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Students sit at round tables, listening to a peer present from a posterboard

Student athletes at Davidson College can participate in a three-day workshop that teaches career and professional development skills.

Josh King/Davidson College

College students are constantly competing against the clock to fit everything into a 24-hour day. In a summer 2023 Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, 41 percent of students say the timing and location of events are the greatest barriers to participation in extracurricular activities, followed by off-campus work at 31 percent.

A new survey from EduBirdie found half of students who work while attending courses have sacrificed sleep or fun, and 11 percent have skipped a class, because they couldn’t manage their schedules.

To accommodate stuffed student athletes’ schedules but still provide essential career preparation, a career professional at Davidson College in North Carolina created a three-day boot camp that equips athletes with the confidence and skills they need to land an internship or job.

What’s the need: Davidson College offers all classes Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.—no online or night classes, either.

Student athletes’ practices typically take place after 4:30 p.m. as a result, and student organizations’ activities or tutoring sessions take place at 8 p.m. or later, effectively packing their schedules.

“It can be very difficult to schedule career and professional development programming unless it is specific to a team and working with coaches who will ensure their attendance,” explains Josh King, associate director for engagement and athlete career development.

Rather than offering events during the weeks, King got creative and created Pro ’Cats, a career-development event that accommodates athletes during their off-season.

How it works: Pro ’Cats takes inspiration from the NCAA’s leadership-development programming and a monthly leadership cohort King offered at a previous institution, he says.

The professional development and leadership boot camp benefits 20 student athletes each semester, with sessions in August and January, depending on the team’s availability. Students apply online and, if admitted, are allowed to move into on-campus residences early for the term. There are no direct costs for students to enroll in the workshop.

Student athletes sit at tables with white tablecloths, learning proper etiquette for a formal dinner

As part of Pro ’Cats, student athletes attend an etiquette dinner, learning table manners and more.

Josh King/Davidson College

During the three days, students participate in 12 sessions covering subjects such as etiquette, networking, salary negotiation, leadership, professional communication, mock interviews, identifying core values and emotional intelligence.

“I joke with them that I want this program to teach them everything I need them to know in four years, but in three days,” King says.

The program is geared toward sophomore students who are in their early stages of career development, but it’s open to everyone. Incoming students can participate during their second semester or later.

The impact: The goal of Pro ’Cats is that, by the end of the boot camp, students are confident in their core values and communication and leadership styles and are able to navigate a job search, interview and networking process, King says.

The program first launched in a virtual setting in 2020–21 but had its first in-person offerings in fall 2022, with a total of 44 in-person participants to date.

Peers present to students in a workshop at Pro Cats
Students give presentations to their peers during a workshop at Pro ’Cats.

Josh King/Davidson College

In the 2022–23 academic year, 30 students participated and 97 percent landed a paid research, internship or experiential learning opportunity for the following summer.

“Our lone senior who completed the program last year secured a job prior to graduation and credits Pro ’Cats for giving her the confidence and connections to secure an opportunity she would have not thought about otherwise,” King says.

One bonus benefit is that the program unites student athletes from a variety of teams, breaking them out of their regular circles and encouraging bonding across the department.

Student feedback has shaped the program since it launched remotely over Zoom, and program graduates continue to be an integral part of programming, serving as mentors, co-presenting in team workshops and leading entire sessions at Pro ’Cats.

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