Officials pilot career development program with student-athletes

The athletic department is piloting a program aimed at preparing students for their post-graduation careers.

Student-athletes will take part in the Professional Competencies Initiative, a program that focuses on building skills like critical thinking, communication and inclusion, according to a press release last week. The initiative was rolled out last semester and will be integrated across the University over the next three years, the release states.

“It’s about shaping the characters and the souls who go through the University,” former women’s basketball player Cathy Cranberg, whose donation helped launch the program, said in the release. “You want to make sure everyone knows they’re supported as a person, not just as an athlete. It’s beyond athletics. I think that’s what this program really can demonstrate is GW’s care about the preparation of the whole person.”

Cranberg made three NCAA tournament appearances with the Colonials, including the team’s first trip to the Sweet 16. She has remained active in GW Athletics since she graduated in 1995 and was named the Donor of the Year in 2018 after pledging $100,000 to the Carbonell Center.

She now heads a consulting firm and serves as a member of the GW Athletics Advisory Council. She said in the release that student-athletes need help articulating how an athletic career sets them up for the workforce.

“We were probably as prepared as anyone, but I think there’s still this gap,” Cranberg said in the release. “We need to close the gap from what are the skills you’re actually building within your sport and the things that you’re doing every day, and then how does that translate and prepare you for what’s next?”

Julia Browne, the associate program director for the initiative, began implementing the program’s material throughout the athletic department in December of last year, the release states. She said in an email that the program was created by Athletic Director Tanya Vogel, Assistant Director of Educational Support Services Danya Ellerman and Associate Vice Provost for University Career Services Rachel Brown.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Browne met with athletic department staff and student-athletes from SAAC and LEAP to map out the program, the release said. After the pandemic shut down campus, Browne continued her work with the initiative through virtual workshops, the release adds.

The program integrates GW’s previous career development blueprints, academic advising and individual career appointments, the release states. Each student-athlete will also take the CliftonStrengths Assessment, a test that measures and ranks themes in strategic thinking, relationship building, influencing and executing.

Browne said participants will follow a “RAISE High” plan to learn and improve professional competencies. She added that the plan will include recognizing proficiency levels, advancing learning, implementing a career action plan, strengthening understanding through reflections and professional feedback and empowering student-athletes in skills like interviewing.

She said she is exploring “beneficial and time efficient” ways to integrate the new initiative into student-athletes’ schedules. Browne added that in addition to workshops, the program will also incorporate “professional competencies touch points” in professional development, advising and “self-directed modules.”

“As the initiative has many components, we are looking at both integration into current programs and incentivizing other components,” Browne said. “As student-athletes already have significant time commitments for their sport, we are extremely conscious of integrating Professional Competencies in a way that is both beneficial and time efficient.”

She said officials will use the First Destination Survey, which measures success in the workforce and satisfaction with their initial job opportunities after leaving GW, to gauge the success of the program. Browne added that the initiative will include evaluations and reflections to assess the skills they built through the program.

The women’s basketball squad was one of the first teams to utilize the new program, the release states. Rising sophomore forward Faith Blethen said she was “excited” about the program and what it can teach her for a career beyond basketball.

“Being an athlete as a college student gives you an advantage because you’re learning teamwork and discipline and hard work, but adding this professional development gives us another edge,” Blethen said in the release. “So one day when athletics do come to an end, we know ourselves and how we can fit ourselves into the next team, whether that’s in the workplace or the military or whatever it is.”

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