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From Notre Dame walk-on and team captain to Deloitte analyst: Kristin Baer

Baer shares what she’s carried from student-athlete experience into professional world

Kristin Baer’s time on Notre Dame’s volleyball team and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee helped her develop leadership skills that come in handy in her work as an analyst at Deloitte in Chicago. (Photo: University of Notre Dame Photo)

Originally a Notre Dame volleyball walk-on, Kristin Baer spent countless hours honing her skills while garnering the respect of her teammates and coaches, earning a scholarship and becoming team captain by her senior year.

Now an analyst at Deloitte in Chicago, Baer’s Notre Dame experience is propelling her career in retail marketing.

After her freshman season, Baer realized that college volleyball was a significant commitment she wanted to take more seriously. Her perseverance paid off, and she saw her leadership experience grow.

As SAAC president, Baer pushed for mental health resources and services at Notre Dame. She also helped organize a town hall on student-athlete mental health during her senior year.

Reflecting back, Baer said, “I made a decision that I could control my happiness in a situation, and I can control if I work hard and have a dignified effort on a given day. That’s enough, and that’s something to be proud of.”

Baer used her fifth year of eligibility to earn an accelerated master’s in business administration with a business analytics emphasis, which she credits for giving her the technical skills to market consumer products in Deloitte’s strategy and analytics unit. Baer also recognizes her student-athlete experience provided her a healthy lifestyle — she’s currently training for a half-marathon — and balance that makes her professional success possible. She thinks her full schedule as a student-athlete bolstered her ability to handle demanding tasks.

“Managing all of those things is what we did for four or five years in college,” she said, “so I think it continues to show up in having things that are important to me outside of work and getting all of them done in 24 hours.”

At Deloitte, Baer has taken an interest in employee engagement groups and hopes to serve on a diversity and inclusion committee. She also has been able to bond with co-workers over their shared student-athlete experience. As an athlete and professional, she has relied on her ability to receive constructive criticism.

“I think having that mindset that the work I produce is not personal,” she said. “To me, I care about it and want to get better. And so, getting feedback is a good thing. And it’s not a personal insult to say, ‘This needed to be better. This wasn’t up to standard. This is how it needs to be instead.’”

At Notre Dame, Baer served as president of the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, an organization at every NCAA school and conference that allows student-athletes to help shape the landscape of intercollegiate athletics on campus and through a national governance structure. Baer pushed for changes to Notre Dame’s resources for student-athlete mental health and helped to bring a sports psychologist to campus. The university also started promoting its mental health resources on social media, made guided meditations available and sent weekly newsletters.

Constructive criticism and hard work helped Baer excel on the volleyball court. She still sees such feedback as among the keys to success.

During her senior year, Baer helped organize a town hall on student-athlete mental health where speakers shared their stories on topics like bipolar disorder, grief and performance anxiety. Baer is proud of the dialogue she helped create.

“Probably 70 to 80 athletes came,” she said, “and there was just a wave over the room of people being able to talk about anything that just set the precedent, that if we can talk about that in this room, I can share my thing too.”

Part of what left such an impression on Baer was the relationship she developed with her head coach, Mike Johnson. As part of her engagement with SAAC, Baer hoped to bolster coaching education to help spot signs of mental and emotional distress among student-athletes. As a student-athlete, Baer faced her own mental health struggles, but a turning point arrived when she had an honest conversation with her coach after she stated that she needed a coaching style to adapt to her mental health needs. The pair had a breakthrough after he told her, “You’ve earned the right to ask me to be who you need me to be. I don’t think you’re taking an easy road out here. I think you’re being courageous. And yes, I can do that for you.”

She’s been able to carry forward wisdom from her playing career into her working life, as well.

“Our coach would always say confidence comes from your level of preparation,” Baer said. “If you’ve prepared, stop being nervous, be confident. And if you can’t shake that, you need to prepare differently so you can be confident.”

She encourages all student-athletes to believe in themselves and the skills gained from their unique student-athlete experiences.

“You know how to manage your time. And you know how to be a student, how to learn. Learning how to learn is a huge part of athletics,” she said.

Baer served on a steering committee led by Notre Dame Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick, where she worked with others to shape university policies and objectives. She noted that student-athlete input helped make mental health one of Swarbrick’s key focus areas, adding, “That’s where I've seen a lot of growth that came very much from the students demanding it.”

Baer understood the unconventional path she forged at Notre Dame, remarking that her journey from walk-on to campus leader helped her relate to each of her teammates. As she’s transitioned to the working world, Baer recalled one of the last conversations she had with her head coach in the last week of her senior season. Johnson reminded her, “You won’t remember the wins and the losses. You know, this point, this practice, you’re gonna remember the things the sport taught you.”