UM Track and Field Champion Tailors Unique Degree through BGS Program

General Studies program allows for personal aspirations

Sam Kendricks, University of Mississippi senior, designed his own unique degree through Bachelor of General Studies.

University of Mississippi senior Sam Kendricks designed his own unique degree through the Bachelor of General Studies.

OXFORD, Miss.­­­ – By now, just about everybody has heard about Sam Kendricks’ exploits – flying through the air at track and field meets all over the world – but only a handful know about his success designing an academic degree program.

In fact, that latter achievement has helped Kendricks, a University of Mississippi senior and reigning Southeastern Conference, NCAA and USA outdoor pole vault champion, excel in other areas during his time at Ole Miss. The degree program he helped design – his own – gave the 22-year-old from Oxford flexibility to compete as a student-athlete, train as an Army ROTC cadet and develop leadership skills.

Kendricks is part of a growing segment of UM students pursuing a Bachelor of General Studies, or BGS. These students want to take more control of their own career path and craft a plan of study that not only leads to a bachelor’s degree, but also helps them gain the knowledge and skills they feel will most likely help them excel at their own unique goals.

“An Ole Miss student was taking me on a tour of campus back when I was still in high school,” Kendrick recalled. “I remember something the student said that has stuck with me. ‘Ole Miss is whatever you put into it,’ she told me. I’m so glad that I have put everything I have into my time here.”

The university added the BGS program to its slate of undergraduate offerings in 2011. More than 500 students are constructing their own personalized college education by choosing from a wide variety of options to earn three minors and 30 hours of core courses. Students must successfully complete the courses for each minor with no grade below a C. They must also complete at least 30 hours of upper-level courses within their total requirement of 120 hours.

During the past three years as an Ole Miss student, Kendricks has followed a rigorous daily schedule that included early morning runs with his Army ROTC battalion, classes and course assignments, and afternoon training with the Ole Miss track and field team.

He chose three very distinct minors to craft his Ole Miss degree. The first, a minor in mathematics, was nearly complete after taking strenuous freshman and sophomore course loads while he was still undecided about the direction he might be headed career-wise.

“Math is something I’ll always use and have to fall back on,” Kendricks said. “It provided a structure that helped format a foundation of study for me. I hope I will be able to build on this further in the future.”

As he continued learning and growing as a competitive athlete, Kendricks realized that he has a talent for helping to motivate and train others. He then decided to begin his second minor field in the university’s recreation management program.

It was in these courses that one of his favorite instructors, David Waddell, shared more about leadership.

“He again brought home the idea that becoming a leader and manager is about the work and creativity that you put into the job,” Kendricks said. “After my athletic career is over, I want to use my education to coach, instruct, inspire and equip others with the skills to succeed.”

For his third area of study, Kendricks chose to minor in military science leadership. As a cadet in the Ole Miss Army ROTC officer-training program, he was already taking several of the required courses and had plans to be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army upon graduation. He will continue to train with the Army after graduation and to prepare as a leader if he is called to active duty.

“I have been so lucky to have all of the experiences I have had at Ole Miss,” Kendricks said. “My classes have prepared me for my future just like my athletic training is preparing me for the next level of competition. I’m happy that my education fits my goals and interests so well. I’ve learned so much, and I look forward to using what I’ve learned to continue chasing my dreams.”

His dedication will pay off next year as he graduates with his BGS in May and competes professionally around the world as a member of the Nike USA track team, all while beginning his career as an Army officer.

“So many of the students we see who are attracted to the Bachelor of General Studies degree program are creative, motivated and really thinking outside of the box – just like Sam,” said Terry Blackmarr, assistant to the dean of general studies. “Their career goals are unique, and they feel a variety of classes will better prepare them to achieve those aspirations.”

For more information about the BGS degree and a full listing of available minors at UM, visit