Student-athletes generally have good time management skills, the discipline to stay on task and the ability to perform under pressures, all of which are honed by the athletics competitions they take part in during college.
“The discipline that comes with being a student-athlete transitions to the workplace, no question,” said Colin Coburn, a human resources representative at Big Lots.
That’s a message LaToya Farris hopes Ohio State’s athletes hear loud and clear.
Hired this summer as the athletics department’s first-ever assistant director of career management, Farris dedicates her time to making sure Ohio State’s 1,000 or so athletes are prepared to enter the workplace upon graduation. This year's spring commencement, in which close to 10,000 Buckeyes including more than 100 student-athletes are set to graduate, is set for Sunday in Ohio Stadium.
“They sometimes don’t know that they have those skills and that they are valuable to employers,” Farris said. “I have employers call me all the time saying, ‘I am looking for student-athletes I’d like to hire,’ regardless of the experience that they have.”
So while there are lucrative NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB careers available to some and the chance for others to ply their trades professionally for years to come, the majority of the Buckeyes who wear the scarlet and gray each year will go pro, as the NCAA once said in a commercial, in something other than sports.
That’s where Farris, who previously spent 10 years in the office of Career & Employment Services at Kansas State, comes in. Working hand in hand with Ohio State’s Student-Athlete Support Services Office, Farris fills a role that includes helping student-athletes with résumé development and interviewing skills, working with career services offices across campus and pushing athletes to consider life after the cheering stops.
“It’s a big job, but I think it’s great,” she said. “A lot of schools have started to focus on career development as opposed to making it a checkbox, so I think that this position really helps to prove that point to people. We’re not just saying we did a résumé workshop for out student-athletes and they are good to go. We have someone here who is going to work with our student-athletes and make sure they are prepared for life after college.”
In many ways, that effort culminated for the year culminated in the first-ever athletics Futures Fair, held April 9 in Ohio Stadium. Just shy of 60 companies set up booths inside the Huntington Club to meet with athletes in a networking event modeled after the ones held on campuses across the country – and the one established by Urban Meyer for the football program two years ago.
Synchronized swimmer Katie Spada, a senior in human nutrition and dietetics, was one of the athletes at the April event. Spada will spend the next year in an internship before entering her field full-time, but she hopes she made contacts at the Futures Fair that will help her when she does enter the job market.
“I can’t quite go into my field yet, but it’s really beneficial,” Spada said. “I talked to some headhunters who gave me great tops about interviews and how to approach that situation, so it’s been beneficial.”
Coburn was at the Futures Fair representing Big Lots, which was joined by such notable regional and national employers as the Columbus Zoo, KeyBank, IMG, Wortington Industries, Deloitte, Target, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Coca-Cola, Cardinal Health, Fifth Third Bank, DSW, Hollister and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I’ve had great responses from people,” Farris said. “You also want that variety. I can’t just go find all sales positions because not all of our student-athletes want to have sales jobs. It’s about finding that variety of positions that student-athletes would be interested in.”
There were also such postgraduate programs as the OSU Medical Center and Moritz College of Law on hand. The med center’s booth was staffed by former student-athletes including women’s basketball player Amy Scullion, who gave up her final year of legibility to study to be a doctor before returning this past season because of a numbers crunch on the team.
Scullion said she knew she wanted to go to med school early on after arriving at Ohio State but wishes she had known how to navigate the process better. Now, with such outreach events as the career fair, she can be a mentor to others.
“I always wish that I had more help during that process, so it’s fun for me to help someone else out,” she said. “Applying to med school is such a long, drawn-out process. It would have been nice to have someone there along the way telling me, ‘You need to do this now, you need to do research here, you need to go shadow now.’ I feel like I’ve learned those lessons and I’d like to pass it on now.”
Recent studies suggest that nearly half of college graduates are unemployed or underemployed in the years after graduation, a stat that takes Farris aback.
“We don’t want our student-athletes to fall into that position when they get their college degrees,” she said. “The more experience they can get when they’re in school will help them in the future.”
Ohio State has had success helping athletes find jobs after graduation, but the numbers could still use improvement. A survey of 2014 graduates from athletics showed that nearly 60 percent had already found employment or enrolled in graduate school, with athletes securing nearly $130,000 in financial aid for postgraduate studies.
As a result, it’s never too early for athletes to begin preparing, a message Farris and the athletics department have driven home. Athletes now must have working résumés on file going into their second year at the school, and Farris encouraged all athletes in the department to attend no matter their academic standing.
One who took her up on the offer was sophomore Tori Baron, a member of the synchronized swimming team majoring in environment, economy, development and sustainability.
“For me, it was just getting the experience,” Baron said at the Futures Fair. “I know what I’m doing this summer, so it takes the pressure off, but to gain that experience for next time, I’ll be prepared.”
Farris hopes experiences such as those will help fellow athletes start looking forward earlier than ever under her watch.
“We want to get to the point where the student-athletes are excited about it,” Farris said. “Not everyone likes to think about what is going to happen in the next five years or plan it out, but I want them to at least think about it a little bit and be excited when they see me or some of the people in SASSO.
“We don’t want our student-athletes to fall into that group of people who don’t know what they want to do when they’re graduating and have no idea where to start. We want them to have the foundation so they won’t be out there just floating around when they graduate.”