Career Development Night Opens Doors for Kansas Student-Athletes
LAWRENCE, Kan. – It wasn’t that long ago that Nikki Woolfolk (then Nikki Maples) was a member of the Kansas swimming and diving team, nearing the completion of her degree as a communications and marketing major, but with little idea what to do next. Soon the regimented days of practice, weights, class, study hall, more practice and training table would give way to…well, she wasn’t really sure, but it was coming fast. Thankfully, Woolfolk had athletics academic advisor Laura Jacobsen, who helped her connect with a professor, who in turn helped her connect with a career.
Woolfolk returned to KU’s athletic facilities Monday night, giving back of sorts, as one of nearly 50 organizations and 40 former student-athletes, trying to help connect current Kansas Jayhawks with career opportunities during KU Leads’ annual Career Development Night in the Booth Hall of Athletics.
“This wasn’t around when I was here, I wish it would have been,” said Woolfolk, a 2008 Kansas graduate who now works as a senior recruiter at Payless in Topeka. “I had no idea what I wanted to do. Laura was my advisor in athletics, and really encouraged me to talk to my professors if I had a class that I liked and see what kind of organizations they were involved in. I did that and had a professor in communications that told me I’d really like human resources, I might really like recruiting. She introduced me to an organization in this field and I went to a couple of meetings and loved it, so here I am.”
Jacobsen’s influence on Woolfolk and other student-athletes under her charge has opened many doors of opportunity and Monday night’s event, as it has been for the last several years, was KU Leads effort to do the same for all student-athletes on a large scale. The career fair and networking event followed a Career Bootcamp from a week ago, designed to prep participants for career fairs, interviews and other networking appearances. Among the topics addressed were proper business attire, what to bring and developing the student-athlete’s elevator pitch.
The timing of the athletics event also falls before several major career fairs on campus, serving as further preparation for student-athletes looking to go pro in something other than their respective sport. Monday night, a diverse group of companies were offering part-time, full-time and internship opportunities, like NASCAR, the Federal Reserve Bank, Kansas Highway Patrol, Koch Industries, UPS and Woolfolk’s Payless ShoeSource.
“An event like this gives athletes an opportunity to work around their schedule,” Woolfolk said. “A lot of career fairs, for whatever reason, you can’t attend – this is critically important. And it gives student-athletes a chance to see a lot of different employers in the area, get a lot of different ideas.
“With Payless, specifically, a lot of people just think its retail and they don’t realize that our corporate headquarters are right here in Topeka. Having the opportunity to meet those supply chain students, meet those marketing students, meet those finance students and introduce them to us. One of the things student-athletes like is that coaching and mentoring, and we get it all the time, constantly. Sometimes you miss out on that in the career area and an event like this gives a feel for what it’s really like.”
In a similar place to Woolfolk eight years ago, Kansas track and field senior Greg Lupton entered the Booth Hall of Athletics Monday night with a nearly completed degree (general studies) and not much in the way of future plans. His focus has been largely on contributing a memorable finals season in pole vault for the Jayhawks, but the Houston, Texas native put on his best suit and worked the room to the best of his ability.
“The opportunity, the employers, it’s a great opportnity to network and get your name and face out there,” Lupton said about attending. “Sending resumes online is about as bland as it gets. Being able to meet people face-to-face, get to know them and who they work for, is a great opportunity that I didn’t want to miss.”
A first timer at the event, Lupton was one of more than 100 student-athletes who filled the Hall of Athletics and left with some promising leads, including one company he thought was pretty unique and another he’d been told might be a good fit, with a good training program. The business and human resource equivalent of speed dating, the career fair was admittedly intimidating to Lupton, who makes a regular habit of launching himself more than 17 feet in the air. Knowing there were several former student-athletes on the other end like Woolfolk was helpful.
“This whole event is a little nerve-wracking because you want to present yourself the best you can,” Lupton said. “The perspective that they were once here and are here to help us, that kind of calms the nerves a little bit.
Woolfolk, a human resources professional, in turn believes student-athletes have some intrinsic qualities that make them an attractive group to consider for open positions.
“We’re open to feedback, which a lot of people are really resistant to,” Woolfolk said. “We’ve been coached our whole lives – sometimes that coaching comes in a nice way, sometimes it comes in a nasty way – and people are really open to that. It makes you very attractive to a solid manager who can coach you, that you can take the feedback and do something with it instead of being offended or getting your feelings hurt.
“Also, we’re very driven and know what hard work is. We know what it’s like to be on a hard schedule – its OK to be tired, you just have to suck it up and get over it. Between being driven and able to take feedback, that’s critical because if you’re both of those things – you want to be really good and you can take coaching – then you can really grow and be a strong employee and employers really focus on that.”
KU Leads believes student-athletes should utilize their competitive spirit developed in their sport and transfer that competitive mindset to their professional career to compete everywhere. KU Leads encourages Kansas student-athletes to participate in university career development initiatives alongside KU Leads student-athlete career development activities because they are specifically designed to utilize their unique sport experience. KU leads offers a career development experience available for all student-athletes. Career development activities are woven in each year of the student-athlete experience to offer a yearly progressive development.
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