Maria Hickman used to joke with Raymond Harrison that he never would leave and that meant she would eventually have to go elsewhere to pursue her dream. When Harrison did leave, Hickman got to stay.
Harrison’s departure to Texas A&M to join former athletics director Eric Hyman opened the door for Hickman to replace him as South Carolina associate athletics director for academics and student life.
“I thought I would have to go somewhere else, so I’m just ecstatic to have this opportunity and to have the chance to take over what he has already started and just continue to be successful,” Hickman said.
After a little more than a month on the job, not much has changed for Hickman from her old post as an academic advisor for the football team. She now oversees all sports and works with eight full-time advisors, as well as working personally with five football players as their advisor.
“It’s just more meetings,” Hickman said.
She has spent a lot of time over the past month trying to make connections with some of the people across campus that Harrison had relationships with. Though she wants to build off the strong foundation Harrison helped install, athletics director Ray Tanner said she has the freedom to tweak things in the future.
“I think it’s been a tremendous blueprint with the advances we’ve made with our student-athletes with Raymond’s involvement,” Tanner said. “It’s been working. Certainly, Maria has the opportunity to put her fingerprints on it.”
USC student-athletes posted a 3.267 cumulative grade point average for the Fall 2012 semester, setting a departmental record. Hickman said the main priority is to graduate students and the general rule is to keep them above a 2.0 GPA, though there are different benchmarks, depending on the athlete’s year in school.
A spokesman from the Southeastern Conference said an athlete must pass at least six hours of degree credit to remain eligible for the postseason. Also, an attendance policy is required for each school, with suspensions part of the penalty structure.
Part of Hickman and her staff’s roles is working with advisors across campus to piece together an athlete’s schedule with practice times and travel factored in. The staff also assists in getting tutors, mentors, setting up study hall hours and providing technological resources.
“Sometimes, students just come here and are immature,” Hickman said. “They come here and don’t realize that they can be successful in the classroom. That’s where we come into play — to show them and give them tools so they can be.
“It’s always great to see that little light bulb go off when they really get excited about school, and they’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, I can graduate.’ ”
From his time as a baseball coach through the start of his tenure as athletics director, Tanner said he had a firm understanding of Hickman’s importance in the department and thought she would be a natural candidate to replace Harrison, though he had to do his “due diligence.”
First, Harrison endorsed her. Then, student-athletes and coaches also endorsed her to Tanner.
“She played a big part in helping me find out what I want to do with my life,” sophomore spur Sharrod Golightly said. “It’s so easy to get lost in college, especially when you have the college life and playing football. Having that in the back of your ear and letting you know to stay focused is big.”
Golightly likes to talk and interact with people, so Hickman helped him decidel on Sociology as a major. He said she encouraged him to find his passion and to go from there.
Hickman would know, as she gets to do that every day.