South Carolina student-athletes have a chance to gain valuable work experience in their chosen field thanks to a new program launched by the Athletics Department titled “Beyond Sports.” The new summer professional development and internship program is part of the Gamecock Promise.
“As part of our mission, student-athletes who come to the University of South Carolina should be given the means to excel in all phases of their intercollegiate experience, whether it be on the fields or courts, in the classroom or in the community,” Athletics Director Ray Tanner said. “Our ‘Beyond Sports’ professional development and internship program will assist student-athletes for future success outside the fields of competition by giving them real-world experiences in their academic interests. We are excited to begin this program that will give our student-athletes the tools necessary to achieve greatness in whatever field they choose.”
“This really shows that our athletics department is doing all that it can to make sure that we succeed, not only while we’re in school, but when we graduate,” said senior softball student-athlete Nickie Blue, who will intern with the Columbia Fireflies baseball team. “I really appreciate the effort that the University has put into these opportunities for our lives after school.”
Beyond Sports is a professional development and summer internship program for South Carolina student-athletes that includes interviews, educational professional development programming, group projects, and paid internship experiences funded by the Gamecock Club. There are also unpaid internships with Beyond Sports community partners. One of the main goals is to provide student-athletes with a meaningful professional development and work experience, while also helping them to be better prepared for professional life after college.
“It’s a big deal because of the broad based nature of the program,” said Senior Associate Athletics Director Chris Rogers. “It is as much about the professional development as it is about the actual internship. We want to give student-athletes an experience where they are not just working 20 hours a week at an internship. We want to do some programming and outside events where we can put them in professional situations that they can learn from and take those experiences with them to their first job interview or job and apply what they’ve learned in the professional work place.”
“This is a fantastic opportunity for the student-athletes to learn about things that will guide them in their future endeavors,” said Matt Morrison, internship coordinator with the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, which is one the Beyond Sports community partners. “I want to get the vitality of the youth involved with the agency, and I want the interns to learn about their futures and get a good understanding for what they need to do to take the next step.”
“I want to go to physical therapy school, and I’m going to need a lot of shadowing hours. I don’t have a lot of opportunities during the year that other students have because of what I do with the team and with classes.”Meredith Vay, Swimming
Any student-athlete can apply to be included in the program.
“Our target is mainly juniors, seniors and fifth year student-athletes that may not have a ton of work experience on their resumes,” Rogers said. “One of the common things we hear from student-athletes when they leave is that they loved their time at the University, but they put so much time into academics and athletics, so they didn’t have as much time to put into actual work experience. We want them to have that professional experience so they’re as qualified as anyone else who is applying for a job.”
“Being on the swim team, I don’t have very much time during the year to get hours,” said junior swimmer Meredith Vay, who will intern with the Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn V.A. hospital. “I want to go to physical therapy school, and I’m going to need a lot of shadowing hours. I don’t have a lot of opportunities during the year that other students have because of what I do with the team and with classes.”
“I think they found a weakness of being a student-athlete, and they figured out a way to help us with that so we can build that life skill, get work experience, and help us find the internship that allows us to do all of that,” said senior beach volleyball student-athlete Erin Neuenfeldt, who will intern with Palmetto Autism Interventions. “As a speech pathologist, which is what I’ll be studying in grad school for the next two years, I will probably be working with a lot of kids with autism. I need to learn how to work with those kids and manage their behavior so I can help them learn and reach their goals. In the end, hopefully this will help me make a difference in those families’ lives.”
There will be 21 Gamecock student-athletes participating in the program this summer, and the athletics department hopes to expand it incrementally in the future in order to involve as many student-athletes as possible.
“We look at the community partners who are really fired up about being involved in this student-athlete experience, and we look at who has applied and what their majors are,” Rogers said. “We look at the overlap between those groups. We have some individuals who are very qualified, but we may not necessarily have a partner who is good fit for what that student-athlete’s interest is.”
Program applicants also learn some life lessons about the challenges they might face in landing a job.
“Another part of the selection process is that the employers conducted interviews with all of the student-athletes,” Rogers said. “So if the employer has one opportunity, and they interviewed four student-athletes, there might be one who is a super pick on paper and is very talented academically, but another student was a better fit based on the employer’s evaluation in the interview process. That’s the real world, and what we’re trying to get out of the program.”
“The interview process was really interesting because I had the chance to talk with a lot of people in a short amount of time,” said senior softball student-athlete Kaylea Snaer, who will be interning with Columbia Parks and Recreation. “That challenged me a little bit. Now that I’ve done that, I think I’m more prepared for whenever I get an interview again.”
The internships can also help the student-athletes see a different side of how business works.
“I think it’s great for us to get our eyes opened to what it’s really like in the business world,” said junior baseball student-athlete Jonah Bride, who is studying sport and entertainment management and will intern with the Columbia Fireflies baseball team. “I’m excited to see what it’s like in the professional sports world and how it all operates on a daily basis instead of just showing up doing the baseball playing side of things.”
“I hope to get a better knowledge about how a physical therapy program is run,” Vay added. “I’ve been through it as an athlete, but I’ve never seen the doctor’s side of it.”
In addition to attending professional development sessions, participants will work a minimum of 100 hours over the course of the eight week program, as well as complete a special group professional project that is designed to provide the participants with real world experience including expectations, deadlines, full-time staff mentors and the opportunity to work with different personalities. The athletics department will also try to integrate participants into activities that help them to better understand all of the areas that are integrated into facilitating their athletics experience at the University of South Carolina.
“This program will allow me to work on my professionalism,” Neuenfeldt said. “The projects and meetings should all help me grow as a professional. It will be a really good transition from life as a student-athlete to life as a young professional.”