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The Athletic Department’s MVP

She has been called the mother of over 400 students. The walls on her office are covered with tests and essays, similar to the way parents hang tests on the refrigerator when their child gets a good grade.

She has what might be the most important job in Stony Brook University’s Athletics Department, and the majority of the student body does not know her name.

As the Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development, Courtney Sanfelippo oversees the academic careers and personal development of Stony Brook’s 400-plus student-athletes. She provides student-athletes, coaches and athletics administration with detailed academic progress reports and also assisted in the development of a comprehensive program to evaluate continuing eligibility.

Sanfelippo earned her master’s degree in secondary education, summa cum laude, from Seton Hall University in 2002.

“I’m a teacher at heart,” she said. “I love the opportunity to see students grow, and that’s where my passion from my job comes from.”

That passion is what caught the attention of her mentor Robin Cunningham, who hired Sanfelippo as a graduate assistant in Academic Support Services for Student-Athletes while she was completing her master’s degree.

“She was, even then, brilliant and caring,” Cunningham wrote in an email. “She was a master teacher and incredibly organized.  She remains reliable, consistent, hard working, and passionate about helping people.”

Sanfelippo refers to Cunningham as “the guru of academic advising in athletics” and said she models Stony Brook’s student-athlete development program after the program Cunningham began at Seton Hall in 1980.

Since she was hired as an academic advisor in 2003, Sanfelippo has worked closely with Athletics Director Jim Fiore to help improve the program that had one of the lowest overall grade point averages in the America East Conference. Under their leadership, the grade point average of America East Seawolf student-athletes has risen from 2.86 to 3.05.

“She’s the reason for the turnaround,” Fiore said of Sanfelippo. “I give her full credit. She is our most valued employee.”

There has also been a turnaround on the field, as Stony Brook’s teams have experienced a lot of success this year. This past fall the football and men’s soccer teams won conference championships, and last month the men’s basketball team won the conference regular season title and played a postseason game for the first time in program history. Despite the success of the student-athletes, Sanfelippo works to make sure their academics do not get overshadowed by their athletics.

“My goal is to have academics not take a back seat, and I’ve set that as the mission of the department,” she said. “But it is a challenge to keep academics on the front-burner when they’re missing so much school because of championships.”

Despite the challenge, the work Sanfelippo has done has produced outstanding results: in February it was reported that a school-record 57 students were named to the America East Fall Academic Honor Roll.

Sanfelippo’s typical day begins at 8:30 a.m., and her work ranges from checking if the student-athletes are in class to tutoring them, which could last until 11 p.m. Her passion and dedication for her job is admired around the Athletics Department, especially by her boss, Senior Associate Director of Athletics Donna Woodruff.

“She is probably the most passionate person that I know for what they do,” said Woodruff. “She loves her job, and she loves working with young people and helping them succeed.”

Woodruff said that if Sanfelippo wasn’t as dedicated as she is, the student-athletes would not be as successful in the classroom.

“She has a hard job that requires a lot of time, love and passion in order to be successful,” said Woodruff. “If she went through it 9 to 5, I don’t think our student-athletes would respond as well as they do.”

That sentiment is shared with senior Eddie Castellanos, who has played on the men’s basketball team for four years and met Sanfelippo when he visited Stony Brook while he was being recruited out of high school.

“Truthfully, without Courtney I don’t believe I would be graduating this spring,” he said. “She’s like the unknown secret of Stony Brook athletics, and without her I don’t know if a lot of our student-athletes would be as successful as they are.”

At just 32, Sanfelippo said she is very happy and currently has no plans beyond Stony Brook.

“I’m so happy here and I think we have so much more to do,” she said. “I don’t look beyond Stony Brook because I have these students now. I have freshmen that will be here for four to five years, and I want to be here when they graduate.”

Sanfelippo said she hopes to help Stony Brook win the America East Academic Cup, which recognizes the school with the highest overall grade point average in the conference.

“I think it would be great for Jim [Fiore] and it would be great for our student-athletes,” she said.

Winning the Academic Cup would help her achieve her main goal of having her department recognized as one of the best academic staffs in the country.

“I believe that we have the best academic staff in the conference,” she said. “I want people to look at my department and say that this is the best academic staff their son or daughter can join.”


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