By Ada Zhang
They are glorified for their athletic capabilities, which is why the public often forgets that Baylor athletes have experiences in the classroom as well. Before every home game, student-athletes vote on a Baylor professor who makes the classroom a positive place to be.
At separate home games, Walker-Nixon and Pittman were escorted onto the field during halftime to receive a football with their name on it as well as a Baylor athletics shirt. The jumbotron also showed a short clip of them teaching. During the first half of the game, Pittman even had the privilege of watching the game from the sidelines.
Walker-Nixon, who was honored at the first home game, has had several football players in her class including sophomore defensive end Shawn Oakman, senior defensive end Terrance Lloyd and senior offensive guard Cyril Richardson.
She said she knows many students find literature boring, so she tries to find ways to make her class enjoyable.
“Sometimes it’s not easy to get them to read the assignments,” Walker-Nixon said. “I’ve had to work on presentations and making class a little more fun.”
To engage students in learning, Walker-Nixon makes the subject relevant to each individual’s interests. She brings football into the classroom by asking players how they can relate to a certain text through their experiences with football, she said.
“I do it with all majors — with science majors too,” Walker-Nixon said. “I try to be inclusive of everyone’s interests. I try to make the projects based on whatever they’re interested in.”
Walker-Nixon said her goal is to make students want to be in the classroom. This is why she gives students creative options as to what sorts of projects they do, she said.
“I want the project to be something they enjoy doing,” she said. “I work with it to make it more fun rather than just a labor. If it’s just labor, they won’t enjoy the class. I have to get them to want to read.”
Discordant with Walker-Nixon’s teaching style, Pittman said she tries to leave athletics out of the classroom.
Last spring, Pittman had junior running back Lache Seastrunk, junior receiver Antwan Goodley and junior inside receiver Tuswani Copeland all in one class. She has also taught many students in track.
Pittman said she purposely avoids discussing athletics because she knows what it feels like to be singled out. When she was a college student, she felt uncomfortable when professors directed academic questions regarding African-Americans towards her simply because she was African-American, she said.
“If a student wants to talk about the game, we’ll talk about the game, but I let him bring it up,” Pittman said. “I respect his space.”
Pittman said it’s her personality that draws students in.
“I can be serious, but for the most part I’m a laid-back person,” Pittman said. “I think some people aren’t patient with athletes, but I am because I understand they have a lot of pressure to do well on the field and in the classroom.”
Although Pittman is patient with athletes, she does not back down from confrontation when it is necessary. She said she was tough with Seastrunk last Spring when she knew he wasn’t living up to his potential.
“I wanted him to do better so I fussed at him and he said ‘okay,’” Pittman said. “He didn’t take my yelling as problematic. I confronted him when I knew he needed to do better. He’s a good kid. I’ve got nothing bad to say about him.”
Pittman’s way of connecting with athletes contrasts greatly with Walker-Nixon’s, and yet, both styles of teaching appeal to student-athletes.
Copeland took Technical Writing from Pittman last Spring. He said it’s tough dividing his time between academics and football, which is why he appreciates Pittman’s patience.
“She works with you,” Copeland said. “She pretty much helps you but she doesn’t just give you a free pass. She’s understanding.”
Copeland said Pittman’s personality makes class fun.
“She’s energized– you can tell she loves her job,” he said. “It makes you want to be there rather than just skip class.”
Walker-Nixon said she was excited when she received this award. The football with her name on it is sitting in a trophy case in her house, she said.
Pittman appreciates the recognition, she said, but more importantly, she likes that athletes get a chance to express their academic experience.