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This "coach" helps athletes develop skills for life, active citizenship

Athletes know better than almost anyone that practice makes perfect.

And for many athletes playing Division I college sports, the hours they’ve spent practicing on the field or in the gym is time they didn’t spend doing internships or working summer jobs.

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Chelsie Schafer, an academic counselor in the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Academic Center for Student-Athletes, wants to ensure that student athletes have opportunities to practice more than their jump shots and line drives before they leave college. “The reality is, many students are going to go pro in a job, not in their sport,? says Schafer.

With responsibility for helping over 100 student athletes meet complex NCAA standards each year, Schafer is as busy as anyone. But she believes that she can make a positive difference in their lives. “It doesn’t take a lot for me to spend 30 minutes getting to know what students are interested in beyond athletics and academics,? says Schafer. “It could mean the difference in them finding their calling? beyond sports.

Schafer balances that big picture goal with seeking ways for students to learn and practice professional and life skills. As an example, she says, some students need to learn how to say no. “Athletes are competitive and want to make sure things are done well. It can be hard for them to let someone else take control.? Being involved in an ongoing project with professionals and other students can provide opportunities to practice that skill.

Taking an organizers approach to student development

After learning that golfer Clayton Rask was interested in veterans issues, Schafer pointed him to an independent study class with Warrior to Citizen Campaign organizer Dennis Donovan.

Rask, a soft-spoken young man, spent time last spring with student veterans and joined a committee working to honor Minnesota veterans with a special coin. “Even though we met with many groups and had help from our professors,? he wrote in a final reflection paper, “we as students had an impact or saw change with the work we are doing. The work that I have been a part of has made me think about what I can do to have a voice in things that go on in my community.? Rask was later honored as University of Minnesota Student-Athlete of the Week, in part for his public work as a member of the Warrior to Citizen Campaign.

Jade Beattie, a gymnast and pre-dentistry major, was another student Schafer directed to independent study. Beattie worked with Clayton Rask to bring together student athletes who were interested in health careers for a conversation on health and values. “By tapping into their self-interest we were able to make the meeting a success,? Beattie concluded in a reflection paper. Later, she interviewed a student organizer named Kelly Heskett about “public work and the idea of citizenship.? Beattie noted that “a lot of the things [Kelly] talked about made perfect sense–[things like power, self-interest, accountability]–but were not things I would have come up with on my own.?

Schafer takes an organizer's approach to student development. She uses what she knows about individual athletes—and the relationships she’s continually building on campus and in the community—to connect them to opportunities to grow and develop as whole people. She’s also intentional about including coaches in this work, so that they can reinforce and recognize what athletes are learning outside the athletic complex.

“People perform better in all areas when they feel they have a purpose and are making a difference.?

This post is the second in a series on "citizen professionals," or people who use their expertise to work with and coach others in making contributions to the common good. Check out Judge's work on and off the bench contributes to a vibrant democracy .

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs