Elmar Schutte

South Africa native graduating from AU with some big goals

Published on April 29, 2024
Transfer Students

Elmar Schutte will graduate with two big goals he hopes Ashland University will help him accomplish.

Schutte will receive his master’s degree in education: curriculum and instruction in the 21st century during AU’s commencement ceremony Saturday, May 4 at the Niss Athletic Center.

“What I want to do is write a preschool curriculum in South Africa,” the South African native said about one of his goals. “We don’t have a very established preschool curriculum, so I want to establish an official preschool curriculum.”

The second goal?

“He has a tremendous desire to make the Olympics,” said Denny Steele, pole vault coach for AU’s men’s track and field team.

With the next Olympics in Paris this summer, Schutte hopes to represent South Africa there as a pole vaulter.

Better chance to make Olympics representing South Africa than the U.S.

“I know I can (make the Olympics),” Schutte said. “I just need a couple of good meets, hopefully, with good weather conditions and getting on the right pole I can do what I know I can do and I can reach the standard: 5.82 (meters), which is close to 19 feet.

“If you get the standard you automatically go to the Olympics,” Schutte added. “About 10 to 12 get the standard and they usually take 32 to the Olympics. Then it’s based on world rankings.”

How South Africa decides to send athletes to the Olympics isn’t based solely on one meet like the U.S. does, but rather a series of other requirements, including reaching a certain standard.

So, Schutte has a better chance of making the Olympics than many U.S. pole vaulters. Only the top three pole vaulters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in late June will represent America in France in late July and early August.

The best Schutte has ever jumped is 18 feet, which he did in South Africa at the University of Pretoria. However, that wasn’t at an official meet, and he said he had gone even higher in practice at Pretoria.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in education and competed for the University of Pretoria’s track and field team but could not afford to pursue his academic career further there based on economic issues.

South Africa’s downturn in the economy hit his parents hard. He said his father lost his landscaping business and his mother saw the enrollment at the private preschool she runs drop significantly. Because of that, they haven’t been able to visit America to see their son, who said he had to come to the U.S. for a track scholarship to continue his post-secondary education.

“I never thought I would be in America. I’m a very patriotic citizen of South Africa,” Schutte said. “I was pretty much forced to come to America to finish my master’s degree.”

When he said his Division I eligibility ran out at the college in Texas he was attending, Schutte said he started looking at Division II schools and found Ashland.

Elmar Schutte
Transferring to Ashland University was a smooth process

AU Senior Academic Advisor Eddie Benedetto greatly helped make sure transferring to Ashland went smoothly and he could graduate this spring, Schutte said.

Benedetto said he has been impressed with how well Schutte has done at AU both academically and athletically while also working about 20 hours a week at the Rec Center.

“He is a straight ‘A’ student and dedicated to pursuing a doctorate in education or Ph.D program,” Benedetto said. “He takes a full schedule as a graduate student while excelling on the track team.”

Having a doctorate or Ph.D title, as well as the knowledge that comes with the education for those, will make it easier for him to try to establish a preschool curriculum through the South African government, Schutte said. The only preschools in the country are private like the one his mother runs.

If he can establish a government preschool curriculum, Schutte said that will help improve South Africa’s elementary education.

“I did a study on how much of an affect a lack of schooling can have on a preschool child, and it is huge,” Schutte said.

While preschool isn’t required in the U.S., the country has preschools available to students through school systems so it’s more affordable to families.

In addition to his mother working in education, Schutte’s grandmother was a math teacher, his grandfather was a lecturer at a teaching college and his father also did some lecturing at a college before getting into landscaping.

“So, it’s very much in the family,” said Schutte, who hasn’t decided yet where he will earn a doctorate or Ph.D. and is looking for graduate internships for funding. He plans to stay in America for that additional schooling and for two years after that to gain practical education experience before returning to South Africa.

Elmar Schutte
Foot injury has hindered Schutte’s pole vaulting

While his academics have flourished in America, his pole vaulting hasn’t been quite as successful so far. His best vault in America has been 17 feet, 8 inches and at Ashland it has been 16-11.

A serious foot injury has hindered much of his pole vaulting in the U.S. It started in October 2022 with a stress fracture in his left foot and turned into a break by January.

“It was a gradual injury,” Schutte said. “At first, I didn’t think it was a serious injury and trained through it. It hurt, but nothing crazy.

“So, a six-week injury became a six-month injury,” he added. “I couldn’t walk for six months and even had to use a wheelchair.”

Steele, who has coached Katie (Nageotte) Moon, the women’s pole vault gold medalist at the 2021 Olympics when the 2013 AU graduate was at Ashland, said Schutte has the potential to also make the Olympics, but maybe not until the 2028 ones in Los Angeles because he still isn’t at 100% from the foot injury.

“He has the size (6-5) and the desire,” Steele said. “It is a huge advantage to be his size. He really only needs his technique tweaked a little to truly be on the world stage. He has all the credentials, but his injury has gotten in the way.”

Despite the adversity, fellow sophomore AU pole vaulter Garrett Baker said Schutte has stayed positive.

“Elmar is a very encouraging teammate/friend, and is also a great training partner who likes to push the limits,” Baker said.

Baker not only has pushed him to improve, he’s also helped him enjoy pole vaulting again, Schutte said.

“For the longest time I saw it more as a job, and his advice was so simple, but it made a big difference. He just told me to start having fun,” Schutte said. “When I started having fun, my heights improved. I sometimes forget that pole vaulting is so much fun.”

Schutte also said he is very appreciative of Steele, whom he said knows so much about pole vaulting and teaches him something about the sport every day.

Helping greatly with his other big goal of improving South African education has been AU Associate Professor of Education Cathryn Chappell, Ed.D, his master thesis advisor, Schutte said.

Chappell said she has admired Schutte’s dedication and enthusiasm.

“His goals are high, and he is willing to jump to reach them,” she said. “When he expressed an interest in earning a Ph.D., I suggested that he do a master’s thesis instead of an inquiry capstone to present the strongest case for admission into a program. He jumped at the chance, and he has been working on this endeavor along with his other studies and his preparation to try to make the Olympics.

“I see him reaching great heights in his future,” she added.