Preparing Student-Athletes for Success After College

Mike Lorenzen
Lorenzen understands the complexity of the student-athlete experience in part because he was a student-athlete himself. He competed as a gymnast in college and coached gymnastics in some capacity for nearly 30 years.

By Benjamin Ginsburg

Michael “Mike” Lorenzen began his post as a senior associate athletics director for UC Davis in July 2017. His primary responsibilities are in the area of student-athlete outcomes, plus he oversees the department’s academic advising unit and serves as a sports administrator for women’s volleyball and women’s swimming and diving. Prior to joining UC Davis, Lorenzen served as both an assistant athletics director and adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

How would you explain “student-athlete outcomes” to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

Most athletics programs provide academic advising for their student-athletes, and many have additional staff responsible for “life skills,” “student services” or leadership programming. We know that most student athletes outperform their non-athlete peers in academic settings because of the extra attention and accountability built into the athletics system: student-athletes also graduate at high levels. But as an industry, we tend not to do as well when it comes to preparing them for what happens after graduation. We’re trying to change that at UC Davis, and it’s a top priority for our director of athletics, Kevin Blue.

At UC Davis, we are asking important questions that challenge the existing model of working with student-athletes when they’re on campus. Are we opening doors to help them succeed at whatever they choose to do beyond graduation, and are we providing them with the skills, knowledge, opportunities and tools that expand their options? To my knowledge, there is no other athletic department that holistically looks at student-athletes from day one and prepares them for the next thing.

We need to help them be successful as students of course, but also systematically walk them through a progression over four years that makes sure they know what they want to do when they graduate, that they’re well-equipped and have explored opportunities and thoughtfully chosen their path. When we do that well, we’re confident they’ll pay it forward to the next group of students by staying connected to UC Davis, mentoring future student athletes and remaining connected to their peers so they can make easier career shifts later.

What are some of the steps you’re taking to improve student-athlete outcomes?

Gathering data on human behaviors like leadership competency or preparation for a career is very important but also very difficult to do quantitatively. Part of my job is to figure out how we measure progress on preparing students for the working world. For example, we have our first-year athletes complete a personality profile to help them develop self-awareness. They start to figure out what kind of environments make them successful, how they interact with others, what motivates them and how to apply this knowledge to understand other people as well. These are core competencies that employers want to see in applicants, and by doing this work with student athletes and holding benchmark tests to track progress, we can confidently say that at the end of freshman year our students are more self-aware than their peers.

We also want to help athletes redefine their personal narrative about their sport. A lot of student athletes tend to put their athletics experience at the bottom of their resume under activities, right next to stamp collecting. But if you’re a Division I field hockey player, you’ve probably spent more than half your life in your sport. You’ve invested something approaching the 10,000 hours needed for mastery of a skill, and you’ve poured so much of yourself into this one thing that by age 18, you’ve demonstrated discipline, resilience, grit, emotional maturity and focus on long-term goals. That’s a compelling story for an employer.

What’s unique about UC Davis’ position on student-athlete outcomes?

We have the opportunity to create a unique, sustainable, competitive advantage compared to our peers but also to shift the perspective of the industry. We can leverage our brilliant student-athletes and coaches, and we are working with them to carve out a position in the market that drives people to UC Davis because we prepare students for successful futures. This strategy also resonates with alumni, parents and donors, some of whom may be more interested in supporting student growth and development than traditional giving opportunities.

Who are you partnering with in the UC Davis community to help drive positive student-athlete outcomes?

Student-athletes have a variety of identities that are wrapped up in who they are. A lot of what athletics does is tied up in the athlete identity, and we’re usually pretty good about the academic identity also, but our responsibility is to look at all those other pieces as well. That means forming partnerships with the LGBTQIA Resource Center, the Women’s Resources and Research Center, the Center for African Diaspora Student Success, the Chicano/Latino community and more, so we’re connecting with all the support structures on campus and engaging with the intersectionality of the student-athlete experience. We need to be plugged into the resources on campus and connect students with those resources. This will help make the athletics experience a launching platform for student success.

What advice do you have for alumni, parents and friends of UC Davis who want to help?

Our students need mentors and people to both guide them and open doors. Alumni, parents and
friends are a huge part of that network. They can help by hosting an informational interview, or a brown bag lunch with a larger group of student-athletes where they talk about a day on the job. With nearly half of our student-athletes being first generation college students, we have a great deal of education to do in regard to what careers and opportunities are open to them beyond college.

Aggie friends can help by creating an internship or experiential learning opportunity. Internships can be difficult to arrange for a lot of our students because of their summer athletics schedule, so we need to work with Aggies to create creative, nontraditional opportunities for students that fit with the requirements of being an athlete and provide a meaningful experience. Those are a few examples of concrete things that will make all the difference in whether our student-athletes are successful or not.

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