For many of us, finding enough time in our day for work, family or even sleep can be a major challenge. For Northern Arizona University student Rene Coggins, balancing three majors in the Honors College and being a Division I basketball player is just part of her daily routine.
Coggins has balanced those academic and athletic demands so well, she recently became the first two-time College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-American in NAU women’s basketball history. Coggins is the second player in program history to earn that distinction even once—Tracy Barnes was the first in 1987. Earning more than one Academic All-American honor is so rare, Coggins is only the ninth NAU student-athlete across all sports to receive two or more.
“It brought me to tears, legitimately, each time I heard it,” Coggins said of hearing she was named to the Academic All-American second team this year after earning third team honors a year ago. “It’s so, so humbling because it reinforces the idea that I can be great in the classroom and on the court, especially comparing myself to the other people on this list who are at Ivy League schools or at Power Five conferences.”
Out of more than 4,000 student athletes in NCAA Division I basketball, only 30 (15 women and 15 men) were honored as CoSIDA Academic All-Americans. Of this year’s women, Coggins is one of four to carry at least a 4.0 grade point average and is the only one to have a triple major.
Coggins is majoring in accounting, finance and hotel-restaurant management. She also is a four-time Big Sky Conference All-Academic honoree and a four-time recipient of the NAU Golden Eagle Scholar Athlete Award.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that even with a triple major, Coggins has carried a 4.0 GPA. When she graduated from Mountain View High School in Mesa, she had a 4.596 weighted GPA. Her academic success in high school earned her both the AIMS and the Lumberjack scholarships. Coggins says she can’t recall getting a grade other than an A all the way back to elementary school.
Chris Drake, coordinator in the Office of Academic Services in the W.A. Franke College of Business, is Coggins’ academic adviser.
“Rene is my rock star,” she said. “I always call her that when she comes in. She encompasses everything you want as a student, and then you add that athlete piece to it and she’s just phenomenal.”
In the 12 years Drake has been an academic adviser at NAU, she said she has never seen a student-athlete do what Coggins has done.
“I use her a lot as an example to my incoming students of how you can set your bar high and as long as you have the determination and motivation to do it, it’ll happen.”
Heavily recruited by West Point and several Ivy League schools, Coggins said her decision tipped in favor of staying in her home state because NAU gave her the opportunity to pursue her triple major academic dream while playing Division I basketball. It also meant a lot to Coggins to be close to her family, including her extended family on the Navajo Nation.
Coggins’ mother, Tara, is a Navajo from Window Rock and a member of the Kiyaa’áanii Clan, which means The Towering House Clan.
“Hearing my mom’s story of how she had to leave the reservation to go to college has been such an inspiration. A lot of my family is still in Window Rock, and that’s very special to me,” Coggins said.
A Lumberjack basketball star
When Coggins came to the mountain campus four years ago, she embarked on an academic journey that few students, let alone a student-athlete, even thinks about taking.
“Being a triple major combined with being a student-athlete is really unheard of,” said interim women’s basketball coach Robyne Bostick. “When I think of Rene, the words leader, hard-worker, dedicated and passionate come to mind.”
Along with managing her academic demands, Coggins also had the demands of being a key member of the Lumberjack women’s basketball team. She started 100 of her 113 career games, and only 10 players in NAU women’s basketball history played in more games than she did. Bostick said the coaches saw right away how her work ethic in everything she did on and off the court set her apart from her teammates. The coaches took the highly unusual step of naming Coggins a captain as a true freshman, a role she would keep for her four years on the team.
Coggins and academic adviser Drake mapped out a schedule that allowed her to focus a little more heavily on her basketball and her teammates during her senior season at NAU. Drake said now that Coggins’ basketball eligibility has been exhausted, the schedule allows her to focus on just being student for her final year at NAU before graduating in May 2018.
“NAU not only allowed me to be a basketball player and have a triple major, NAU fully supported me in doing that,” Coggins said.
According to Coggins, the word “grit” best describes her because she works hard every day to stay committed to her long-term life goals—playing women’s professional basketball. However, when her playing days are over, she said she wants to use her degrees from NAU to work her way up the ladder on the technical side of a world-wide hotel chain with hopes of becoming a chief financial officer.
She also is looking much further down the road in her life.
“I would love to retire early and own my own really small, boutique hotel,” she said. “I just love making people happy and you get to experience that in a setting where you know each guest.”
“It would be great to have that on a beach,” she added with a laugh.