Attracting diverse students to Bates College, particularly from around the globe, is an important goal for Admissions and the College, in general. While most Bates athletics teams are comprised mainly of American students, one sport has successfully expanded its reach to recruit top talent from around the globe. Coach Patrick Cosquer and his staff have not only done a fantastic job in recruiting international players that fit the Bates ideal both academically and athletically; they have also set a precedent for the College to reach to the far corners of the world to bring students to Lewiston, Maine.
The US Junior Open, which occurs annually during Winter Break and includes approximately 1,000 student-athletes, is a central college squash recruiting event for international students. Though regulations prohibit coaches from speaking to students at the event itself, Cosquer often communicates with prospective students before and after the tournament.
Cosquer also noted that many students contact him expressing their interest in the Bates squash program. From there, Cosquer asks for a video from all international students, as he often isn’t able to see the recruits play in person. He includes videos and links to the Bates website and admissions page in his email signature as well, since most students don’t have the opportunity to travel to the United States before starting at Bates.
In fact, Cosquer said, “Ahmed [Abdel Khalek] is the only one of the four graduating seniors [all of whom are international students] who actually visited overnight before they applied Early Decision. So Caran [Arora], Lauren [Williams], and Filip Michalsky never had seen Bates, never had visited here. We had talked over the phone, emailed back and forth, and shared transcripts, and they took a leap of faith.”
The reality of the current environment in college squash is, according to Cosquer, “if we want to continue to be competitive, we have to go outside of the United States while also augmenting our roster and our school with qualified American students that can play squash and contribute.” Compared to the United States, many countries have superior youth squash systems, with players who dedicate far more time and energy from very young ages to the sport. Along with the tremendous talent he’s recruited from Egypt, Cosquer has coached several student-athletes from Zimbabwe, including Williams, as well as a number of student-athletes from India, among them captain Arora and promising sophomore Anirudh Nambiar.
Since his own tenure as a student-athlete at Bates between 1993 and 1997, when he played at shortstop for the baseball team and served as captain of the squash team, Cosquer has valued the “small, nurturing, intimate environment” that the College provides. In his discussions about the school with prospective international student-athletes, he emphasizes, “if you’re down from the road in Portland or you’re from Zimbabwe or Egypt, you’re coming to a place that is welcoming, warm, and friendly, that when you have something go wrong or you need help, support is right there- the math workshop, or writing workshop, or peer tutoring, or people like me.”
While that type of school may be appealing to many international student-athletes, there are two major obstacles Cosquer has to overcome in the recruitment process, namely Bates’ disadvantage in regards to name recognition and the school’s relatively small endowment. Cosquer commented that a majority of international families often base their college choice on name recognition, meaning that Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia attract top student-athletes rather easily. Bates has historically been overlooked by many international student-athletes for this reason. Yet Cosquer believes “having a two-time national champion and the number one player in college squash [Abdel Khalek] at this small little liberal arts school in Maine, they [international students] think, “Okay, there must be something to that place.”
Amongst the 11 schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), Bates had the smallest endowment in 2015, at approximately $264 million. That creates a significant challenge for Cosquer, since financial aid is often a concern for international student-athletes. Still, Dean James Reese, the Associate Dean of Students for International Student Programs and a highly influential figure in accommodating international students, noted that, “Bates is generous with need-based financial aid for all students, spending about $33 million each year on aid. Athletes, wherever they are from, must first be strong students, and then they are evaluated within the overall applicant pool, which is very competitive.” From Cosquer’s perspective, “I’ve been tasked with trying to balance American students with resources that are full pay with international students that have need. That’s not necessarily an out in the open situation, but that’s certainly the real life situation at Bates College. Our endowment is significantly lower than our peer institutions.”
Even with those difficulties, Cosquer knows that he just needs to convey the unique essence of Bates to attract student-athletes. For those international student-athletes who ultimately make the decision to attend Bates, Cosquer thinks, “it’s something that they saw in Bates College, whether it was what they’re going to study or who they talked to on the phone, whether that’s me or Dean Reese or somebody else. He’s been here for so long [39 years], he’s the professional with this. But there’s something that brought them to the school besides squash, because we know squash is important and it’s fun, but at the same time if all you want to do is play squash, then there’s a million different places you can do that.”
Of course, the transition from high school to college is generally difficult for any student. But the prospect of coming from outside the country to the small town of Lewiston, Maine is especially hard for the squash athletes who come from large cities such as Prague, Czech Republic, Cairo, Egypt, and Innsbruck, Austria.
“A lot of times they arrive scared, nervous, just like any first-year, to be perfectly honest,” Cosquer explained. Accompanying that nature of apprehension, the head coach explained with a smile, is generally, “what the hell did I get myself into?” That thought, which is in the minds of many first-years as they go through their first Commons and class experiences, takes some time to eventually subside, with the help of new friendships and ice-breaking experiences.
These experiences happen virtually right when the international student-athletes players step onto US soil. The squash coaching staff makes an effort to bring all the players together even before the school year typically starts. “We get everyone together as quickly as we can on September 3 or 4, right before school starts, in this building, and we talk about who we are,” Cosquer noted. “We talk about our differences, we talk about coming from different places, we acknowledge that, and that’s really important.” By understanding where everyone comes from and any differences or challenges they could potentially face, the team builds an early trust between all the players, both men and women.
While a lot is done among the players to ease the transition process, the coaching staff also has a significant influence, particularly Coach Cosquer himself. When the weather allows, it’s common for him to organize hikes (up Morse Mountain this year), followed by a staple in American culture, barbeques, typically occurring at his Cumberland-area residence. These activities, aside from introducing many of the foreign and domestic athletes to the Maine outdoors, also allow the players to “just chill out, get off campus” and help to build “a de facto place abroad, place away from campus.”
In the end, as the international players slowly transition to life at Bates, Cosquer hopes that these experiences not only help them become acclimated to Lewiston, but Maine and America in general. This support that Bates offers helps international student-athletes grow comfortable in an entirely new environment.
The support system that Bates College utilizes for all students in general is a huge factor after the initial transition to Bates life. Through assigning a Dean to individual groups of students (a policy that was enacted at the start of the 2015 academic year), Bates facilitates bridging the gap between extracurricular and academic life for many international squash players.
In supporting the international student-athletes on the squash team, Dean Reese echoes much of what Cosquer conveyed in his message about significant cultural differences.
Reese explained that, “We take an individual interest in each student, and assign each an advisor that they can reach out to for help at all hours on a number of situations.” Specifically, the College ensures that, “interaction with the advisor also addresses special situations, ranging from simple cultural differences to more major explanations of life in the U.S. that students need to know about.” The work that Dean Reese has done has made him a student favorite, as he invests extensive interest and care in each student as they adjust to life in the United States.
While there is significant administrative support for international students in general, the squash team specifically helps one another throughout their careers at Bates. As head coach, a priority for Cosquer is to not only better his players, but support them if need be. And while Cosquer certainly has an influence on the contingent of international players who call The Bates Squash Center on Alfred A. Plourde Parkway home, a lot of support happens with “the other students on the ground.”
The game of squash also helps support those whose mind may be elsewhere by giving them a chance to relieve stress and solely focus on the task ahead: winning matches.
Diversity at Bates
Both Reese and Cosquer tout the reciprocal benefits of having a diverse student population at Bates. Reese commented, “We believe strongly that there is always much to learn from everyone from the various societies, cultures, and experiences at Bates,” while Cosquer said, “I think the biggest benefit is not necessarily on the court, but on the educational side of the coin; not just Ahmed teaching [first-year] Coley Cannon about Egypt, but Coley Cannon teaching Ahmed about America.”
Early in his tenure at Bates, Cosquer recalls that his teams were mainly comprised of upper-middle class former tennis players from America. Despite the tensions that occasionally arise from differences in religious and political beliefs, he believes, regardless of athletic success, that Bates is “a better school when there are more kids from different backgrounds; forget about international, black, white, whatever- if we can support that at Bates, you’re going to be better educated, you’re going to be better prepared for the world.”
In college athletics, coaches from coast to coast certainly value the athletic achievements of their players. However, an underlying characteristic that coaches religiously harp on is the growth they see in the student as a person. At Bates College, the support students receive is an important factor in preparing them for life both during and after college. For the international students who make up a good portion of the student body, administrative support has given them opportunities outside the classroom, particular in the professional field.
The men’s and women’s squash teams at Bates are a unique group of student-athletes. With players from countries in Africa to the West Coast, becoming comfortable around one another does not happen overnight. But the support system that is in place at the College, coupled with the bonds and relationships that are built, makes the process much easier. Eventually, as Coach Cosquer hopes to move into different regions of the world like South Africa and Southeast Asia, these relationships will help mold the developing international identity of the team.
Ultimately, and most importantly, Cosquer explained that, “the glue that holds it together — maybe it’s me — but I think it’s the game of squash.”