A Pittsburgh nonprofit is preparing local student athletes for successful college careers by offering academic and social support.
Von Madden is the president and founder of Shadow Student Athlete Development Services, which helps students achieve academic success. He works with Dewayne Brown, whose Evolve Two Tenths program emphasizes the athletic training element.
Services provided by Shadow Student Athletes are free for students, though there is a fee for the Evolve Two Tenths program, Madden said.
“I was a student-athlete coming out of Pittsburgh Public Schools, and when I got to college as a student-athlete, I wasn’t prepared socially,” Madden said. “I had poor study skills.”
When he saw other student-athletes facing the same struggles, he was inspired to create a program that would better prepare student-athletes for higher education.
“I just wanted to make sure they had the support so when they got to college, they could succeed,” Madden said.
The nonprofit, which launched in 2011, has an academic support team to ensure student-athletes are taking the right classes, maintaining healthy grade-point averages (GPA) and developing good study habits. Madden said they’ve tracked an increase in GPA among students working with the program.
But they emphasize more than just good grades. They also help students with critical social skills.
“We deal with interpersonal conflict, kids who are dealing with low self-esteem or kids that may be bullying kids,” Madden said. “We really work with those kids to be ‘social change athletes’ inside their school space.
“We have a mentor program that really fosters love and support of all students, no matter if they’re student-athletes, no matter what racial background they come from, no matter what economic background they come from.”
Madden said it’s rewarding to watch students grow through the program. He noted that many student-athletes will later come back to work in the nonprofit’s youth camp.
“We’ve seen students’ behaviors shift, kids being more responsible, more active in the community,” he said.
Brown said he, too, has seen the benefits of the program help students who may otherwise lack strong support systems.
“It’s helping a lot of the kids with prep for college,” Brown said. “A lot of them don’t have the type of guidance at home, so being around the guys we have at Two Tenths, they get a lot of great direction.”
Shadow Student Athletes has had 150 students from their program attend college, Madden said. He said only three of them didn’t finish. Several athletes who worked with the program are now professional athletes.
One of the major benefits of the program, Madden said, is that it often helps student athletes earn athletic scholarships.
“We’re able to get young people college education. You’re changing the trajectory of families’ lives,” Madden said. “We’re able to transition a youth into a productive citizen.”
Some student-athletes who are involved with Shadow Student Athletes’ programs will also travel for tournaments with the nonprofit to increase exposure in hopes of attracting more college recruiters, Madden added.
The nonprofit’s work hasn’t stopped even during the covid-19 pandemic. They’re still offering their mentoring program through Pittsburgh Public Schools, though much of it now takes place via Microsoft Teams. The nonprofit is also offering small group sessions for academic support and athletic training.
Students can use the Wi-Fi in their Beltzhoover facility to do schoolwork if they don’t have Wi-Fi at home.