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How Pittsburgh college athletes learn to work a network

Meredith “Meme” Sharp, a diver and communications major at the University of Pittburgh, talks with Pittsburgh area professionals in October at the athletics department’s Career Networking Night. University of Pittsburgh photo

The Petersen Events Center, home of Pittsburgh men’s and women’s basketball, becomes a showcase for a different set of student-athlete skills once every year — the Pittsburgh athletics Career Networking Night.

The athletics department’s Cathy and John Pelusi Family Life Skills Program focuses on career development and networking opportunities year-round, but the night provides a chance for college athletes to meet with industry professionals and put their communications training into practice.

Career Networking Night will be offered in October for the fifth consecutive year. Lisa Auld, assistant athletics director for student life, and Jackson Martin, director of life skills, share what makes it successful:

Build relationships.

The Pittsburgh athletics department’s Career Networking Night attracts about 130 professionals from 70 potential employers. University of Pittsburgh photo

More than 130 industry professionals from more than 70 organizations were at the event last year. There is a reason why networkers keep coming back — the trust built through personal relationships with life skills staff members.

“There’s already a long-standing tradition for this event,” Martin says. “The people in this department have been here for years and hold a high level of excellence for the event, the Life Skills Program and the administration. It takes a village to prepare the night, and that village has been here for a while.”

Understand student-athletes’ career development needs.

Staff members frequently meet with student-athletes to understand their goals and future career paths. This background work allows staff to target certain employers for student-athletes.

“A lot of the work that goes on is behind the scenes,” Martin says. “That is where the student-athletes get the individualized attention.”

Prep the students.

The Life Skills Program holds a professional etiquette training series for third- and fourth-year student-athletes. The sessions focus on professional dress, business communication, resume writing, dining etiquette and other topics. Immediately before the networking event, a short professional networking workshop prepares student-athletes for the evening.

“One goal is to place student-athletes within jobs following graduation or summer internships,” Martin says. “But the other piece of it is education and training. We are helping our student-athletes to better communicate and network, so these skills will help them outside of the event and in the community.”

Keep pushing to improve the program.

Employers and student-athletes provide feedback to the life skills staff about the event, and the staff continually seeks to make the night better for everyone.

The event now starts with a dinner for industry professionals so they can network among themselves. In addition, staff uses that time to educate networkers about the benefits of hiring student-athletes, who are often strong team players with excellent time management skills. Campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members and a few team captains also have been invited to get additional face-to-face interactions and networking opportunities.

“This is one of the signature events in the city that many people want to come to because of the networking opportunities and valuable experiences,” Auld says. “It’s about building and maintaining these relationships both city and nationwide.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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