YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Albuquerque, N.M.; Columbia, Mo.; Cullowhee, N.C.; and Tulsa, Okla. None of those places satisfied the palate of Jaysen Spencer.
After 16 years, the 1996 Warren G. Harding High School graduate returned to the Mahoning Valley the week of June 14 to become Youngstown State University’s new director of athletics-academic services.
“There’s not a place like the Hot Dog Shoppe,” says Spencer, who competed in track and field at Harding High School in Warren. “I can get a sub anywhere. Everybody has a pizza place. But no one has a Hot Dog Shoppe. One of the places I went on my first day back was the Hot Dog Shoppe.”
Now, he shares his appetite for education with the student-athletes on his new campus, using the knowledge he gained at University of New Mexico, University of Missouri, Western Carolina University and the University of Tulsa. Spencer oversees and coordinates academic services for the football and women’s bowling teams, with the latter making the NCAA Final Four last season.
“I’ve never had an opportunity to work with a Final Four team in my career. So this would be an opportunity for me to get a chance to work with a championship caliber team,” he says.
Spencer and his staff navigate YSU student-athletes through tutoring, classes and practice schedules and games played away from Youngstown.
There are 40 seats and 19 computers in the Jermaine Hopkins Academic Center in Stambaugh Stadium. It provides a quiet place for student-athletes to learn.
Students from the school’s 19 intercollegiate sports can fit study time into their busy schedules of classes, practices, games and other events in their college experience.
“We want to make this convenient for students because their time is precious,” Spencer says. “It’s already condensed as it is. So we don’t want them to have to run around campus if we can keep from doing all that.”
Each student athlete has diverse needs. Spencer says he and his staff have to be well-versed on the resources on campus to cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, mental health, and other issues.
“You start taking on the role of a parent, the parent away from home,” he says. “You have to guide them to the areas that they need to support them.”
YSU offers career services to help students navigate internships and job opportunities. But in Spencer’s previous stops he learned athletes also use academic services as a resource.
YSU assistant athletic director Myisha Jennings also assists student-athletes with career development, he adds.
“We make sure that students are tapping in with the career development piece or the student-athlete development piece as well as career services,” Spencer says.
He has 14 years of experience cultivating the bridge between athletics and academics in his career. But it is his last four years spent in the Tulsa Public Schools that reshaped his approach.
Spencer was an elementary school physical education teacher who also coached basketball and track and field. He had to cope with focus and attention issues among his students, along with poor study skills.
“I think I can use those life skills with our student-athletes here,” he says.
For now, he’s getting acclimated to his new position at YSU and learning from his staff.
“They’ve been here longer than I have,” he says. “They know what works.”
Spencer came back to YSU after spending three months with the YSU athletic compliance department in the summer of 2000.
“I’ve come full circle,” he says.
Pictured: Jaysen Spencer, YSU director of athletics-academic services, is ready to help student-athletes at the Jermaine Hopkins Academic Center in Stambaugh Stadium. He stands by one of the 19 computers inside the center.