Office tailored for student-athlete ease

Tiff Clements

Like many graduating University students, finance senior Jimmer Dorweiler is in the midst of a job search.

Dorweiler, a member of the varsity swimming and diving team, was prepping for a job interview late one night when he realized he needed help.

“I was looking at my résumé again and I had a question,” he said.

So, at 9:40 on a Thursday night, Dorweiler phoned Anissa Lightner, assistant life skills coordinator at the Changing Athletes’ Minds for Personal Success/Life Skills office.

“We live a little different lifestyle,” Lightner said. “If our students need us on the weekend or they need us at night, they know that they can call us because we’re here to help them.”

The CHAMPS/Life Skills office, housed in Bierman Field Athletic Building, offers career advising and community outreach tailored to the needs and busy schedules of University student-athletes.

Director of the office Peyton N. Owens III said student-athletes often don’t have time to seek out the assistance available to all students on campus.

“Having a resource that’s in-house in a building or facility that they come to all the time, we can really make sure we are able to get them,” he said. “The average student is on campus all the time, but our students are in Bierman just as much, if not more so, than being out on campus.”

The NCAA created CHAMPS/Life Skills in 1991 and today more than 540 universities nationwide participate in the program designed to help student-athletes focus on total personal development including school work, community service and careers.

The program has been at the University since 1996 and exclusively serves the nearly 750 student-athletes on the Twin Cities campus.

CHAMPS/Life Skills offers services similar to those offered in the Career and Community Learning Center, including résumé reviews, mock interviews and placement in community service opportunities.

Owens said first-year student-athletes are required to take a course that introduces them to campus and the services provided by his office.

“It starts with the class,” he said. “But then it begins to develop into them coming in, sitting down with us, sharing with us what their career goals and personal goals are, and we really look to take steps towards that.”

Student-athletes keep in contact on an at-will basis and through required programming to connect them to the greater-campus community.

They are required to attend a specified number of University programs, often information sessions about degree programs or community involvement programs.

“Sometimes you can get really comfortable here in Bierman; you have your place to work out, a place for training, you have a place to study,” Lightner said. “So we’re really trying to help them get out and meet more people on campus.”

The office also connects students to the Minneapolis community.

Varsity baseball outfielder Taylor VanderAarde said he took a career exploration class several years ago, but doesn’t think he would have sought out further help from career service offices on campus.

The sports management graduate student volunteers his time reading to elementary school students.

“I wouldn’t have been reading in schools without Anissa,” he said.

Faculty representative for athletics Linda Brady said since Owens took the position as director of the office just over a year ago, she has seen a positive change in the program.

“There was nothing wrong before, but I think it needed the leadership,” she said. “They have really beefed it up to be a super program.”

Lightner said she has seen her work impact a number of students in her six years with the program.

“I’ve had a chance to see students when they started their first day of school to the point where they come back and say ‘Anissa, I got my first job,’ ” she said. “And that’s just so rewarding to me.”