Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Setting the Standard for Life Beyond Athletics

By Ashley Stone

Across the nation, college athletic departments are building life skills and academic programs that will bolster and underscore the student aspect of the term student-athlete. While these programs are starting their pursuit, Nebraska began 25 years ago.

Boasting the most innovative and comprehensive life skills program in the nation as well as the most Academic All-Americans, Nebraska will pioneer an unprecedented and unmatched educational opportunity for its student-athletes beginning this fall.

“Nebraska has always been on the forefront of student-athlete development, blazing the trail and providing our students with all the first-class support and programming they need to be successful,” said Nebraska’s Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst. “To perpetuate that strategic vision, we have created three unique postgraduate opportunities for our students to help transition and jumpstart the next learning phase in their lives.”

The Post-Eligibility Opportunities (PEO) Program, reserved for student-athletes who have lettered, graduated and exhausted eligibility, will provide letterwinners who graduate in or after December 2015 a one-semester scholarship, valued up to $7,500, to apply toward an internship, study abroad experience or graduate school.

“I really appreciate the diversity of opportunities within PEO,” said junior swimming and diving student-athlete Erin Oeltjen. “From graduate school at Nebraska and the professional schools offered at the Medical Center to internships and study abroad experiences, every student-athlete will be able to benefit from this program.”

Many students, including sophomore football defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun, are excited to take part in PEO as it opens the door to opportunities they would not have been afforded otherwise. 

“I’m excited to participate in PEO as it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many student-athletes, including me,” Akinmoladun said. “While my first choice would be to use the one-time scholarship for grad school, I’ve always wanted to go overseas and see what else the world has to offer; instead of learning about other cultures and its food, music and art, through PEO, I can live it.”

Those eligible for the program receive an added benefit as they will have three years from the time of graduation or exhaustion of eligibility, whichever occurs latest, to participate in the program.

“Being a psychology major, I need to have an advanced degree to have a successful career, especially today,” said Akinmoladun. “I have added confidence knowing that if I don’t play in the NFL or even if I end up only playing a few years, I can still participate in PEO and pursue my professional career, staying competitive with others entering the field.” 

For the past year, an internal team, comprised of representatives from academics, compliance and life skills, has been instrumental in building this cross-campus, collaborative initiative. With each meeting, their focus remained the same: provide unmatched educational experiences to recent letterwinner graduates, increasing their marketability, personal development and intellectual growth.

“Student-athletes rarely have time to take part in experiences like these due to the demands and rigors of their academic and athletic requirements,” Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics Dennis Leblanc said. “This program opens the door to a number of additional opportunities that will build upon the skills they’ve developed at Nebraska, while making them more competitive and marketable in the job search.”

Recruits, student-athletes and coaches understand the value of the program and its ability to impact their future endeavors.  

“I’m going into my third year as a pre-med student and am starting to think a lot more about medical school and building my resume to be a competitive applicant,” said Oeltjen. “An internship or an opportunity to be involved in medicine abroad would most definitely strengthen my resume; not to mention, the scholarship will ease the financial burden of post-graduate schooling.”

Like other coaches, Head Softball Coach Rhonda Revelle is a strong advocate of the program.

“PEO is just one more way Nebraska continues to separate itself from peer institutions and offers coaches an exceptionally compelling story when explaining to prospects why they should choose Nebraska,” said Revelle. “These benefits will attract the best and brightest student-athletes who truly strive for excellence in the classroom, the playing field and in life.”

Before participants take part in experiences or receiving funding, they will be required to attend PEO Success Series Workshops, facilitated by area experts and designed to equip participants with the knowledge needed to be successful before, during and after their experience.

Nebraska emphasized its strong commitment to preparing its student-athletes to be successful in life by hiring a full-time staff member in May to manage the program and providing $500,000 annually to sustain its efforts.

“I’m honored to represent a university that places just as much, if not more, emphasis on growing its student-athletes into successful individuals as it does into successful athletes,” said Oeltjen. “We are surrounded by the best life skills and academic support staff; this program is just another testament to the importance students and academics play in Nebraska Athletics. There really is no place like Nebraska.”

To learn more about PEO, click here or contact Ashley Stone, PEO Coordinator.


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