ST. BONAVENTURE (Feb. 25) – Canadian soccer player Christopher Leko ran across The Richter Center’s multi-purpose court, weaving in and out of six orange pylons as he passed a soccer ball from one foot to the other.
“I came to St. Bonaventure University to keep playing soccer while getting an education,” said Leko. “But if I didn’t play soccer, I wouldn’t be here. Not because I don’t like it, but because I never would’ve heard of it.”
Leko is one of 33 international undergraduate students this semester at St. Bonaventure University, said Brian Stavisky, director of compliance. Stavisky ensures Bonaventure complies with NCAA and Atlantic 10 conference rules.
Only five are not student-athletes.
“Eighty-five percent of our international students are athletes,” said Alice Sayegh, director of international studies. “And they’re here because of coaches’ global connections, not through the university’s marketing.”
Men’s and women’s head tennis coach Michael Bates agreed.
“I’ve been head coach for 16 years and when I first started, I mostly had Americans on my teams,” said Bates. “It wasn’t until I started meeting more coaches that I was able to start recruiting international players.”
This semester Bates has 10 international athletes on both teams.
“Our international student-athletes are some of our best students and athletes,” said Michelle Kent, assistant athletic director for academic support and student services. “Men’s tennis has one of the best team GPA’s, mostly because of the international students.”
Last year the Atlantic 10 conference, the varsity athletic conference Bonaventure belongs to, named senior tennis player Enric Larregola of Lleida, Spain, the Atlantic 10 student-athlete of the year. Senior Mikhail Sudakov of Stupino, Russia, earned a spot on the Atlantic 10 All-Academic team for his 3.83 GPA in 2010, said Bates.
Freshman swimmer Jeanette Dietrich of Dorsten, Germany, said it’s easier to get higher grades at Bonaventure than in Germany.
“I had to leave all my friends and my family behind, but it [Bonaventure] was definitely the right decision,” said Dietrich. “The biggest difference is the way students get tested. In Germany I had to analyze everything and my tests were six hours long. I never had multiple choice or true and false tests before. But it's really nice to take a test and leave after 30 minutes.”
Dietrich said Bonaventure allowed her to go to school on scholarship and continue swimming.
“I’m bringing some multicultural flavor to Bonaventure,” Dietrich said, “and I can definitely learn a lot about American culture, the people and how they live.”
“In tennis, men’s soccer and swimming we’ve found some outstanding international athletes and students over the years, and they’ve taught regular students so much about other cultures,” said Steve Campbell, associate athletic director of internal operations. “We can always benefit from more international students.”
This semester, Bonaventure has 28 international student-athletes on six of the 14 teams, said Stavisky. The university has 16 Canadians, two Russians, two Mexicans, one Pole, one Britain, one Netherlander, one German, one Serbian, one Venezuelan, one Bolivian and one Spaniard.
The collaborated St. Bonaventure University-George Washington University pre-med program brought two of the international non-student athletes here. The other three transferred from Jamestown Community College, Sayegh said.
“Bonaventure is a very well-known regional school, but isn’t well known nationally,” said Kate Dillon Hogan, associate vice president for enrollment. “We would need to make specific marketing efforts to increase name awareness. It would take a lot of time and resources with no guarantee of a significant return.”
“Bonaventure’s marketing plan doesn’t target international students,” Sayegh said, “but the university could attract international students if we marketed to them. I think we underestimate our potential.”
Sayegh said Bonaventure’s safe location, small classes and easy access to Buffalo and New York City would attract international students.
Dillon Hogan said Bonaventure has a high number of Canadian alumni, but the Canadian government doesn’t give scholarships to students studying abroad. Canadian students may be eligible for some academic scholarship but no U.S. federal or regional aid.
“The average student at Bonaventure receives $20,000 in financial aid each year,” Dillon Hogan said. “Students really depend on financial aid here. If international students don’t have some other individual scholarship to cover costs, like athletics, they’re limited.”
For now, Bonaventure remains regionally known, said Dillon Hogan.
“I love Bonaventure,” Leko said, “and I think if more Canadians knew about it they would come down and study here for its well-known journalism program and its small size. In Canada all the universities are so big, you’re just a number. At Bonaventure you’re a student.”