On a typical day, the students of the Bush School zip from class to class, stopping by the student workroom to eat a quick lunch while they print a paper for class or read the last few pages of their required reading. The coursework is rigorous, and time is a commodity.
For second-year Master of Public Service and Administration student Jake Gibbons, that’s only part of the story. For four years, Gibbons has been a member of the Texas A&M swim team, which means on top of studying, reading textbooks, and writing papers, he arrives at the Texas A&M natatorium daily at 6 a.m. for swim practice, attends team meetings, and travels across the country for competitions.
“I think from a young age, swimming taught me the value of being organized and being disciplined,” Gibbons said. “I’ve been waking up at 6:00 a.m. since I was eight years old, so I’ve really learned to love that grind.”
After growing up in Connecticut, Gibbons’ family moved to Florida so he could attend an elite high school known for its swimming program. He was a teammate of Olympic gold medalists Ryan Murphy, Caeleb Dressel, and Joseph Schooling.
“That was my first real experience of winning as a team. Swimming can be a very individual sport, and in Connecticut, I’d always treated it that way,” Gibbons said. “But swimming at that high school and approaching it as a member of a team absolutely helped to prepare me for swimming in college.”
After graduating from high school, Gibbons committed to Yale and spent a year on the Yale swim team. Though he enjoyed the academic rigor, he said he eventually realized he wanted more than just a great education—he wanted a university that invested in athletics as well as academics.
Gibbons initially looked at Duke and the University of Virginia but eventually found himself on a visit to Texas A&M in College Station.
“I had never seen anything like it—in terms of the culture at Texas A&M,” Gibbons said. “I mean, Florida is in the south, but Texas is a whole different animal. I really felt at home. And in terms of the swim team, there was a real sense of family among the team members that I didn’t get at Yale. I instantly caught on that the guys really cared for each other.”
Gibbons majored in political science and in his junior year, enrolled in the Bush School’s unique 3+2 program, which allows students to earn both their bachelor’s and their master’s degrees in five years.
To add to his already considerable academic responsibilities, in his second year at the Bush School, Gibbons was voted captain of the men’s swim team and was elected Chair of the Southeastern Conference’s (SEC) Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). It’s a schedule and workload that would be exhausting for many.
“Swimming my whole life taught me the value of discipline, and the number of things I’m involved with this year is putting that to the test,” Gibbons laughed. “It’s a pretty grueling schedule, and if you’re not careful, the exhaustion side of it can catch you really quickly.”
As captain of the swim team, Gibbons is responsible for coordinating team communication, making sure his teammates stay in the loop, and coordinating service projects.
It’s his experience as Chair of the SAAC, however, that has changed Gibbons career plans most dramatically—and in a way that will allow him to take full advantage of his Bush School master’s degree.
“My plans have definitely been evolving,” Gibbons said. “For a long time, I was set on law school. But that was kind of sidetracked by this opportunity to represent A&M at the SEC level. I’ve met with all of the presidents of the SEC schools, I get to interact with athletes from different schools, I go to NCAA meetings, and I’ve just really fallen in love with the athletic administration side of things. And what’s funny is I didn’t realize at first that it coincides so perfectly with my public administration studies. And so all of a sudden, I’ve found all of these classes I’ve taken are incredibly useful when I’m meeting with people whose jobs are to administer public universities.”
The opportunity has also put Gibbons in close proximity to Texas A&M’s new Athletic Director, Robert Bjork, who has taken Gibbons under his wing. Gibbons’ new goal after graduating from the Bush School is to move into athletic administration.
“Jake was the first student-athlete that I met after being named the Director of Athletics here at Texas A&M,” Bjork said. “I could tell from that first encounter that he was a great leader, and Texas A&M Athletics is proud that he represents us as the Chair of the SEC SAAC. I look forward to seeing the amazing things that Jake will do in his future.”
Until graduation, however, Gibbons is determined to finish his time at the Bush School with a solid academic record.
“I’m excited about making the most of my last year here,” Gibbons said. “Having a more clear idea of the direction I want to go with a career makes the classes even more valuable to me. And I’m seeing that what I’m learning here is absolutely going to have a huge impact on how prepared I am for a career after graduation.”