Finding his own road

byJay Burgin '17
Devon Pitts '17
Devon Pitts '17 with Nan Carney-DeBord '80, Director of Athletics & Recreation.

As a first-year student, Devon Pitts ’17 was unsure of which major to choose. After a year at Denison, he still hadn't settled on his subject, so he decided to try making his own.

As a varsity basketball player from Columbus, Ohio, Pitts worked with his academic advisor, Assistant Professor and Coach Bob Ghiloni, to write a proposal for an individually-designed major, or an IDM. After review by the Academic Affairs Council, he was approved for his major in sports leadership studies, which he designed to fit his range of interests within the field of athletics.

Pitts's experience of designing his own major wasn’t easy. “In hindsight, I can see why they have such high standards because the major has to meet all the standard academic requirements as the other majors offered at Denison,” he says.

Pitts values the advising he received from multiple professors around campus, but Ghiloni’s advice was especially helpful. “He was the first one that made me aware of the IDM, and he provided support and guidance throughout the process.”

Devon is a different kind of student — he's very open minded and has had so many different interests,” said Ghiloni. “I think this major was a good way to fuse his interests inside and outside of the classroom. Sports leadership wove together a lot of different nuggets of Devon's life. Basically, it came down to someone who had so many interests and didn't get caught in a box he didn't fit into.”

Once his major was approved, Pitts knew he had a lot of work to do. “The sports leadership studies major consists of three major disciplines: science, performance and leadership.” Pitts’s science courses, in the anatomy, physiology, psychology and nutrition fields provide him with a foundation for understanding the medical, physical and mental aspects of his field.

His “performance” courses were aimed at mastering concepts of athleticism and competition and, according to Pitts, the “most critical component” of the major is leadership. The courses he chose gave him a foundation to of the “human aspects of sports” and its connection to leadership.

“… [IDMs] have such high standards because the major has to meet all the standard academic requirements as the other majors offered at Denison.”

His major and time in the basketball program go hand in hand. As he began learning more about sports leadership, he started to changed his approach in basketball. We just couldn't keep him off the floor, he was doing all the right things a basketball player was supposed to do,” said Ghiloni. “As a resident assistant, a basketball player, and a student, Devon finds a way to get things done.“

With these classes and more under his belt, Pitts hopes to pursue a career in coaching, sports administration, management or other sports-related positions. “These courses” says Pitts, “have given me a solid foundation that will help me transition well into the workforce.”

As part of his IDM, Pitts created a senior project on leadership philosophies, and interviewed individuals in various areas of the sports industry. He put more than 140 hours into this project. Pitts has interviewed some very influential people in the sports industry, including Ann Meyers Drysdale, the first woman to earn a scholarship under Title IX in 1974; ESPN Commentator Jay Bilas; former OSU Coach, Jim Tressel; former OSU player, CBS analyst Clark Kellogg; Tubby Smith, Head Basketball Coach at Memphis; and National Player of the Year and current Portland Trailblazer, Evan Turner.

Persistence in reaching out to these figures brought success. “It is amazing what you can learn from an individual in one hour-long interview. The experience really has been life-changing and I've not only made some good contacts, but people who have become friends too.” Compiling these experiences into an integrative paper, Pitts acquired both experiential learning and academic success.

Pitts found his IDM major to be worthwhile: “I believe that designing my own major has allowed me to truly own my future.” 

October 20, 2016