Student-Athletes Play Major Role in Center for Innovation & Growth

Student-Athletes Play Major Role in Center for Innovation & Growth

By: Athletic Communications Assistant Erin Madden

BEREA, Ohio – Trust. Compassion. Courage. Justice. Wisdom. Temperance. Hope. 

Seven words. Seven classical virtues that have impacted society for centuries.

Since the beginning of the Center for Innovation & Growth (CIG), student fellows have been educated in these seven classical virtues. 

With the original year-long program, however, a large portion of the Baldwin Wallace University student population missed out on the fellowship opportunity. When in season, student-athletes were unavailable for at least one of the two semesters, meaning they weren't likely to participate in the program.

Luckily, the CIG already had a tie to athletics in Dr. Alan Kolp, cofounder of the Center for Innovation & Growth who also serves as the BW Faculty Athletic Representative. 

Veteran women's basketball head coach Cheri Harrer raised an interesting point to Kolp that each sport already did its own version of leadership so "it might be cool to see what we might do together."

Coaches interested in further pursuing the idea gathered with Kolp in the fall of 2010 and, together, began working through his first leadership-based book titled, "Integrity is a Growth Market: Character-Based Leadership." After the coaches became familiar with the virtues, they identified some volunteers for the very first CIG Student-Athlete Colloquium in the spring of 2011.

Members of that first colloquium included Gabe Adams '14, who was a football and track and field student-athlete, and Catherine Spisak Williams '12, who was a women's basketball student-athlete. Adams is now a financial advisor/college unit director with Northwestern Mutual and a member of the BW Board of Trustees while Williams is the Director of the Graduate, Online & Adult Center for Academic Support at Ashland University. 

"There were some really great people in (that first group)," Kolp said. "We pursued it experimentally and it was a go. Fairly quickly, all the sports decided they wanted to be in."

What started out as just a group of volunteers became a regular semester-long class with a pro-rated system where each sport is represented. Now, 20 student-athletes each semester meet with Kolp for one hour on Tuesdays to talk about the seven virtues and their impact on athletics.

"We do a lot with culture," Kolp explained. "Quickly, the students grasp 'How does trust as a core virtue affect the team and the culture?' It's pretty easy to get. How do you develop trust? What is your role as a leader in enhancing trust on the team?"

With any number of different sports comprising one class, student-athletes have the opportunity to learn from their peers in addition to what they learn from Kolp.

"This spring, we had football players, we had swimmers, we had golfers," Kolp noted. "It's a good chance for the student-athletes actually to learn from each other – to hear how these ideas get talked about on teams that are running against the clock as opposed to teams that are competing. A golfer is out there by herself. If you are running on a relay team on the track, it's by yourself but with a team. It's an interesting diversity."

Diversity is one key to building a high-performing team – a goal of the CIG and the Growth Practice Internship. After having completed one of the colloquia, students and student-athletes alike are invited to apply to be part of the CIG team as a Growth Practice Intern. Only 10 internship spots are available, making for a competitive interview process.

Student-athletes regularly set themselves apart as applicants with eight of this year's 10 Growth Practice Interns being current or former student-athletes. The 2019 group includes All-American 133-pound wrestler Charlie Nash (Norwalk); reigning Ohio Athletic Conference Women's Lacrosse Defensive Player of the Year Hannah Stein (Medina/Highland); All-OAC and Academic All-OAC distance runners Katie Fowler (Mount Vernon) and Hastings Marek (Pataskala/Watkins Memorial); All-OAC and Academic All-OAC swimmer Marissa Kural (LaGrange, Ill./Lyons Township); Academic All-OAC men's soccer player Bryce Posner (Aurora); two-time Academic All-OAC quarterback A.J. Miller (Coral Springs, Fla./Coral Springs Charter) and former football student-athlete Charlvon Gaston (Toledo/Scott).

"I think what makes student-athletes stand out, or at least the ones we hire, is that they are highly competitive and, for the most part, understand what it takes to be successful," said David Shapiro '18, Growth Practice Manager at the Center for Innovation & Growth. "They are coachable and know it is necessary to learn from mistakes and failure. They are willing to do what is best for the team and push their ego aside. They also have the ability to realize when a teammate needs their support."

A former wrestling student-athlete and three-year Growth Practice Intern himself, Shapiro's path to the CIG took a slightly different route.

"What was so appealing to me as a freshman was the name of the building itself – 'Center for Innovation & Growth' – I was eager to grow personally and professionally," Shapiro said.

And grow he did. Both Shapiro's academic and athletic success improved each year he spent as an intern. He finished his last collegiate season on the Academic All-OAC team and built up to a career 110-40 record, which is tied for fifth all-time in victories.

Returning to lead the CIG Growth Practice Internship this past May, Shapiro is eager to give back to the program that helped him grow in all facets of his career.   

"Being able to work with these tremendous students is truly humbling," Shapiro said. "I am just grateful to be working in an environment that has given me so much."

Academic All-OAC men's basketball player Michael Quiring (Brunswick) was drawn to the Growth Practice Internship by the opportunity to work on multiple projects with corporate partners as well as the quality of people he knew he'd be surrounded by every day. Having completed the internship last year, Quiring continues to carry the lessons he learned and apply them to toward success on the court and the classroom.

"The biggest lesson I learned was the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone," Quiring said. "The CIG internship helped in a tremendous way in developing me as a person, professional and leader. That would not have been possible if I wouldn't have gone outside of my comfort zone. I also learned the importance of being vulnerable with others as it helps to develop trust between individuals and groups." 

That trust was evident on the court this season as the men's basketball team captured its fifth OAC Tournament title and its first since 2006 by winning all three games on the road. Athletic success has been widespread across campus in recent years with a regional cross country championship, two OAC baseball titles, four straight OAC wrestling crowns, multiple appearances at the national level and more.

The habits encouraged at the CIG help student-athletes not only in the classroom but also in their respective sports by providing another place to hone skillsets, take on new challenges and goals and work with a different team, explained Lacey Kogelnik, Director of the Center for Innovation & Growth.

"The success of a student – in the classroom, at CIG or in athletics – depends on the student," Kogelnik said. "Are they committed? Are they willing to do what it takes to perform at a high level and achieve success? This is true academically, athletically, professionally and personally."

The relationship between the CIG and Yellow Jacket athletics has been well established over the past eight years with still more growth to come.

"The CIG + Athletics partnership is special," Kogelnik said. "We have more in common than might be obvious. The coaches are friends of the CIG, many of their student-athletes have become our CIG teammates and we're all better for it."