Knights and Mentors: Chiara Ballam and Dr. Samuel Hirt

Knights and Mentors: Chiara Ballam and Dr. Samuel Hirt

BUENA VISTA, Va. — Student-athletes at Southern Virginia University are often able to establish a lasting connection with their professors. Women's basketball player and four-time President's List member, Chiara Ballam, is no exception. We sat down with Ballam and Southern Virginia biology professor, Dr. Samuel Hirt, to get a look into how Ballam balances basketball and academics, and how Dr. Hirt has been able to influence her towards success. 

Why do you believe Dr. Hirt has had such an impact on you here at Southern Virginia? 

Ballam: "One of the advantages of coming to a school such as Southern Virginia is that a lot of the professors are also academic advisors, which allows them to help point students such as myself in the right direction. Dr. Hirt suggested to me about being able to double major in Biology along with Biochemistry after a conversation we had about another class he offered that I was interested in taking. I would have never thought to do that on my own if it weren't for the guidance that Dr. Hirt gave me."

What are your thoughts on being able to mentor a student such as Chiara?

Dr. Hirt: "I think it again showcases some of the strengths of coming to Southern Virginia and how it is ok to go up to say hi and talk about everything with your professors. I have been to other places where the students and professors often avoid talking to each other, but that is not the case here. It is about wanting the best for the students here, and it is the natural thing to offer suggestions to help students achieve their academic goals." 

How are you able to balance both academics and athletics and succeed in both?

Chiara: "It does take time to adjust to everything and figure out your ideal schedule for both, but one of the benefits that I have here is being able to have group study sessions with my teammates. I am fortunate enough to have teammates that are taking the same classes as me and make for my days to run smoothly."

What is your perspective on how you help student-athletes balance academics and athletics with such busy schedules?

Dr. Hirt: "I think there needs to be flexibility because, in the end, it is about the experience and making sure they understand the material that we are teaching and to be supportive of their extracurricular activities where they learn valuable life lessons. Even before COVID-19, I had pre-recorded lectures available along with quizzes and everything a student may need to get caught up or get ahead of the curve to achieve our learning goals and objectives."

Are there any tips that you can offer to other student-athletes looking to have the same success as you?

Chiara: "Knowing your limits is always something to keep in mind because everyone wants to be the best athlete they can be, but also want to be the best student they can be. Keeping an organized schedule in a planner goes a long way, but have fun at the same time so that you are not stressing yourself out too much because academics and athletics can be a lot on your plate. Also, do not be afraid to talk to your professors. They want to help you and can make a difference in your experience here."

Do you have any pointers that you could offer to student-athletes wanting to do better in school?

Dr. Hirt: "The way you get better in athletics, apply to academics as well. To be the best player on the team, you have to put in extra work and practice a lot, and that applies to academics as well. You have your teammates to help you get better, and you have a team in the classroom with your professor, your TA, and your classmates that can help you if needed. There is a greater risk of not being able to succeed if you try to do everything on your own, and if you turn to your teammates, you will be able to do well."