How Highlander Pitcher and CoAD Student Ian Bentley Manages the Demands of Being a Successful Student-athlete

Fun fact: Ian Bentley is naturally right-handed but pitches as a lefty, a skill he was taught by his father.

September’s arrival doesn’t just mean back to school—it also marks the return of student-athletes, who fuel the campus with a giddy energy that beckons the beginning of a new fall sports season.

Surely, you’ve seen them: head-butting soccer balls into the air, jogging around the track and stretching their hamstrings on the field, eager to compete.

According to the NCAA, some 460,000 student-athletes compete in 23 sports every year, and more than eight out of 10 student-athletes will earn a bachelor’s degree and over 35 percent will receive a postgraduate degree.

With plans to build a $100 million multipurpose Wellness and Events Center, the men’s basketball team’s headline-making win against Michigan last winter and the university’s recent inclusion in the Atlantic Sun Conference—which gives the Highlanders a chance to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament—NJIT’s Division I athletic program has found itself in the national spotlight, attracting and retaining a pool of talented, young athletes looking to make the jump to intercollegiate sports.

But it can be tricky business balancing rigorous game, practice and training schedules with the challenging curriculum and coursework demands of one of the nation’s leading public polytechnic universities.

“Time management is probably one of the biggest challenges facing student-athletes,” says Sandra Taylor, director of NJIT’s Learning Center, who oversees the advising of NJIT student-athletes and tutoring for the university (non-math and non-writing) and provides testing accommodations for eligible students. “They need to be able to manage the course requirements in addition to their practice and competition schedules and any job they may have.”

NJIT requires student-athletes to attend mandatory study hall and weekly meetings with an athletic academic adviser based on class standing and cumulative GPAs. During weekly meetings, academic advisors facilitate tutoring appointments, reinforce study skills and discuss academic progress and address any issues. Additionally, the student-athletes are offered workshops on various life skills from resume writing and interviewing techniques to nutrition.

Still, with positive reinforcements in place, Ian Bentley, the co-captain of NJIT’s baseball team, which will hold tryouts Oct. 8, realizes the onus to excel falls squarely on his shoulders.

“I have multiple advisors who are very much on top of their game,” says Bentley, who is entering his fourth year of the College of Architecture and Design’s (CoAD) 5-year B.Arch program and accrued hours toward his internship requirement this summer at Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates Architects in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “But, ultimately, it’s up to me to use the resources available to succeed. No one is going to hold my hand through the process.”

The Texas native and left-handed pitcher established his love of hardball at 10 years old after joining his first baseball league when his family relocated to Lancaster, Pa. Currently, he’s a member of both the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and the American Institute of Architecture Students, and he sits on NJIT’s student-athlete advisory committee. He’s also a recipient of the Chi Alpha Sigma Honor Society Award; he was named NJIT Athlete of the Week three times this year and also set the NJIT Division I record for wins and complete games in 2015.

If that weren’t enough, Bentley has been a mainstay on the Dean’s List throughout his undergraduate career with a cumulative GPA of 3.48. And starting this semester, he will enhance his academic pursuits by taking bridge courses toward a Master of Science in Civil Engineering, which he plans to obtain in 2017, one semester after graduating with a B.Arch.

Here, the eager beaver breaks down how he juggles his academic and athletic commitments, talks about going pro and offers advice to NJIT freshman student-athletes on how to bring their ‘A’ game on the field—and in the classroom.

What made NJIT the right fit for you?

New York City was a great pull; it’s practically a 10-minute train ride away. I had never really come to New Jersey before visiting NJIT. Going to an architecture school so close to New York City, where there’s so much history and so many things to do felt like the perfect fit for me.

Newark and Lancaster are two very different places. Did you have any preconceived notions or reservations about living here?

No, not really. It was important for me to experience it for myself. Obviously, with any city, there are places to go and there are places you shouldn’t go. Even in Lancaster, there are places I wouldn’t go. I love living on campus, and I walk down to Newark Penn Station at least once a week to get coffee. There are so many interesting things to see and do around town. Newark is a great city.

Have you always wanted to be an architect?

Well, I was split between becoming a pharmacist and becoming an architect, but I’ve always wanted to play baseball. One of the key reasons I committed to NJIT was because if I went the pharmacy route, I could have done the pharmaceutical engineering program.  If I decided to go with architecture, NJIT offers a great program in that as well. I had two goals in mind, and when I picked NJIT, I got to decide which one I wanted to pursue. Plus, the coaches really clicked with me and gave me an opportunity to play baseball right away.

Your resume is pretty impressive. How do you successfully balance your athletic and academic disciplines?

It’s just that: discipline—and recognizing what you need to do in a timely order and how to distribute those factors among academics, athletics and fun. I don’t think that you should eliminate the fun aspect of college. You should be able to travel, go to the city and have a good time but in balance with your academics and athletics. So, it comes down to discipline and the support from the team of advisors and coaches at NJIT.

What stands out to you the most about NJIT’s athletic program?

Not only do they give me the opportunity to expand my knowledge on the field, the coaches and advisors also push me toward academic success off the field as well. A lot of the big schools focus on achieving championships, and that’s all they care about because that’s their moneymaking business. But at NJIT, the coaches are taught that it’s an equal balance between academic and athletic performance.

What’s a typical day like for you during baseball season?

I have a pretty regimented schedule. We’ll play games Friday, Saturday and Sunday because of the new conference schedule this school year. I’m off on Mondays. We practice for two to three hours Tuesday through Thursday and have a light one-hour practice on Fridays. I try to schedule my classes in the mornings or at night so that I can eat a proper lunch in the middle of the day and practice in the afternoon. During the fall, I wake up around 6:30 in the morning for lift sessions.

How do you manage the travel demands?

By thinking ahead. Once the game schedule comes out, I’ll refer to my syllabus to pinpoint the best time to get work done. I try to get the majority of my work done before I leave for games. If I can’t, I’ll hand draw some of my assignments from the hotel room or sit on the back of the bus to study. During my freshman year, it was a little tough. I slipped up in the spring when I started my first baseball season because we were traveling on planes and buses all over the country. It was overwhelming for me.

Do you feel added pressure to excel because you’re going to NJIT on scholarship?

As a student-athlete who is basically getting paid to go to school here, I do feel like I have an obligation to be the best student that I can be. But I don’t look at it as pressure. I’m not saying that it’s easy, but I don’t think your education and your athletic ability should be stressful if you truly enjoy what you’re doing.

“Ian Bentley

Bentley (right) and two of his classmates with their third-year fall semester Newark Graduate Housing project.

How has playing college baseball helped you grow as a student?

Being a pitcher kind of makes you the leader of the team. You’re the one with the ball before the play starts; you’re the one that basically gets to dictate what happens in the game—whether it’s bad or good. And I think that comes into play when I’m in studio, in class or working on a group project. Those aspects are traveling over into my academics, and it’s making me become a better architect and student.

Do you have a desire to play Major League Baseball?

Definitely. I was eligible to get drafted this past year, but that did not happen. And even if I got drafted, I wouldn’t have gone because I want to continue my education. But it’s definitely something on my mind everyday.

What are your career goals?

Once I start taking basic bridge courses this semester, I’ll be able to replace my architecture electives with electives that are compatible with the Master’s of Civil Engineering degree so that I can finish up the dual degree program. When I’m done with school, I’m thinking about going into naval architecture. On the flip side, I’d like to work on the great, big buildings that everyone reads about in Architectural Digest. Either way, I think I’ll be set with the degree program I’m in right now.

As you gear up for your last year as a pitcher for the Highlanders, what advice do you have for freshman student-athletes just getting started at NJIT?

Everyone can’t jump into college right away and be successful while dealing with the challenges that come with living away from home for the first time. But make it your business to get a good foundation in your first semester; it gives you something to build off and fall back on. If you build your foundation early, and your GPA drops, you won’t take that big a hit. Starting off strong is really the key for me. And be sure to lean on your teammates and fellow student-athletes for support and guidance. Remember, we’re all in this together.

By Shydale James
sjames@njit.edu