith is number one. Also because of the athletics, I knew that is was highly respected, where the coaches valued faith as an important characteristic of the game.
Why did you get involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes at RWC? What is your role in that organization?
I became involved with FCA because it is a place where Christian athletes come together, fellowship with one another and discuss how to impact others for Christ’s glory by using sports as that common ground. FCA focuses on serving local communities by equipping, empowering and encouraging people to make a difference for Christ. I started off being on the leadership team as a freshman. As a junior I became the Vice President and this year I am now the President. This is a student run organization so we set up the meetings, plan what we will study, and what events we will have. I have an awesome leadership team that helps me with all of those things as well.
Tell us about some of your other extracurricular activities at the college such as SAAC.
I am a two sport varsity athlete and that keeps me very busy. I was the captain of the women’s soccer team this year and it was an awesome opportunity to use my leadership skills to help the team be successful on and off the field. I started to become involved with SAAC last year. This group is awesome, all the athletes and coaches involved are great to work with. We come together to discuss ways to get students and the community involved together. We also plan different ways that we as student athletes can give back to the community. If there is some way that we can help others we are right there doing that. We are also the voice for our fellow teammates. If there is a concern they can come to us and we bring it up in our meetings.
I am also a member of the physical education club. I was president as a junior, (due to student teaching you are not able to be in a leadership role) In this club we plan different events in the school for example, we set up a dodge ball tournament, kan jam tournament, and we also participate in a heart walk to raise money for the American Heart association.
As a leader in FCA and SAAC, what are some of the important projects you have been involved in while at RWC? Why are these important efforts?
There have been many different projects FCA and SAAC both are involved in. We have done things from shoveling the retirement home across the street from our school, to reading to elementary kids in our community schools, to running a large basketball tournament in order to bring students and the community in to hear about the word of God. Not only was it to minister to others but also the money we raised from the tournament was used to send shoes we collected at the tournament and send over to kids in Brazil.
Why have you taken on leadership roles in these organizations? What has that opportunity given you?
I have taken on the leadership roles because I love God and I love sports. Putting both things together is awesome. Both of these groups are about serving others. A large part of being a Christian is about giving, loving, and serving others as Christ did for us. Being involved in these organizations is a huge blessing to my life where I can give back to others.
Why are athletics important to you?
Athletics are important to me because God has blessed me with this gift to play sports so I want to use it to the best of my ability to glorify God. Being a Christian athlete is about playing as hard as you can, 100% of the time, never quitting, playing for an audience of one, that one being God. I am a Christian first, athlete second. Athletics is a way that I can minister to others. I have had the opportunity to travel around the world to use athletics as a tool to spread the word of God, so athletic plays an important role in my life because of that.
Why should students and student-athletes attend RWC?
Students should attend Roberts because we are a small college where everyone truly cares about you. If you ever need anything you know that the administration, professors, or coaches will be there to support you and help you in anyway that they can. There are so many opportunities for you to be involved in many different activities. Either it being intramurals, off campus activities, or giving back to the community there is always something you can be doing.
To hear the full interview with Vanessa, click on the links below.
Former Student-Athlete: Jenn Suhr ('04), Pole Vault and Women's Basketball
After a collegiate career in which she broke Roberts Wesleyan's all-time scoring record on the basketball court and also holds the school record for pole vault, Jenn Suhr has gone on to become the world's premiere pole vaulter.
Suhr is a two-time Olympic medalist and picked up a gold medal in the pole vault in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She also picked up a silver medal at the 2008 Bejing Olympics.
In addition to her international success, Suhr is one of the most decorated track and field athletes in the United States. She has been the No. 1 ranked pole vaulter in the country since 2006 and has won 11 National Championships in that span.
Recently at the 2013 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, Suhr became the second women to ever clear 5 meters and set a new indoor world record by vaulting 5.02 meters (16 ft., 5.5 in.).
Suhr returned to Roberts Wesleyan for their 2012 Homecoming as part of her Gold Medal Tour and also had the chance to compete in a competition at her alma mater. In a release written by Roberts Wesleyan Sports Information Director, Micah Chapman, Suhr had this to say about her return to Rochester. "Roberts Wesleyan is a place where I learned to achieve new heights, physically and metaphorically. The support of this community was invaluable as I pursued my goals. I look forward to sharing this victory with all of Rochester right here on campus."
Faculty Member with Oustanding Support for Athletics: Christine Pessagno, Ed. M.
Professor Chris Pessagno who has been teaching Physical Education
to students at Roberts Wesleyan College since 1973, is committed to
helping build the total person at RWC. She sees her
years at the college, teaching wellness and fitness courses to men
and women from many walks of life, as a rewarding opportunity to
assist with the spiritual, physical and emotional growth of future
A graduate of SUNY Brockport, Professor Pessagno became involved with RWC in 1972 when she started coaching the women’s basketball team there while still studying PE at Brockport. She went on to earn a fulltime teaching job at RWC and coached basketball, volleyball and softball there from 1972-1989.
A 1997 inductee to the Roberts Wesleyan Athletic Hall of Fame, Professor Pessagno has stayed active in supporting the athletic program in many ways including becoming something of an expert photographer. Many of the photos posted on the Redhawks website are done by Professor Pessagno and she shares them also with team members. She also stays active by officiating high school volleyball, basketball and lacrosse in the area, too.
We spoke with Chris Pessagno in February of 2013 and in the attached podcast and this interview, she talks about why Roberts Wesleyan has impacted her life and about the students she has been able to help as well as what makes Roberts such a great place to be a student.
We know that you are a professor of Physical Education. Can you speak a bit about how long you have been teaching at Roberts and what that experience has been for you?
I have been teaching at Roberts since 1973. By my years of service you can see that it has been a very positive experience for me. The College’s educational philosophy is built on the assumption that education must address the whole person as physical, psychological, social, rational and spiritual being. I have had the opportunity to inspire thousands of students by cultivating knowledge and skills in positive lifestyle wellness and prepare thoughtful, spiritually mature, service oriented people to confidently impact society.
I see that you were inducted into the RWC Hall of Fame in 1997. Becky told me that you coached several teams at Roberts over the years. Can you tell us how you got involved in coaching and how that impacted your life? What did you enjoy about coaching and how have things changed at Roberts since the time you were coaching?
In 1972 I started coaching women’s basketball which was the only women’s varsity sport team that Robert’s offered at the time. The women’s physical education faculty position was open and back then there was not a big interest in coaching women’s athletes. So as an undergraduate majoring in Physical Education, I was offered the position. From 1972- 1989 I coached 37 seasons in basketball, volleyball, and softball. I consider myself one of the pioneers regarding women’s athletics. We didn’t usually make a big deal of the fact that we didn’t have the same as the men, we were just happy to have the opportunity to play. Inclusion and the best interest of the participant was at the heart of the athletic event for women. It was very “student “athlete centered, about education, therefore many women coaches were physical education teachers.
By far the number one benefit I enjoyed about coaching would be the strong relationships/friendships developed with my athletes. It has been a real blessing to see them mature into key contributors to society.
One of the biggest changes over the years has been that faculty
academic teaching load included coaching. Back in the
day, I received just three semester hours of my total 24 as a full-
time faculty member for each team I coached - hardly equivalent to
today as we have full-time coaches in most sports. Another
change of course would be the positive result of Title IX on equity
for women in sport. As a result of Title IX we expanded our
programs over the years. That is wonderful to see.
You have been very helpful in working with the athletic program at Roberts in supporting roles including taking photos for the department. How did you get involved in that activity?
My family has always been big on taking pictures. Over the years I have attended many sporting events for family and friends and the camera was always with me, for those memories. When I finally got into the digital age with my camera, 2010, I started offering the pictures to my student-athletes whom I would go to watch. The photography helped me accomplish staying in contact with students even after their course work had finished. (I don’t have picture memories of my games or events because no one was coming to women’s games in my day, let alone taking pictures. Sad to say, for some of the teams I coached, there was no team picture taken at all.)
As the athletic department moved to posting on the web, I noticed the women’s volleyball team had two-year old pictures and many other sports pictures were outdated. So I started to offer the SID my photos to update some old websites, and to my surprise, he was posting my pictures, which encouraged me to continue.
Can you briefly discuss what you think the place is of athletics at a college? What do you see as the value based on your experience of working with some of the student athletes?
Just as Honor programs bring academically talented students together, I see athletics as an extraordinary educational experience for high-achieving students in the realm of sports/ athletic skills. Athletics is a blend of learning opportunities that ultimately enhance the college experience. Research has shown exercise/ sport can affect every aspect of the body: brain, physical, spiritual, and emotional. It can teach values; respect, responsibility, fairness, hard work and discipline. Athletics is a preparation for life.
Roberts’ student-athletes challenge their bodies daily in practices showing discipline, striving for excellence, working cohesively as a team, and developing Christian character, to name a few significant merits and distinctions.
Why is Roberts a good school to teach at and a good place for students to attend?
Wow, that’s a loaded question. Do we really have time to list everything? Let me sum it up by simply using the college’s promotional theme, “Roberts Wesleyan College is higher education with a higher purpose.” The distinctive education integrates faith and learning. As a private Christian college, Roberts encourages students to grow in their faith as they prepare to maximize their personal and professional potential. With over 50 undergraduate programs, Roberts creates leaders who serve their community and the World.
To listen to the full interview with Christine Pessagno, click on the links below.
Community Engagement and Service: Roberts Wesleyan SAAC Connecting with the Community
Roberts Wesleyan College is currently in their second year of the
three year process all new programs must go through to gain full
Division II membership in the NCAA. Under the guidance of
President, John Martin, and Director of Athletics, Mike Faro,
Assistant Athletic Director/SWA, Becky Bonner, and the entire
staff, Redhawks athletics has quickly established themselves as an
enthusiastic, important member of the East Coast Conference.
Roberts Wesleyan College, located in Rochester, N.Y., is a highly regarded institution, known for commitment to scholarship, spiritual formation and service. Roberts' trademark is, “Higher Education with a Higher Purpose.” As a private Christian college, Roberts encourages students to grow in their faith as they prepare to maximize their personal and professional potential.
Part of the process for their move to DII has included focusing on the development of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on campus and promoting projects and the work this group does. As SWA Becky Bonner notes: “In our exciting transition to NCAA Division II, our RWC athletic department has been challenged in the process in many ways. This has been an invigorating journey completing a self-study, coming into compliance, and continuing to grow in excellence. One part of this transition is an emphasis on the development of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). There are representatives of each sport on SAAC totaling 30 student-athletes. As a whole they provide insight into the student–athlete experience and review NCAA legislation.”
Becky goes on to say, “As sub-committees, the main focus of SAAC is Community Engagement and Game Day Environment. This includes service and creating events to connect with our community. The sub-committees of SAAC which serve to forward this emphasis are: East Coast Conference Adopt-A-School, College Greene Community Outreach, Make-A-Wish and Game Environment Student Committee.”
It is clear that the Roberts Wesleyan SAAC has risen to the challenge of building successful Community Engagement and improving Game Day activities. The SAAC has gotten involved in the “East Coast Conference Adopt-A-School” project and has adopted Fairbanks Elementary, a school close to Roberts. The group has helped out with intramurals and Fairbanks service projects. The first outreach to the school was December 7 when the student-athletes went to read to students in the classrooms.
On Saturday, Feb. 16, the Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams hosted a free basketball clinic for the Churchville-Chili Basketball Association before their doubleheader against Molloy College. During each half-time, boys and girls teams from the CCBA held ten-minute scrimmages. After their half-time games, the students were given free popcorn. And also in February members of the Roberts Wesleyan College Student Athlete Advisory Council spent a Friday morning with students at Fairbanks, taking part in the school’s “Jump Rope For Heart” program. The event was a resounding success as the student-athletes helped more than 100 kids learn valuable heart-healthy exercises and drills. The entire school and their families were given complimentary tickets to the final home basketball conference game vs. NYIT on March 2.
The athletic department also has continued with a long-standing service project called the “Big Read” at a Rochester city school. In addition, various teams have also been active in other community service projects including the volleyball team decorating Christmas cookies with residents at the Legacy Home retirement home and helping do cleanups in the community.
“Our RWC student-athletes have always been involved with service projects, and we have a long tradition of great game days, but our transition into Division II will only strengthen our commitment to service and reaching out to the community”’ Becky writes. “ We are very excited about our membership in the East Coast Conference and our transition to active membership in Division II!”