It’s not often that you see a boxer sitting in a college classroom, but Joe Stray did just that before earning his degree from Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences in May. At just 22, Joe was a part-time SU student and the founder, president, and head coach of the Syracuse University Boxing Club. He also coached at Bally Total Fitness and is an amateur boxer for Ray Rinaldi out of West Area Athletic and Education Center. He hopes to someday get out of the ring and move to the front of the classroom, as a sociology teacher.
After graduating from Westhill High School in Syracuse in 2008, Joe enrolled at Onondaga Community College and earned an associate degree in Humanities. While at OCC, Joe couldn’t decide on a major course of study. Then he took SU Emeritus Professor Bruce Hare’s Introduction to Sociology class, and he was hooked. Hare was impressed with Stray’s scholastic and athletic proficiency, and recommended that he pursue part-time studies at SU through University College after completing his OCC degree.
“I was interested in career advancement and financial security,” says Joe about his decision to continue his education at SU. A UC Achiever Scholarship, which benefits students transferring to SU through UC with a minimum GPA of 3.3, helped make it affordable.
“Being middle class motivated me,” Stray explains. “I understand that my future isn’t secure—I don’t have a trust fund. My classes have given me self-awareness and a broad sociological perspective. I get a sense of liberation through studying, and applying what I learned at SU to everyday life makes me feel like my work and dedication paid off.” It did in a big way— Stray was inducted into the Alpha Kappa Delta international sociology honor society last spring.
The perks and challenges of balancing education and boxing were alternately rewarding and daunting. “The part-time pace let me enjoy both boxing and coaching. It helped me organize and develop my thoughts to focus on future achievements,” he says. “The biggest challenge now is figuring out what I will do with what I’ve made of myself—will I train for a professional debut, or stick with coaching? Or will I dismiss boxing and focus my attention on sociology?”
Stray’s future plan is to attend graduate school in sociology, but in the meantime he is keeping boxing alive on campus. He is still coaching the SU team, which is now a member of the U.S. Intercollegiate Boxing Association. “My newest venture is a proposal called Project Boxing, which would make boxing a varsity sport at SU,” Stray says. “It would give the sport a new dimension—helping young boxers access higher education and social mobility.”
Somehow, Joe finds the time to work as the conditioning coach for the Bishop Grimes Varsity football team, using boxing as a conditioning tool. And he reaches out to at-risk youth as an amateur boxer for Ray Rinaldi at the West Area Athletic and Education Center. “It is my hope that this can inspire others,” Joe says, reflecting on the question he often asks himself: “Now that I know what has been made of me, what am I going to do with it?”