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What do college football playoffs, Dr. Pepper and teaching have in common? This Boise State gymnast.

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Boise State, College Football PLayoff Foundation, Erin Morden
Erin Morden is a recipient of the College Football Playoff Foundation's Go Teach Dr. PepperTuition Giveaway.

Erin Morden and her Boise State gymnastics teammates set the bar pretty high – literally and figuratively. Collectively, they have one of the highest average GPAs when compared to similar programs across the nation.

And Morden, who has achieved plenty on the floor, beam and bars, was recently awarded a tuition scholarship by the College Football Playoff Foundation as part of the Go Teach Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway. The scholarship goes to student-athletes looking to be teachers.

“I think it’s so amazing that giving recognition to teachers,” said Morden, a Boise State senior.

Morden visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about how her competitive gymnastics career is winding down while her time as a role model for the best and the brightest is just beginning.

“I know I've seen it personally where teachers who are in the classroom say, ‘This is a really big decision. It's going to be difficult.’ But I know that I can make a difference in students’ lives.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. We're going to spend some time this morning with one of the region's truly great college athletes. And we're not going to talk about basketball or football. Well, actually, I take that back. There is a unique football connection to the conversation, but I am getting ahead of myself. Erin Morden is a three-time Women's Collegiate Gymnastics Association Scholastic All-American. She is one of the people who make up one of the best athletic teams in the region, and that is the Boise State Women's Gymnastics Team. Erin, good morning.

ERIN MORDEN: Good morning.

PRENTICE: Erin, you're a senior and … your new season … help me out with this … begins right after the New Year?

MORDEN: We'll start at the end of January.

PRENTICE: And I'm guessing that this will be a pretty special time for you.

MORDEN: So, I've been doing gymnastics for 17 years, and so this will be my last year doing gymnastics. And so, this season will be very memorable for me…concluding my gymnastics career.

PRENTICE: I want to make sure I get this right. The Boise State gymnastics team combined for a grade point average of 3.841, the third highest in the nation among gymnastics programs. And you are one of only three institutions nationally to boast a GPA of 3.8 or higher.

MORDEN: Yeah, it's really crazy. Our team has set at a pretty high standard for education. And we try to prioritize our school.

PRENTICE: Do you encourage one another? I'm going to guess that you're all aware of how high that bar is…pardon the pun.

MORDEN: 100%. We're always trying to support each other with whatever we need. And the coaches are also very supportive. If we need to prioritize school before gymnastics, they are totally there for us.

PRENTICE: That must go both ways. If you've got teachers that accommodate your gymnastics schedule, I'm going to guess then that your team and all of your coaches and assistants accommodate the time you require for academics.

MORDEN: It goes both ways. Everybody on campus is very supportive of athletes and our schedules.

PRENTICE: Let's talk gymnastics for a couple of minutes. You compete in….well, I know of your floor routines, but what else? Bars? Beam?.

MORDEN: And then we also have another event: vault.

PRENTICE: So, do you compete in all of them?

MORDEN: All except for the vault.

PRENTICE: And how young were you when you started gymnastics?

MORDEN: I was four. I taught myself how to do cartwheels. I was doing handstands all over the house. And my parents were…”Okay, we need to put her in the gymnastics right away.”

PRENTICE: So where do you put this very particular athletic skill when you stop competing formally?

MORDEN: I feel that's a really hard transition for gymnasts. So, I don't know if I'll use my gymnastic skills in an athletic way after this, but I might go into coaching. I've done that growing up, and I really like teaching gymnastics to young gymnasts, so I might do that. But I also want to continue doing something athletic.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about the future. Your major is elementary education. How did you choose that? Do you come from a family of teachers?

MORDEN: Both my parents were classroom teachers. My mom was an English teacher and now she's in counseling. And then my dad was a history teacher in high school.

PRENTICE: Were either of them ever your teacher?

MORDEN: No, they weren't. Thank goodness. I don't know if that would have been too much for me, I think.

PRENTICE: Okay. Well, here's the big news. The College Football Playoff Foundation and Dr. Pepper…. So, folks, this is the top of the chart when it comes to college football.. Well, they have a tuition program. And you, Erin….it's our understanding, have received one of these awards…a tuition award. And in particular, it goes to student athletes who will be teachers. So, talk to me about finding out about this.

MORDEN: So, Boise State actually nominated me for this scholarship, and I was super excited to have the opportunity to apply for it. And I just found out last week that I was awarded that $2,500 scholarship. And it was just a really cool opportunity and I'm so grateful for it.

PRENTICE: And that's a really big deal in a student athletes life. I mean, $2,500 is pretty huge, right?

MORDEN: It's really huge for me. I'm a walk-on….

PRENTICE: Really?

MORDEN: Yeah, they either give full scholarships or nothing. So, this is life-changing…getting some aid for my tuition is very special for me.

PRENTICE: Talk about connecting the dots. The college football playoff program and Dr. Pepper… which get all this attention every holiday season. And here you are…you have been chosen because of your major elementary education.

MORDEN: I know. I just think it's so cool that they're actually giving recognition to teachers. I think it's so amazing.

PRENTICE: Being a senior, have you begun spending time in classrooms?

MORDEN: Yes. So, I've done a lot of observation and I've taught some lessons to full classrooms. I'm hoping to do my professional year next semester. Starting next semester, I should be in the classroom three times a week during the season.

PRENTICE: Which schools have you been in?

MORDEN: I've been in a lot of different classrooms in different schools. Our professors partner up with a lot of the different classrooms and schools in the Boise District. And so, I've taught at Garfield Elementary and other schools. And I've taught science lessons. P.E. lesson…all of it. They try to give us as much experience as possible before going into the classroom by ourselves.

PRENTICE: So, in the spring semester, you get assigned to a particular classroom?

MORDEN: Yes, I'll be in one classroom for the whole semester and then I'll get changed to another school and classroom for the following semester.

PRENTICE: And how or when do you learn about that?

MORDEN: So, I haven't gotten my placement yet, but I'll be getting my placement hopefully in the next couple of weeks. So, we'll see.

PRENTICE: Is it almost always with the Boise School District?

MORDEN: Usually. Yes.

PRENTICE: Do you have a sense of how much you're needed? You probably have heard that there's a number of people leaving this profession, and these are very interesting times for public education, and yet the need has never been greater.

MORDEN: It's actually really crazy to hear all the stories about how teachers are just ready to be done, especially after COVID and how difficult that was to teach remotely. I know I've seen it personally where teachers who are in the classroom say, “This is a really big decision. It's going to be difficult.” But I know that I can make a difference in students’ lives.

PRENTICE: Well, congratulations to you. I can't imagine a better way of ending this year and starting the next. And it sounds as if not only do we need you in the classroom, but we have been very fortunate to have seen you in competition. And you are among the best of the best. She is Erin Morden, a recipient of the College Football Playoff Foundation and Dr. Pepper Award for tuition. And in particular, they are awarded to student athletes who will be teachers. Erin, happy holidays to you. Congratulations.

MORDEN: Thank you so much.

PRENTICE: And thanks for giving us some time this morning.

MORDEN: Absolutely.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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