East Stroudsburg University Alum Serves as Faculty Rep for “Cinderella” Saint Peter’s

Photo: Dr. Jay Garrels M’11 and his wife, Ali, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia during Saint Peter’s win over Purdue in the Sweet 16

Every sport has that inspirational “Cinderella story”—the small (or not-so-small) team with a big work ethic and drive to succeed. In this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball March Madness, that team was Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J., a Jesuit university of approximately 3,000 students. Underdogs throughout the tournament, the team won three games and advanced to the Elite Eight before losing to the University of North Carolina last Sunday.

Dr. Jay Garrels M’11 is the Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR) at Saint Peter’s and had a front-row seat to the Peacocks’ historic run.

“I’m still trying to gather my thoughts on what occurred,” Garrels said. “It’s brought so many good things for the university, and is very well-deserved for the student-athletes. It’s just been very positive all around.” Most sports fans had never heard of Saint Peter’s — they know them now, thanks to the team’s performance. “My wife said at one point we were the number one thing trending on Twitter. It put our university on the map — for two weeks it was all anyone could talk about,” he said.

A native of New Jersey, Garrels knows what it takes to do well on the court. As a student at ESU pursuing a master’s degree in exercise science, Garrels was a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team from 2009-2011, which included a then-school record 24 wins and the PSAC East regular season championship in 2009-10. One of his best experiences was learning from head coach Jeff Wilson. “He was a great mentor and boss. I learned a tremendous amount — not just about basketball and what goes into running a successful collegiate basketball team and how he engages the student-athletes. My biggest takeaway was on the human side of things. He has the innate ability to get the best out of people. He recognizes things in people they may not recognize. He helped me recognize my strengths and improve my weaknesses. I model who I’m trying to be after him. He’s had a big impact on my life,” he said.

Garrels chairs the health and physical education department at Saint Peter’s. In his role as FAR, Garrels is the liaison for the school and NCAA. He also oversees the college’s faculty mentor program in which a faculty member is matched with an athletic team. “I don’t think you need a background in collegiate athletics, but I think part of why I was chosen was because of my collegiate athletics background. The administration probably felt I knew many of our student-athletes and engaged with them, so I was a good fit for this role,” Garrels explains.

He has many fond memories of his time at ESU, where he obtained his master’s degree in 2011 and taught for several years before pursuing his Ph.D. in movement science at Seton Hall University. He is inspired to be a professor like Dr. Shala Davis, chair of ESU’s exercise science department. “I learned an unbelievable amount of content from Dr. Davis and thought about things from an exercise science perspective. During my first few years as professor [at ESU], she provided a lot of mentorship. She understood it was the beginning of my career, so she helped me with many of the quirks of just being a new educator. She was also the one who pushed me toward earning my doctorate,” he said.

Having been a student, coach, and now professor, Garrels has had the full college experience and he encourages students to make the most of the journey. “Be open-minded. Listen to your coaches—listen to their suggestions. Step outside your comfort zone, and take advantage of all ESU has to offer.”

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