Berkeley Today Stories

Berkeley College Alexander Loniakan

Berkeley College Athletes Excel in the Classroom and on the Court



Berkeley College Athletes


Rachel Thomas knows what it means to multitask.

During her time at Berkeley College, the alumna was an award-winning player for the women’s basketball team and worked full time as the Night Security Supervisor at a residency for the developmentally disabled.

The Brooklyn, NY, resident also was a scholar. She regularly made the Dean’s List and completed her Bachelor’s degree in Justice Studies – Criminal Justice through the T.O.P. Scholars program, which offers students from other colleges a scholarship toward their Bachelor’s degree at Berkeley College, based on GPA.

“During the basketball season, it was a challenge to balance my studies, work and athletics because not only did I have exams, papers and studying, but also my team needed me on the court,” Ms. Thomas said. “I always found a way to make it through.”

What helped Ms. Thomas succeed was the culture of the Berkeley College athletics program, which encourages athletes to excel both in the classroom and on the court.

“We refer to our athletes as scholar-athletes, not student athletes,” said Brian Maher, who served as Berkeley College Athletic Director before transitioning to Career Services. “We set the bar high and our athletes know that their academic success takes priority over their athletic success.”

This strategy has been successful, with players on both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the men’s soccer team, being named to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) All-Academic team for their exemplary academic achievements.

Alexander Loniakan, a senior guard on the men’s basketball team, received USCAA All-Academic honors in both 2012 and 2013. His high GPA has earned him a spot on the Berkeley College President’s List every quarter of his college career.

“Most people don’t understand how difficult it is to be competitive on and off the court,” Mr. Loniakan said. “You have to sacrifice a lot to achieve your dreams.”

For Mr. Loniakan, these sacrifices included leaving his home in Gothenburg, Sweden, when he was 19 years old and traveling to New York City to pursue a degree in International Business at Berkeley College.

“I have short-term and long-term goals,” he said. “Basketball can only get me to a certain stage. Hopefully when my basketball career is over, I will be able to work globally as a successful businessman because I love to travel and experience new cultures.”

For some Berkeley College athletes, the goals were closer to home.

Gary Williams Jr., a senior guard who received USCAA All-American Honorable Mention in 2013, completed his studies at Berkeley College over the summer. The Jersey City, NJ, resident was the first in his family to graduate from college. Mr. Williams excelled on the court and kept up with his schoolwork while working the overnight shift for the United States Postal Service.

“I want to be a role model for my younger brothers and nephews so that when their time comes they will finish college just like I did,” said Mr. Williams.

Mr. Maher attributes the success of Berkeley College’s scholar-athletes to the motto “Win the Classroom, Win the Game, Win at Life.”

“It means nothing if we win championships and our athletes don’t complete their degrees or don’t achieve the same level of success in their careers,” he said. “Our athletic program engages our students to ensure their eventual success once they leave Berkeley College.”