Leadership is not a role it’s an attitude; a state of mind, a way of behaving that inspires people around you to follow, hold similar beliefs, live similar values and work towards common goals.
Marquette University’s mission and values is to develop students as leaders. Located in Milwaukee, WI, Marquette University is a Division I College, fielding 11 teams in the Big East Conference. Leadership is one of the University’s four founding principles along with Service, Excellence, and Faith. We catch a glimpse of that guiding philosophy in action as we talk to Katie Simet and Nicolle Skoien, of Academic Services in the Athletic Department at Marquette, about their work. On a daily basis, both Katie and Nicolle work with diverse groups of student-athletes, developing curriculum, departmental programs and individual strategies to ensure student-athletes reach their goals.
Student-athletes rely on Katie and Nicolle to usher them into the future with the skills, knowledge and experience they need to excel in their lives – personally and professionally. So, in this article we’re taking a closer look at their curriculum, contribution to the University’s leadership and service programs and their careers.
In her ninth year at Marquette University as an Assistant Director for Academic Services in the Athletic Department, Katie Simet is Academic Advisor for the men’s lacrosse, men’s soccer and volleyball teams. In short, she oversees student-athlete’s academic careers. Her colleague, Nicolle Skoien is an Academic Counsellor and Academic Advisor for the women’s basketball, women’s soccer, and men’s golf teams. In addition to this role, she provides all student-athletes with strategies to achieve academic success.
Katie and Nicolle work with some of the most highly motivated students at Marquette. Katie says, “I love that student-athletes are driven for goals bigger than themselves.”
On the subject of goals and success, we asked Katie what drives student-athlete success? She says, “a common theme I find in a successful student-athlete experience is students who invest in themselves. Students who want to grow, develop, and learn about themselves and others are ultimately the most successful. These students take advantage of programming that is offered and buy into the process of their coaches. They are willing to try and learn something new about themselves and about those around them.”
What does Marquette University do to facilitate student-athlete success and prepare its students for leadership?
Firstly, we’ll clarify that all strategies at Marquette are underpinned by a level of care for the student as a whole person. Katie explains Marquette’s philosophy saying, “students often talk about Marquette as a place that values the whole person more than simply the athlete. As a Jesuit school, one of the pillars is Cura Personalis, or care for the whole person. Our student-athletes often talk about feeling as though they were cared for and supported in a number of ways including mind, body and spirit. Students are encouraged to nurture these aspects of themselves and discover identities outside of being a student-athlete.”
The focus on excellence, success and leadership at Marquette is evident in the fundamental curriculum programming for students.
In the Sport Management and MBA strands, students complete courses to increase their self-awareness, develop their ability to understand and potentially predict the behaviour of their fellow students and future colleagues. Additionally, as part of Marquette’s commitment to developing future leaders, Katie designed a curriculum for the Marquette Student-Athlete Leadership Institute Levels 1-4, inviting students from freshman through senior to participate in their own leadership development and growth.
In the courses and leadership program, students complete an online survey generating a unique and individual profile. And, depending on whether they are student-athletes, coaches or sports administrators, they take a profile survey which most suits the current situation; AthleteDISC, Sports ManagerDISC, CoachDISC. Both Katie and Nicolle are trained in using Athlete Assessments DISC profiles so they can debrief students on their unique profiles and lead them on their exploration of how the tools and learnings can be applied to gain a deeper understand of themselves, their own behavioral preferences and the people around them. Once students gain this fundamental self-awareness, they can refine their communication strategies ensuring they tailor their style to each individual person they deal with.
Nicolle explains how it works in the classroom, she says, “MBA 6160 allows students to take a DISC assessment that will assist them in learning more about themselves, as well as how to communicate, work and deal with concerns within the workplace. It isn’t about doing a lot of reading or taking a lengthy exam, it is about self-reflection and learning more about yourself and the type of leader you want to stand for, whether you have a leadership role or not.”
“At the start of every class I encourage everyone to share their thoughts and opinions. I try to make it a safe space for all students, especially those who are not as sure about themselves and their leadership style. We do a lot of group work, discussion and assignments – specifically centered around the DISC assessment, which usually drives discussion topics.”
Katie tells us about the effect of using DISC, “it has been instrumental to our leadership programming. It has provided common language, tools for improving communication, and ultimately a road map for our students to grow and develop. We are able to slowly unpack the DISC to help students grow in understanding and awareness. With this tool, they understand themselves, their teammates and their coaches better. We have also been able to have some conversations about how DISC can help with mental health. Students acknowledged that understanding themselves and understanding their teammates helped them better understand how to provide support to a struggling teammate”.
“My goal is to develop our use of Athlete assessments with teams and to expand the layers of it so that students who use the assessment as freshman have more to learn about it as a senior. I want to see continued growth, especially in the areas of conflict resolution, as this is an ongoing challenge for young people.”
Katie summarises the value of Athlete Assessments DISC in Marquette’s programs, “First and foremost, Athlete Assessments provides personal development. Students learn about themselves at a deeper level that allows for them to identify areas of strength and areas of growth. Second, Athlete Assessments provides a common language for our students to discuss differences. Recognizing that people have different strengths along with a common language to discuss these differences helps people see the value others bring. The common language provides a roadmap for how to discuss challenges, or as I always say, it gives students tools in their tool belt to resolve differences. Thirdly, our students who have participated in the leadership program have shared at the end of their four years, that DISC was the most impactful development piece they did. It helped them be a better prepared professional for life after college and they felt that they understood themselves, their coaches, and their teammates in a different and deeper way”.
Nicolle says that one of the most valuable take aways that students leave her course with is an understanding of their leadership philosophy and their DISC style so they can apply their knowledge and grow beyond college. She says, “It (DISC) kind of takes the term “lifelong learner” to another level, which I just love.”
Nicolle shared some of the feedback students have given about the course.“The course was very interactive and forced me out of my comfort zone in a positive way. I found the in-class discussions and exercises to be extremely valuable in making connections with classmates and better understanding my leadership and behavioral styles. I will use these learnings in my workplace on a daily basis and they will help guide my professional development. The professor in the course fostered an open and honest learning environment.”
“I liked the DISC assessment and appreciated how it stayed relevant throughout the semester instead of just being used once. Having the DISC facilitator Skype in was interesting and I appreciate how the version we took of the assessment was so comprehensive (I don’t know that I can say that about all of the resources I purchase for classes). Even though the 360 evaluation could be uncomfortable, I appreciate that we did it and were exposed to that kind of feedback method.”
Katie and Nicolle constantly challenge themselves to excel in their roles and provide the best support possible for their student-athletes. In the office at Athlete Assessments we love being part of their team.
Of our partnership Katie says, “Athlete Assessments shares our goals to better our student-athletes and our department. When we struggle with a problem or task, they help us tackle it. They keep us informed of new ideas and new ways to reach athletes or confront different challenges. As a facilitator, I feel supported in a way that I can reach out at any time to further my growth and understanding.”
Katie plays a pivotal role in leadership development for Marquette. In addition to the multi-layered leadership program, Katie was integral in launching the university’s first ever service trip in partnership with Courts for Kids which provided an opportunity for 16 student-athletes to build a sport court in Costa Rica. This was part of Marquette’s Student-Athlete LEADS (Learn, Empower, Act, Develop, Serve) program which challenges student-athletes to be involved in their community beyond their sport experience. In 2019, she led another group of 23 student-athletes to provide hurricane relief by rebuilding homes in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
She described the recent service trips Costa Rica and Puerto Rico as a career highlight saying, “to take students to a developing area and give them a platform for learning about people different than themselves as well as having the opportunity to see another part of the world is something I always dreamed of making possible for students. The trip also provided a platform to apply leadership skills learned throughout the students’ four years. Here students were able to put into action in a real-world way, using the skills they learned throughout our programming.
While student development presents endless opportunities, Katie also understands the simple value of higher education, she says, “the first time I ever went to a graduation where a first-generation student graduated, I was reminded the impact that a degree has not just on a student, but a family. I have a vivid memory of a student (who struggled a bit in school) graduating and after the ceremony his mom opened his diploma cover to see his diploma with name etched inside. She rubbed her hand over and with tears in her eyes said, “my baby did it”. This is the moment I was reminded, I would never take graduating from college for granted. It is an accomplishment and will always be something we should celebrate.”
The NCAA says that a college degree directly impacts a person’s quality of life in that bachelor’s degree recipients are likely to earn a 65% higher salary that those who just graduate high school. NCAA research also shows that 15% of Division I student-athletes are first generation college students.
Given this breadth of experience with a diverse range of student-athletes, we asked Katie what advice she would give someone just starting out in their academic or sporting career? She says, “Relationships. Relationships with students are hands down the most important work you can do in this field. Understanding students on a deeper level will help you know how to best support them and allow them the space to share when they are struggling with sports, academics or just life. Without relationships the job is more difficult and lacks a true meaning. Take the time, and yes, it does take time to build the relationships early. Asking about the day, practice, roommate, or home first, can make asking about history class or a resume that much easier down the line”.
And, on that note, what were the top things that have helped her in her career? She says, “first, mentors. If it had not been for my mentor during grad school or my current supervisor I would not be where I am today. Both of these women believed in me and have empowered me to think outside of the box to tackle problems. Second, networking. The people I have met have been key instrumental from creative brainstorming to helping me reframe a challenge and work through it. I took advantage of being on campuses and meeting with people that do what I do and face similar challenges. From them, I gained new perspectives and a familiar friend to call when I needed it. This industry is collegial in nature -we all want our students to be successful now and after graduation”.
Katie has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Elementary Education from Marquette University and Master’s Degree of Education in Student Development Administration from Seattle University in 2010. We asked her about her pathway into her current role she said, “I have a passion for education and for developing students. This role is unique because we get to develop a relationship with our students over four years. When I was attending Seattle University for graduate school they were division 2 and transitioning to division 1. Here it was an all hands on deck model and I was able to gain experience and knowledge of working with student-athletes”.
Similarly, Nicolle says, “I enjoy working one-on-one with student-athletes, as well as being able to teach a MBA course that is focused around leadership. It is a really fun combination”. Nicolle told us that having an impact on others is one of the most enjoyable aspects of her role at Marquette. In 2015 she earned her doctoral degree in Sport Psychology from University of Missouri. Nicolle also holds a Master’s of Education in Counselling Psychology from University of Missouri, a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science and a Master’s Degree in Sport Management in 2010.
We leave you with some timeless and valuable advice from Nicolle. We think this advice is universal and applies to all aspects of life.
She says, “you need to have fun. If you are not enjoying the class it is likely the students are either. You will never get 100% buy in from all of your students, but if you can make sure they all walk away with at least one key takeaway, I think that is a win.”
Where to from here?
Katie Simet and Nicolle Skioen use Athlete Assessments’ Academic Program as part of their curriculum in their Sport Management and MBA at Marquette University.
Whether you teach Sport Management, Sport Coaching, Sport and Health Sciences or Sports Psychology, provide your students with the skills which differentiate them when they enter the competitive sports industry. The success of your students reflects the success of your University Academic Program and we want to help you achieve success on all fronts.
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