Wake Forest Masters Program Attracts Athletes

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on September 23, 2011

College athletes may miss out on a number of career-shaping experiences that their classmates take for granted. Study-abroad opportunities, internships and the typical career exploration that goes on at college sometimes bypass athletes who are locked into competition schedules and expected to train year round, says Steve Reinemund, dean of the Wake Forest University Schools of Business.

Reinemund feels their pain. Wake Forest began offering a Masters of Arts in Management degree five years ago. The program is intended as a business finishing school of sorts for liberal arts graduates. Students take classes in managerial accounting, operations management and economics to strengthen their quantitative skills. Other classes are devoted to helping students polish their resumes and decide where they want to go professionally. The program is different from an MBA in that most of the students have no prior business-related work experience.

“We love getting athletes into the program,” Reinemund says. “They’ve learned to compete, they’ve obviously learned discipline, but their athletic careers have required many trade-offs.”

Business, along with education, kinesiology and social sciences are the four most popular majors among student athletes, according to an NCAA report on student academic performance and career trajectory published in 2007. Former athletes were more likely to major in business and social sciences than non-athletes, and they were less likely to major in science, math and engineering, the report found. In other words, a large portion of the college athletes that don’t graduate with business degrees might be interested in the added quantitative skills classes that Wake Forest has to offer.

Over the past few years, Wake's B-school has reached out to coaches and athletic directors to recruit those students. Athletes represent anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of each incoming class (last year's class had a total of 95 students), and the school eventually wants to make contact with the NCAA, Reinemund says.

Tahirah Williams, a member of the University of Connecticut women's basketball team that won the 2008-09 NCAA National Championship, says the career counseling aspect most attracted her to the program.

Williams graduated with a masters in management from Wake in 2010. She had an undergraduate degree in communications when she entered the program, and says the only career path she previously considered was becoming a sports broadcaster. (Many athletes in the program initially pursue careers related to sports, according to the school.) After graduation, Williams took a sales leadership position with Frito-Lay.

"I never really had that conversation that's like 'Where do you want to be after sports?' My first year at grad school, a lot of my peers were talking about how they wanted to become financial analysts and consultants and it was a whole world that wasn't familiar to me at all," she says.

Athletes and non-athletes in Wake's B-school explore business-related careers in the same manner. But Reinemund says the athletes usually have a greater revelation that more career paths are open to them than they originally thought.

"A lot of athletes have a dream of going professional or to the Olympics. But at the end of the day, their careers don't have to be in just sports administration or coaching. They can expand in other areas," he says.

-Erin Zlomek

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