About Coach for College

Coach for College seeks to capitalize on the popularity of sports to reintegrate into universities two groups currently on the margins: disadvantaged youth in rural parts of developing countries who have difficulties accessing higher education, and student-athletes at American universities whose year-round commitment to sports prohibits them from having the same civic engagement opportunities as other college students. In particular, Coach for College provides a forum for American college student-athletes, as those who received access to higher education through sports, to in turn use sports to help provide youth in countries abroad with access to higher education.

Designed in the fall of 2007 by Parker Goyer, a 2007 graduate of Duke University and former member of the Duke varsity women's tennis team, the program provides sports infrastructure to youth who attend middle schools in rural parts of developing countries, and helps them develop excitement for and proficiency in science, leadership, language, and life skills using sports as a means to applied learning. During the summer, collegiate athletes from top U.S. universities which are rivals in athletic competitions partner with bilingual college students and others near the project area to run interactive sports-learning camps, with an additional emphasis on how to access and benefit most from higher education in America and the host country, currently Vietnam. Varsity collegiate athletes from any sport are eligible to participate, provided they have familiarity with one of the sports and academic classes offered by the program.

The fundamental assumption is that sports can be used as an entry point into developing relationships between universities and communities, and can foster a sense of common interests and values with youth in rural areas that have had little or no contact with Americans and who experience disadvantages that exclude them from the higher education system. The program also serves as a vehicle for civic engagement among college students with skill and/or interest in sports and for the physical, emotional, and mental development of the youth they serve. Coach for College has been designed as a global program, with intended long-term programming at the district level in several locations within Vietnam and other countries.

The pilot program was held in summer 2008 for 200 students of the Hoa An Secondary School, a middle school in a rural community in southern Vietnam, over the course of six weeks. The students were rising sixth-ninth graders and ranged in age from 11-16. 20 student-athletes from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 20 bilingual college students/staff from Vietnam's Can Tho University, and 10 students from Hoa An High School participated in the program as coaches, half in the first three week session and half in the second three week session.

In October 2006 Parker, then a student at Duke University, began talking to her faculty advisor for the club Global Grasp about creating a summer program which would allow Duke and Vietnamese students to perform research or service linked to coursework in a wide range of disciplines. In April 2007, in attempting to raise money to finance a feasibility study for this program, she received a suggestion to contact Nike, due to its desire to promote a better understanding of its operations in Vietnam. Subsequent discussions with employees at Nike regarding her upcoming feasibility study in Vietnam first prompted her to think about creating a civic engagement program specifically for student-athletes, who rarely can study abroad or participate in extensive service or cultural immersion programs in foreign countries.

In July 2007, Parker gained preliminary feedback about the idea from employees in the Nike Vietnam office and the chief official of the Dong Nai Sports Department, who was eager for Duke tennis players to teach tennis to children at his facility and develop teams which could play against those from other areas. The specifics of the program began to take shape as a result of Parker's observations about the nature of sports and education in Vietnam, where she was asked to help teach baseball and English to a group of children and college students, and Belize, where she helped teach health care education camps to primary school children through a trip facilitated by Peacework. Upon her return to the United States, Parker was given the opportunity to pursue a project of personal interest through a fellowship with the Robertson Scholars Program, a merit scholarship program which seeks as one of its goals to increase collaboration between Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. In developing this project, Parker began talking to people in the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and at the U.S. Department of State about their Sports Envoy program for professional athletes. Reflections on her conversations with university rectors in Vietnam, in parallel with an increasing academic interest in educational policy, caused her to think about what American universities could do to collaborate with and enhance institutions of higher education there, utilizing the universal language and shared cultural passion of sports. In October 2007, she synthesized these ideas to create the Coach for College initiative.