Photo by Nebraska Communications

Life Skills Completes Another Productive Year

By Brian Rosenthal

As a student-athlete at Nebraska, Tom Lemke admits he never delved much into Life Skills, or certainly nothing beyond the necessary requirements.

“We were told to go to all of these events, so I did them,” said Lemke, who played baseball from 2010-12. “It was something we knew we had to go to.”

Lemke didn’t need much time upon his graduation in 2013 to understand why, and to appreciate the counselors’ reasoning.

“When it came time to turn in a resume for a job or prepare for an interview or write a cover letter, I didn’t have to think twice about it,” Lemke said. “I felt like I was really prepared. I always thought that was pretty cool, like after the fact, looking back and being very appreciative for having those types of events to go to.”

Today, Lemke is proud to be a member of the Nebraska Life Skills program from the other side, as a counselor.

Hired in January, Lemke was among three new staff additions in the past year for Nebraska Life Skills, which recently completed a rewarding and productive 2018-19 academic year, and continues to be one of the premier programs in the nation for preparing student-athletes for personal and professional development.

(Review The Life Skills & Enrichment 2018-19 annual report)

Lemke and Kate Frazier are new assistant directors for Life Skills, each overseeing different sports and spearheading numerous events, while DaWon Baker joins the staff as Diversity & Inclusion Director, a somewhat historic position, according to Keith Zimmer, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills.

“I thought it would be really cool and rewarding to come back here and help student-athletes,” Lemke said, “in the same way that Keith and this program helped me out in my development.”

Baker, Frazier and Lemke join existing staff members Stacey Burling, Director of Education & Engagement Programs, and Sammi Cowger, Director of PEO Programs, giving Life Skills six full-time members, including Zimmer.

Nebraska Life Skills is something of a middle ground between athletics and academics; a welcoming, comfortable place where student-athletes can put their career plans into motion, in college and beyond.

With that in mind, Zimmer wants staff members who are accessible and relatable. He believes he’s found that in Lemke, a Nebraska native and former Husker player; in Frazier, who played basketball at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Lincoln University; and in Baker, a St. Louis native who long jumped on the Missouri track and field team.

“All three were student athletes, so they connect very well with our student-athlete population,” Zimmer said. “We have very genuine, hard-working staff members who fit right in and complement Stacey and Sami.”

Baker, for example, is eager to help expand the Life Skills’ Diversity and Inclusion to more than one annual summit, which has occurred the past four years. The goal is to spread awareness and educate student-athletes and staff on the concept of celebrating diversity and practicing inclusion.

“The overall thing I’ve heard from our staff members, is they want to see more in diversity and inclusion than we have had,” said Baker, who’s already helped implement a summer lunch and learn series, to be held once a month during the summer.

After one academic school year, Baker is pleased with the response to his ideas.

“The thing that I was pleasantly surprised about, outside of the fan base itself, I think it’s a place where it’s pretty apparent there are a lot of passionate people,” Baker said. “And I’m very, very passionate about passionate people. I like when people have a fire about them about something.

“And there are a lot of people here who have a fire in them to make a difference in themselves.”

Baker was also instrumental, along with Frazier, in implementing the Life Skills 4-year tiered programming at Nebraska.

This programming aims to meet student-athletes where they are in their development and provide them with opportunities to sharpen and grow as professionals and individuals. Throughout the year, each student-athlete – nearly 640 in all – had to attend certain required events, based on their academic year as a part of this curriculum.

In addition to the 4-year tiered programming, student-athletes met with assigned Life Skills staff members each semester for individually focused personal and professional development meetings dedicated to developing a plan for life after athletics. Individual meeting topics included crafting a resume, the job and internship search process, goal setting, interview techniques and professionalism.

“It’s helpful for the staff to get to know them,” Frazier said of the one-on-one meetings, “and they are way more apt to come ask for help.”

Frazier realizes now how fortunate Nebraska student-athletes are to have such programs to help them, after she played and coached at smaller schools that didn’t offer Life Skills.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do, or even how to go about finding out what I wanted to do,” Frazier said. “I didn’t have anyone help me with a resume or help me find a job. I actually relied on my coaches to do that, which ended up being fine, because I ended up becoming a coach, so they kind of knew that route and how to do that.

“But if I had wanted to be an accountant or anything other than a coach, their expertise may have been a little lacking, and they wouldn’t have had as many connections. Here at Nebraska, we’re fortunate that we have a ton of connections throughout this community in every industry.”

Frazier also oversees the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, the voice of the student-athlete population that met once a month and communicated directly with department administrators on student-athlete welfare. It included 49 members representing all 24 teams.

Among the new activities under Frazier was the Huskers Supporting Huskers Award, which awards student-athletes for attending other athletic events other than the ones they participate in.

“It just kind of brings more unity to the Athletics Department," Frazier said. "Sinclaire Miramontez led the charge, but I was able to help her and get that kind of rolling. It helped increase attendance by student-athletes, so that’s something I’m pretty proud of.”

Lemke, a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and first-team academic All-Big 12 selection in 2011, coached at Manhattan Christian College for a year and served as a graduate assistant coach at Kansas State for two years. There, he said, is when he realized he wanted to get into Life Skills work.

“And I wanted to do it at Nebraska,” he said, “just because of the impact it had on me when I was a student-athlete here.”

Lemke, who spent the fall semester at Indiana before joining Nebraska, is passionate about career development and making certain that student-athletes have plans. Among the activities he oversees are career night, networking night, life after sports, moving off campus and etiquette night, the last of which didn’t exist when Lemke played at Nebraska.

Fourth-year and fifth-year student athletes attend etiquette night, where they learn how to use proper dining etiquette and how to effectively apply networking skills in a professional dining environment.

“It’s just one example how the Life Skills programming is constantly willing to change and improve,” Lemke said. “There’s some stuff that’s similar to when I was a student-athlete, but then there’s also stuff that’s way different, but just as much or more beneficial.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.  

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