The first hurdle
Former student-athletes say their training made this leap easy.
By Chris Jenkins
To an outside observer of college athletics this may come as a surprise. To the current student-athlete spending road trips in the back of the bus reviewing handwritten note cards to prepare for a test, it may be hard to see right now. But to recently graduated student-athletes it is obvious: Playing college sports can give you a leg up in the working world.
Having spent four years doing everything it takes to compete in Division I sports while going to classes, managing time, working in groups and performing under pressure, former Golden Eagles find team building and career building aren’t really so different.
“When there is pressure, it kind of teaches you not to be afraid of it or shy away from it, but lean in, lean forward and go toward it,” says former women’s tennis player Christina Ruiz, Bus Ad ’11, now an IT sourcing leader at GE Healthcare in Milwaukee. “That’s what we’ve done our whole careers. I was able to balance my time, prioritize and maintain the grades that I had. Leaning on that teamwork, communication, different challenges, it was really valuable. And in the workplace they respect that.”
College sports can be a great training ground for future employees. That may not be immediately obvious to the average fan, says Bill Scholl, Marquette’s vice president and director for athletics. “I think if an employer understands what varsity student-athletes, particularly at a major level like this, what their day looks like, what their week looks like, what they accomplish here — it is truly off the charts,” Scholl says. “We have to do a better job of educating the public about the incredible demands of the college athletic experience.”
Multitasking, making the most of every minute, is a way of life for student-athletes who may at times be spotted running to class directly from the practice field.
“Sweaty, didn’t get to take a shower because we literally ran to class from the workout, exhausted, trying to pay attention,” is how former men’s tennis player Daniil Mamalat, Bus Ad ’14, remembers those days. “I’m there with a towel, trying not to look like a complete mess. And then we have another practice, and have to be in the training room every day. It’s like 8 o’clock at night and, well, I’ve got an exam tomorrow. I definitely think it helps in that aspect, work ethic and time management, because that’s crucial in the working world.”
When they were students, Mamalat and John Mau, Bus Ad ’14, commiserated over how few hours of sleep they’d get. “We’re having to plan our day from like 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. When are we going to get food? When are we going to nap? When are we going to study? You’re planning your whole week out,” remembers Mau, a former men’s soccer player.
In addition to course work and athletics commitments, Mau and Mamalat applied for internships. Mau interned at Rockwell Automation, often driving to the company’s Milwaukee headquarters at 5 a.m. to get some work done before his morning practice at Valley Fields. Mamalat interned at Robert W. Baird & Co., and had remote computer access that allowed him to log in and do his work from hotel rooms when the team traveled.
Mau was grateful for the flexibility. “They wanted us there and they wanted us involved, which is an absolute blessing,” he says. “They saw that we were putting out a quality product.”
Today Mau and Mamalat are employees of Rockwell Automation and part of the company’s leadership development program — a sure sign the multitasking paid off.
“It definitely helps with the projects and all the workload that we have at Rockwell,” Mau says. “It helps us balance our days. It really alleviates some of the initial stress because we’ve been in an environment like that.” Adds Mamalat: “It almost seems like it’s easier in some ways because of that.”
Former women’s volleyball player Rachel Stier, Comm ’14, remembers making the most of team road trips. “Every girl would have some sort of homework out at all times,” says Stier, now a solutions account associate at HON Co., an office furniture manufacturer in Muscatine, Iowa. “Same goes at airports. We got pretty good about sitting on planes and using every bit of time you had to study. You became good about it. You learned things that you can do without your computer. Even making note cards — you can just have them in your pocket.”
Former women’s lacrosse player Jennifer Zandlo, Bus Ad ’14, has similar memories. “There were times I remember going through flashcards on the back of the bus, trying to stay awake, knowing that you have an exam the next day,” says Zandlo, who now works at Advantage International, a branding and marketing agency in Norwalk, Conn.
Employers spot the edge
The connection between Marquette athletics and the business world might be most evident at Rockwell. A cornerstone of Milwaukee’s business community, the Fortune 500 company that specializes in industrial automation and information did $6.62 billion in global sales in fiscal year 2014 and employs approximately 22,500 people.
In addition to Mau and Mamalat, Rockwell’s roster features engineering grad Cheldon Brown, Eng ’14. The former member of the men’s track and field team now works as a network and security engineer. Former men’s golfer Ryan Prickette, Eng ’12, is in Rockwell’s associate engineer leadership development program.
The multiple Marquette hires are no coincidence. Mike Dubinski, a senior human resources representative for the global supply chain division of Rockwell Automation, says student-athletes have characteristics Rockwell looks for in employees. “I think that being a student-athlete, they develop a natural sense of leadership,” Dubinski says. “It’s definitely an attribute we like to see in our employees. We like to see employees own their own careers and win opportunities for themselves rather than wait for things to happen for them.”
Dubinski also sees former student-athletes excelling at problem-solving and handling pressure.
“I think they’ve had success in the past,” Mau says, referring to other former Marquette student-athletes who were hired by Rockwell. “And I know, at least when I’ve had my discussions with HR, they kind of say, ‘Oh, you’re another student-athlete.’ It seems like a major draw for them.”
The Rockwell example shows that networking among former student-athletes can be valuable. “I think the M Club can be a tremendous resource to our student-athletes as they go through the process,” says Scholl. “They’ve all done it themselves. They’ve left here, gone out into the world and learned what it’s all about. They can really help each generation of Marquette student-athletes.”
Though their prime playing days may be behind them, former student-athletes cherish the friendships forged and lessons learned in competition. “I’ve been pleased with where I’ve been so far in my career and where I see it going,” says Ruiz, “and I think I owe a lot of that — like 90 percent of that — to my experience with tennis and college athletics and what they taught me.”
The not-so-typical day of a student-athlete
Daniil Mamalat — Men’s tennis
6 a.m. Morning conditioning
8 a.m. Class
11 a.m. Weights
1 p.m. Physical therapy and practice
2 p.m. More practice
4:30 p.m. Shower and eat
6 p.m. Study
John Mau — Men’s soccer
5 a.m. Work remotely / Rockwell Automation
6 a.m. Practice at Valley Fields
8:30 a.m. Injury prevention/treatment
9:30 a.m. Work at Rockwell
12:30 p.m. Class and lunch
3 p.m. Work remotely and homework
5:30 p.m. Weights
6:30 p.m. Study hall and dinner
8:30 p.m. Tutoring students on campus
10:30 p.m. Prepare for next day