On one hand is the Rhodes Scholar finalist, where grades were never in question. On the other hand is the student-athlete who is told he or she would never graduate college.
“Then the athlete realizes that failure was not an option,” said Gary Waters, Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Support Services at Auburn University, and 1976 Auburn University School of Accountancy graduate. “And when he walks across that stage and receives his diploma – that’s equally as gratifying to me as the Rhodes Scholar.”
Waters’ department provides academic support for Auburn’s student-athletes through mentors, tutors and the development of mathematics and writing laboratories, and the Auburn Tiger Career Development Center designed to enhance professional and personal development before the student-athlete enters the work environment. An estimated 540 to 580 student-athletes are impacted by Waters’ program each year.
Waters, who also served as an assistant professor in accounting (1981-87), Beta Alpha Psi advisor (1982-87) and as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs (1997-2002), is the School of Accountancy’s Outstanding Alumnus for 2014.
When the Cullman, Ala., native accepted the award at the School of Accountancy spring banquet and quoted former Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan, saying “When he (Sullivan) accepted the Heisman Trophy, he said that there were more deserving recipients, but none more appreciative. That’s how I feel.”
“The School of Accountancy and the Harbert College of Business have been such an important part of my life. The College of Business has blessed me more than any contribution I have made over the years.
It’s very exciting to see where the College is going. It’s the best of times at the College and it’s going to keep getting better.”
Waters said he left home at 18, where his parents turned him over to “Auburn and the College of Business.” Today, many parents turn their student-athletes’ study habits over to Waters. He considers the minds of today’s athletes to be “amazing” and noted that the group of 540 averaged a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher and that just two athletes had GPAs of 2.0 or lower.
“The key is to ultimately determine how a kid is going to respond in a positive manner,” said Waters. “Some kids, you give them simple direction and they follow that direction. Some have to understand the entire background about what you are talking about. You have to understand what motivates kids and what doesn’t. That changes from student to student.”
“When a kid doesn’t want to graduate when he or she walks in the door, it’s part of our responsibility to make sure that graduation becomes a priority to them.”
Though Waters’ position is within the athletic department, he continues to support the School of Accountancy each year. Waters appoints a number of Master of Accountancy (MAcc) students to help with a variety of roles related to student-athletic academic development. Some provide tutoring in accounting or business-related courses. Some help tracking books in the depository. Another is the “Chief Information Officer,” keeping up with athletes’ class attendance. “That person pulls the information together and provides it to us on a timely basis,” Waters said. “If a student-athlete misses a class, we want their coach to ask, ‘Why didn’t you go to history class this morning?’”
When he isn’t helping student-athletes, Waters said he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children – watching the Auburn Tigers together, of course.