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Basketball player Matthew Pegram

LevelUp

New project gives Wofford student-athletes a competitive advantage in life.

In the spring President Nayef Samhat (now serving on the NCAA Division I national board of directors) charged a group from the college with taking the best of Wofford’s high-impact practices and adapting them to fit the complicated schedules of student-athletes. 

In response, Wofford has created the LevelUp Project, a program that differentiates the college and gives student-athletes a competitive advantage as they prepare for the workplace or graduate school. The four-year program offers professional development and entrepreneurial skills training, paid study-abroad and internship experiences, and opportunities to lead, engage civically and mentor younger LevelUp participants.

“The NCAA offered colleges and universities a one-time special distribution for programming, and Wofford decided to use it to create this incredible opportunity that will help our student-athletes succeed in life,” says Elizabeth Wilkes Rabb ’01, assistant athletics director for compliance. Rabb explains that the NCAA has provided enough funding from its endowment so the college can sustain the program through 2025. Eventually Wofford hopes to endow the initiative, which could very well be a model program for other colleges and universities.

The inaugural class includes 20 current student-athletes. After four years, a total of 80 student-athletes will benefit from this opportunity, and the benefit is substantial. 

A 2015 study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that students who work a paid internship during college average $11,000 per year more in their first jobs than students without the same work experience. Students who have studied abroad can expect an average first-year salary boost of $6,000, and liberal arts graduates who have mastered entrepreneurial thinking experience the same $6,000 initial salary benefit.

“Our student-athletes already offer so much. They know how to fail and recover quickly. They’re coachable and take criticism well. They’re open to try new things,” says Rebecca Parker ’11, internships and employer relations director with The Space in the Mungo Center. “Adding the skill set that they will gain through the LevelUp Project, and they will be even more marketable in the workplace, medical school, law school ... really in any area.”

Parker; Rabb; Amy Lancaster ’01, dean of international programs; and Curt McPhail ’96, executive director of The Space, are the college’s LevelUp Project leaders. In addition to holding monthly group meetings, speaker events or trainings for LevelUp participants, each also mentors and meets individually with cohort members.

Recruits who come into the program as first-year students begin professional development and entrepreneurial skills training. They will create resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn pages and practice their interviewing skills. They will meet graduated student-athletes, who were once sitting in their seats, and maybe find inspiration from their successes. This training extends all four years.

In year two the cohort will share an academic experience with a two-week study abroad component added during Interim or at the end of the spring semester. 

“For example, the group may take a class on African art during the spring, then right after the semester is over leave for a two-week study-abroad experience in Africa,” says Parker.

According to Rabb, by year three, to meet NCAA regulations, student-athletes must declare a major. Staff in The Space in the Mungo Center will guide them as they secure paid internships.

“During the fourth year they will bring the culmination of their experiences back to campus as LevelUp leaders and mentors,” says Rabb. Year four also will mean additional networking and professional development opportunities in preparation for graduation. “All of this is available to the student body as well. Any student can take the classes, hear the speakers, study abroad and secure their own internship. The difference is the college is paying for these opportunities for our student-athletes using designated NCAA resources.”

Da’Ja Green ’21, a native of Morrow, Ga., and student-athlete on the women’s basketball team, is most excited about the paid internship and study-abroad experience. 

“A lot of employers are more attracted to individuals who have participated in paid internships. Also studying abroad was always something I wanted to do but didn’t think I’d have the time,” she says. 

Both Green and Catie Cronister ’20, a student-athlete on the volleyball team from Chicago, Ill., chose Wofford because it offered rigorous academics and competitive NCAA Division I athletics. They didn’t choose Wofford because of the LevelUp Project, but both say it’s going to make their Wofford experience even better.

“Student-athletes often get so caught up in all the things they have to do at a certain moment that they don’t take full advantage of what Wofford can do for them,” says Cronister. “This new program will make sure that student-athletes are able to think about their futures with extra guidance.”

 

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89