For Art's Sake - No. 7: The Wonderful World of the Academy - Athletics

№ 7: The Wonderful World of the Academy – Athletics

The Academy of Art University athletic programs have helped artist-athletes not only cultivate their artistic talents, but also their athletic talents, training them to compete at the highest level. Vashti Thomas (illustration major) set both a World University Games and NCAA Division II record in the 100-meter hurdles in 2013.


At Academy of Art University, we encourage you to follow all of your passions, from art-related career goals to Olympic-sized dreams. For students looking to continue their athletic careers at a collegiate level, you can train and compete with ART U Athletics. Athletes from our program have won NCAA titles, have been drafted by Major League Baseball and most recently, one of our track stars, Mobolade Ajomale, won an Olympic medal during the 2016 games in Rio.

Art U Athletics Director Ben Jay shared “five skills and attributes of student-athletes that make them better artists and designers after graduation,” including: Teamwork, Leadership, Communication, Execution and Dedication. 

“[With] teamwork, from day one, you’re working as part of a team. That spirit of teamwork continues into their duties,” said Jay. “Leadership, [there’s an] opportunity to serve as a leader or captain [of a team]. This is an opportunity to call the right ‘plays’ to succeed and work with leadership to achieve the organization’s greater vision.”

Jay explained that Communication is a key factor, because “[you] must be a good communicator in sport or business”; it “helps the team function more efficiently and effectively.”

“Execution,” shared Jay, “is when athletes work as a team, incorporating both leadership and communication to win. Great play requires flawless execution.”

And last, but certainly not least is Dedication. “Athletes are used to getting up early, running drills and preparing for their game,” said Jay. “Dedication carries over into the workplace.”

During this past semester, I had the opportunity to speak with Ajomale (men’s track and field/School of Communications & Media Technologies), Natalie Gabriel (women’s soccer/School of Fine Art) and Laney Haviland (women’s soccer/School of Fashion) about their experiences as student-athletes at the Academy. 

“Just recently, I won two NCAA titles,” said Ajomale. “I was announced [as] National Athlete of the Year. It feels great to accomplish all of that stuff and doing that as well as being in class. It helps a lot. Sometimes just sitting down and looking at my work is difficult and so for me to have that other alternative, that I can go out and have track practice and get my mind clear of what I’m doing, academically, helps me a lot when I come back to it. My mind is clear and everything is easier for me to work with. 

№ 7: The Wonderful World of the Academy – Athletics

Zach Babitt (communications and media technologies major) and Stefen Henderson (music production and sound design for visual media major) both signed minor league contracts with the L.A. Dodgers in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

№ 7: The Wonderful World of the Academy – Athletics

Mobolade Ajomale with his 2016 Olympic Bronze medal from Rio. Ajomale was named 2017 NCAA Division II Indoor Men’s Track Athlete of the Year on Tuesday, March 14. Photo courtesy of ART U Athletics.

№ 7: The Wonderful World of the Academy – Athletics

Brandon Poulson (communications and media technologies major) signed a major league contract with the Minnesota Twins in 2014. Photo courtesy of ART U Athletics.

“In track and field, our coaches, they push us to reach our max, to do the best that we can, mentally and physically. Track and field is a very mental sport, you don’t have a team with you, and so our coaches make sure that we’re able to handle every single thing that’s thrown at us, whether we run bad[ly] or we don’t run bad[ly], our coaches make sure, especially me, my coaches [make] sure that I have the ability to brush off a bad race and come back and run a good race. 

“Coming in here, I had a certain style of sprinting. … Our track coaches looked at the way I ran and they figured out a specific way to train me. They looked at the way I ran, like my form, for example, that was something we worked on [during] my first year here, fixing my technique, after that was to build on the strength, so that’s what I’m working on right now still. I think putting those two together, having Coach Kevin just focus on what it is I’ve been doing wrong and fixing those first before adding on new things was a key of getting me to where I am now and to getting me beyond this. … [T]hat is what helped me get my Olympic medal and what helped me get my National titles.

“[W]hen I’m done with school, and with track actually, I want to go into broadcasting. I’m working along the lines of being able to go into sports broadcasting, so build enough of a résumé with my academic career, I can put them together and get a pretty successful job out of it. … I want to be the best in whatever it is I do. 

Whether it’s communications, radio broadcasting or athletics, I strive to be the best in everything.”

№ 7: The Wonderful World of the Academy – Athletics

Junior Fine Arts major Natalie Gabriel was one of 13 Knights to receive D2 ADA Academic Awards in 2016. Photo courtesy of ART U Athletics

“Being an athlete and fine art major is a constant balancing act of contradictions and similarities,” shared Gabriel. “Painting is a very intuitive discipline where you have to learn when to push and when not to push while soccer is a constant push mentally and physically. But in both disciplines there are skills you have to continue to hone and practice day in and day out to get the best results.

“I am learning how to create this balance in both art and soccer. Finding new inspirations and allowing the kinesthetic nature of athletics [to] translate into my work is something I have found to be very beneficial. But most importantly, I find both art and soccer have influenced the way I work with a high level of motivation and work ethic that many athletes learn at a young age.”

“Being an athlete, I believe, has benefited me in more ways than one as a fashion styling major here at the Academy of Art,” said Haviland. “As a fashion stylist, you are constantly working with a team, someone other than just yourself. That being said, you have to be reliable, motivated, and do the little things no one else is willing to do. For example, in soccer, I don’t always want to run those extra sprints at the end of practice but I know that’s what I have to in order to make the team better and in fashion you have to pay attention to the little details, and do the annoying stuff you might not want to do in order for your project, photo shoot, runway show (whatever it is) to turn out successful.

“As an athlete, I am always aware (and constantly reminded) of where I stand compared to those around me. It is in my nature to be competitive—I know when I need to do better and step it up. Same goes for my artistic side, I don’t necessarily compare myself to others, it’s more along the lines of how can I set myself apart to be invaluable to what a client or others need. I always notice what my competitors and classmates are doing, so for me, I set myself apart by being someone that everyone wants to work with—I feel reliability and time management is something the fashion industry lacks, so that is something I strive for. Companies have seen that I have worked with some of the top stylists in the Bay Area and recently helped produce and style a runway show for Michael Costello [at] New York Fashion Week (some don’t even realize I am still in school and playing soccer) so they have built a trust in me. It’s kind of taken off from there. If it weren’t for my athletic mentality, I don’t think I would be in the position I am now.”


№ 7: The Wonderful World of the Academy – Athletics

Junior fashion styling major women's soccer midfielder Laney Haviland praises her teammates during a match. Photo courtesy of ART U Athletics

№ 7: The Wonderful World of the Academy – Athletics

2013 Women's Indoor Track & Field National Title. Photo courtesy of ART U Athletics.