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Augsburg alumni share their experience with current students.

Winning the long game

Meaningful, relevant workshops equip students to excel in the classroom, competition, and their careers

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Augsburg student-athletes dish up food at a buffet
Student-athletes kicked off evening workshops by dining together.

Student-athletes file past tables, stacking breadsticks on mounds of pasta, but this crew isn’t carb-loading for the next matchup. The nearly 550 students from Augsburg’s 19 sports teams are preparing to tackle Auggie Compass—a series of workshops and team-building exercises designed to inspire personal and professional success. After piloting the program in 2014-15, Augsburg Athletics recruited this year’s lineup of on- and off-campus partners to engage each class in issues relevant to each stage of their undergraduate lives.

Associate Athletic Director Kelly Anderson Diercks said the biannual series starts a conversation with student-athletes, then builds upon those themes each year as Auggies develop the confidence, expertise, and support networks they need to navigate known and unknown challenges during college and after graduation. For instance, first-year students discussed study skills, time management, and wellness, while seniors learned about financial planning, living their values, and networking techniques.

“When I moved into my first house, I didn’t know furnaces had filters, and that’s just one example of the many things I should’ve known—but didn’t—before graduation,” said Anderson Diercks, who spearheaded the program. “We developed Auggie Compass from the best aspects of similar programs and from conversations with our coaches, student-athletes, and alumni. Our students seem more aware of campus and community resources and better prepared to excel in the real world.”

Panel of alumni shares lessons from ‘professional lumps’

Among the spring event’s most popular sessions was a student-athlete alumni panel, “Not Where They Thought They’d Be,” which—as the title suggests—invited alumni to share lessons from their not-so-straight-or-smooth paths to personal and professional fulfillment. Mike Gallagher ’12 was among the four panelists asked “not to sugar coat” their transitions to the workforce.

“My first paid job out of college lasted 21 months before I was laid off with 25 percent of the company’s workforce, and that’s just one example of the professional lumps we shared,” said Gallagher, an academic advisor at Walden University and the on-air host/producer of Gopher Sports Update and MIAC Weekly. “Our stories reinforced that new graduates likely will have to do things they don’t enjoy as they work toward goals. But we encouraged them to channel the persistence and dedication they gained as athletes toward new challenges and to say ‘yes’ to any opportunity to better themselves or gain new skills.”

Gallagher, also a freelance sports broadcaster and emcee, talked openly about his path, which is a fairly common one: going to college with hopes of playing professional baseball, then realizing he wasn’t any better than his teammates. Then, struggling to find balance within the fun, demanding routine of workouts, competitions, classes, and life until he walked across the commencement stage and into a 9-to-5 job without the sport, the people, and the routine he’d always known. “It is, indeed, a huge wakeup call,” he said.

Augsburg student-athletes listen to alumni sharing stories
The Auggie Compass program encourages students to engage in conversation with their peers and community experts.

Women’s golfer Wendy Anderson ’17 was among the seniors who rotated through the panel discussion. The double major in music business and accounting said she valued sessions about financial planning and interviews, but the alumni panel resonated with her the most.

“I’m a type-A, perfectionist planner. Hearing their stories reassured me that I may not end up where I thought I might, but because of these types of sessions and my Augsburg experience, I’ll survive and hopefully have a fulfilling career,” she said. “I’m glad I attended sessions about fiscal responsibility, but workshops that encouraged us to consider our values and worth and to step outside our comfort zones were the most rewarding. Guidance from Auggie Compass sessions paired with the entirety of our experiences prepares us to achieve.”

Athletic Director Jeff Swenson ’79 is glad to hear student-athletes position Auggie Compass within the greater framework of their Augsburg education and athletic experience. The lessons and skills are interconnected, he said, strengthening one another.

“Our athletes learn to win and lose with class, to embrace leadership, and to play their role—whatever that may be—to achieve a shared goal,” said Swenson, who has been a member of the Augsburg community for more than 30 years as a student, coach, and administrator. “These are all great lessons for life after sports, and Auggie Compass builds upon what teams and coaches are already instilling. At our core, we are about community and supporting these fine student-athletes on their journey. Auggie Compass prepares them to carry that legacy out to the world.”

Augsburg student-athletes work together to solve a puzzle with yarn
Auggie Compass workshops target needs and issues specific to the phases in student-athletes’ academic and personal journeys. Each session builds upon the previous event, equipping Auggies with a deeper understanding of their values, career preparation, and wellness practices.

Building skills to navigate a complex environment

Mike Matson ’07 knows all about Augsburg’s core principles. They guided him through his time as one of the College’s top linebackers, then through seminary, and now in his role as an assistant director of leadership gifts at the College. Matson said Augsburg’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and community outfits students with empathy and poise to respectfully engage in meaningful conversations and authentic relationships. He talked with juniors about how to lead difficult conversations.

“We live in a complicated world with complex people and issues, and those who are able to have difficult conversations in a respectful manner advance progress and understanding,” said Matson, who also serves in the Navy Reserves and as chaplain for the Minneapolis Police Department. “Instead of talking at the students, we challenged them to work through case studies. I can’t say I was all that surprised at how well they handled themselves, but I was impressed with how willing they were to share vulnerabilities, speak about biases, and view situations through alternate perspectives. It was amazing to watch ‘community’ happen.”

Unified tournament puts principles to practice

Augsburg student-athletes play basketball and bean bag competitions with Special Olympics athletes
This spring, members of the junior class headed to the gym for basketball and bean bag competitions with Special Olympics athletes.

Student-athletes didn’t only talk about ideals, they practiced them. Juniors headed to the Si Melby gymnasium to compete alongside 40 Special Olympics athletes in basketball and bean bag toss competitions. Jennifer Jacobs, who organized the volunteer effort, said the tournament underscored Augsburg’s commitment to service and inclusion.

“We added [the unified competition] because civic engagement is one of the college’s co-curricular learning outcomes,” said Jacobs, then-assistant athletic director and assistant volleyball coach. “We decided to collaborate with Special Olympics because of an NCAA Division III partnership with the organization and because our ongoing involvement with the area chapter continually inspires our students.”

Student-athlete Cody Pirkl ’18 had never interacted with Special Olympics athletes before the Auggie Compass event this spring. Initially, the baseball player had not been excited about the obligation on what otherwise would have been a free night. But as he said goodbye to Special Olympics teammates, the social work major said it felt like parting with dear friends.

“We, as college athletes, become so focused on our own goals and everyday lives that we forget how rewarding it is to give back to others,” Pirkl said. “Our involvement with Special Olympics shines Augsburg’s positive light on our broader community, but it also gives us meaningful perspective. Watching the Special Olympics athletes’ pure love of the game reminded me how lucky I am and how much I love to play.”

Pirkl said he and his teammates took a lot away from the mix of formats and engaging activities. That active structure was intentional, Anderson Diercks explained, as presenters played to student-athletes’ competitive nature.

“For years, we had brought wonderful, inspiring speakers to campus once or twice a year to talk with students about hot topics or enduring life-after-college lessons,” Anderson Diercks said. “Although these experts offered great perspective and information, the format was a challenge, and we were never able to cover as many of the topics as we would have liked. The new Auggie Compass format allows us to engage each class in specific topics to prepare them for the next year and beyond. We can more easily adjust based on student feedback, and it’s a nice way to highlight our alumni and campus experts as well as celebrate community partnerships and resources.”

First-year students learned techniques to manage stress and practice mindfulness.
In September, first-year students learned techniques to manage stress and practice mindfulness.

Celebrating mindfulness and meditation

One such resource is Jermaine Nelson, a meditation and mindfulness coach and yoga instructor. The former athlete urged students to seek mind-body connections as they strive to be more present. He also reminded them to give themselves grace during transitions and various phases of life.

“It’s so easy for student-athletes to continue to eat and sleep how they did in college without the same level of activity, and then they look up one day and realize they are out of shape and out of sync,” Nelson said. “It’s important to anticipate, on the field and in life, so that you avoid injury and prepare for the next phase of your life.”

Nelson wasn’t expecting to, but looking out at the dozens of student-athletes reminded him of his nephew, and Nelson got personal. His nephew was a promising college recruit, with plans to play in the NBA, but he broke down from all the pressure.

“I wish he would have had a program like this when he was in school,” Nelson said. “Imagine all the heartache and recovery he would have avoided had he been offered the tools to cope and achieve without grinding himself into the ground. I worked with him, and he’s on a good path now, but it took a while. If Auggies can practice these techniques now, they’ll succeed.”

Nelson’s talk reinforced some of the themes presented by Augsburg’s Center for Wellness and Counseling.

For example, counselor Jon Vaughan-Fier and Beth Carlson, the center’s assistant director, co-facilitated “Becoming Resilient to Stress,” which challenged student-athletes to assess what drains them and to identify ways to recharge. In addition to discussing the importance of sleep, nutrition, and meaningful relationships—among other topics—students engaged in yoga, mindful breathing, and relaxation strategies.

During the Compass program’s pilot year, the entire CWC staff also presented on a range of topics related to wellbeing, including body image, depression, healthy choices, and stress management, which Vaughan-Fier said is critically important for today’s overly busy student-athletes.

“To emphasize the connection to sports and improved performance, we showed testimonials from Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russel Wilson about his ‘one play at a time’ mindset and New York Knicks President Phil Jackson’s philosophy of ‘one breath, one mind,’” Vaughan-Fier said. “We hope these tools help student-athletes as they strive to incorporate self-care practices into daily life.”

According to a 2015 health survey, the top stressors among Augsburg students are: a death or serious illness of someone close, conflicts with roommates, parental conflict, and the end of a personal relationship. Director of the counseling center, Nancy Guilbeault, said the opportunity to interact with student-athletes about these and other topics is a proactive way to introduce the center’s role and resources.

“Mental health and GPA are linked, and they affect your performance,” she said. “We want to make sure these student-athletes are working on their physical, mental, and spiritual health and wellbeing. These sessions provide an overview and tips, but we also encourage them to follow up with one-on-one or group support.”

Chuckie Smith ’17listens at the workshop on financial planning.
As a senior, Chuckie Smith ’17 took part in Auggie Compass workshops on financial planning, job search strategies, living authentically, and a variety of other topics.

Financial stressors, professional communications among top concerns

A key barrier to wellness, Guilbeault said, is stress related to finances—a worry that plagues many students, particularly student-athletes who might not have the time to hold a job or internship. To build upon the counseling center’s session, Auggie Compass introduced a practical question-and-answer session with Tommy Redae ’09 MBA, a treasury management sales consultant and vice president of Middle Market Banking for Wells Fargo in Minneapolis.

“Talking with upper-class students, I focused on the importance of budgeting and managing credit for a healthy financial future,” Redae said. “I shared several of the many online tools and apps to help them stick to a budget and monitor credit for suspicious or fraudulent activities.”

Also in the category of practical and purposeful guidance, Auggie Compass enlisted faculty mentors Carol Enke and Shana Watters to offer best practices for professional communications. The pair broke student-athletes into groups to review and assess emails students sent professors, many of them lacking clarity, starting with an informal “hey,” or displaying accusatory language.

“Research shows that people read emails more negatively than intended, and therefore, communicating effectively in this medium reduces ambiguity and negative perceptions,” Watters said. “The students did a great job of improving the emails, and we hope they will apply the guidance we shared to communicate with professionals now and in the future.”

Program reinforces Augsburg’s mission, commitment to students

The blend of practical knowledge and conceptual, creative exploration reflects Augsburg’s care for and commitment to student-athletes, and it supports community-building across teams and among coaches, said Swenson. This year, the program added a track for coaches that focused on situational leadership, social media training, and a DiSC® behavioral assessment inventory.

“We’re not offering Auggie Compass to check off the ‘personal development box,’” Swenson said. “The program was developed by former collegiate players, thinking about what they wished they would have known, so that our student-athletes can have more tools to reach for as they strive for success.”

The creation and evolution of Auggie Compass embodies some of the innovation, self-reflection, and grit the program aims to instill. Anderson Diercks said organizers continue to have conversations with student-athletes, alumni, and experts to align sessions with players’ needs and to reflect the latest trends and topics. As a former athlete turned furnace-filter-changing adult, she knows greatness doesn’t come from perfection but from the drive to keep playing until you get it right.

Top image [L to R]: At an Auggie Compass event, panelists Mike Gallagher ’12, Katie Jacobson ’11, and Dan Brandt ’11 spoke to students about the journey from college to their careers.

Photos by Courtney Perry and Don Stoner

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