Panther athletes strengthen connections to classroom through faculty affiliates

MIDDLEBURY — When Paul Sommers came to begin his teaching career at Middlebury College nearly 30 years ago, he didn’t envision himself sitting outside on chilly spring afternoons watching softball. Now in his 10th year as the faculty affiliate for the Panther softball team, the Paige-Wright Professor of Economics continues to enjoy time spent as an academic resource and an all-weather fan.
A program with its roots planted on the Middlebury campus back in 2000 and based on the thought process already in place at Princeton, the Faculty Affiliate Program at Middlebury attempts to foster a better understanding of the mission and application of intercollegiate athletics at the college, and how athletics supports Middlebury’s educational mission. The program recruits faculty members from a variety of academic disciplines who volunteer to spend time with various teams.
“The faculty affiliate program is another way for the college to build a bridge between the athletic and academic communities,” said Panther track and field head coach Martin Beatty, who also serves as the director of the Faculty Affiliate Program. “We want our students to have the opportunity to use, utilize and get to know as many professors as possible. We want our students to use those professors as resources and get to know them both in and out of the classroom.”
When asked about Sommers and his contributions to the program as a whole, Beatty is very appreciative of the long-time professor and his hard work.
“His work as a faculty affiliate and his relationship to the softball team is a most important one,” Beatty said. “For our athletes to have another member of the faculty as a mentor in addition to their advisor is a plus. Paul is not only accessible to students during his office hours, but one can often also find him playing tennis, swimming or lifting weights in the athletic complex.”
Sommers graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (with honors) in Economics and Mathematics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1970. Two years later, he received his Master of Arts in Economics from the University of Michigan, and in 1976 earned his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, San Diego.
A professor at Middlebury College since 1976, Sommers recalls why he got involved with the Panther softball program.
“One of the tri-captains, who asked me to be their faculty affiliate back in 2006, was a former student of mine,” the Middlebury resident said. “There have been numerous other former students who have played for (head coach) Kelly (Bevere). A few current members of the team are also former students.”
Showing his humorous wit but compassionate spirit, Sommers noted, “I quite simply enjoy cheering for the team and learning about softball, schmoozing (on occasion) with the proud parents on the sidelines, and assisting the young women on the team in my capacity as a liaison to the faculty.”
The faculty affiliate provides a bridge between the student-athletes and their professors for academics, especially when those students are away from campus.
“Earlier this season, for example, two members of the team while on spring break in Florida asked me if I might contact one of their professors and ask for an extension on an assignment that was due during the break,” noted Sommers. “Their professor, who they had not been able to contact, graciously complied.”
Bevere reflects on what Sommers has meant and currently means to her and the program, both with his presence at the diamond and in the classroom.
“Paul has been a mainstay for the softball program since I started in 2007,” said Bevere. “He is our No. 1 fan and biggest supporter — rain, snow or sun, he is always in the bleachers cheering us on and sending kind words via email after wins and losses. Professor Sommers is a great resource for our student-athletes who show an interest in economics. During the season, he is available to the team for consultation on academic issues. His constant presence and support is felt and very much appreciated.”
Junior pitcher Kat Maehr was equally enthusiastic about her team’s faculty affiliate.
“Professor Sommers is one of the most important members of the Middlebury softball team because of his dedication to our program,” she said. “He is always ready to offer help and advice when we are in need of academic support and he is consistently available to work with us when our schedule has become too much for us to handle alone.”
For his part, Sommers gets his own rewards from the program.
“First and foremost, I am a fan of the game,” he said. “Winning isn’t everything, but on bitterly cold, blustery days, a win helps me deal with the elements. Win or lose, I am always impressed by the strong camaraderie among team members. That, in turn, is a tribute to the mentoring ways of Kelly and her assistants.”
This story was provided by the Middlebury College Athletic Communications.

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