Friday Feature: MIAC student-athletes take advantage of whole student-athlete experience, receive NCAA award

Friday Feature: MIAC student-athletes take advantage of whole student-athlete experience, receive NCAA award

Photos courtesy of Carleton College Sports Information and Concordia College Sports Information

ST. PAUL, Minn. --- When it comes to college sports, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of competition and winning championships, especially during the “madness” that is the month of March. But once the confetti has fallen and the gym lights are shut off, the remarkable athletes that captivate spectators and fans go back to their “jobs” as students.

Though the concept of a student-athlete in the truest sense of the word tends to get lost amidst this madness that occurs in nearly every college sport near the end of a season, the NCAA continues to reaffirm its commitment to ensuring that every one of its 400,000 student-athletes has the best opportunities available to “become pro in something other than sports.”
 
As part of that commitment, the NCAA awards 174 Postgraduate Scholarships annually for student-athletes in their final year of intercollegiate athletics who exemplify what it means to be a student-athlete both on and off the playing field. Each deserving student-athlete is awarded $7,500 to pursue postgraduate educational opportunities.
 
The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) has committed to upholding the highest standards of academic achievement for its student-athletes, so it’s fitting that two MIAC fall student-athletes have been awarded the prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. And according to their coaches and faculty members, Concordia College women’s soccer player Erika Swenson and Carleton College football player Will Taylor couldn’t be more deserving.
 
A willingness to learn
Taking criticism and advice is often a difficult task for any individual, but can be especially difficult for student-athletes who often put so much pressure on themselves to perform and achieve. However, according to Concordia head women’s soccer coach Dan Weiler, this ability to take advice in order to become a better competitor is what sets Erika Swenson apart and makes her deserving of the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.
 
“(Erika’s greatest strength) is her willingness to learn and take advice and apply that to become better,” said Weiler. “Erika is very bright and highly motivated. She’s a fierce competitor and has been an effective role model throughout her time with our program.”
 
Swenson’s leadership and motivation to be the best helped the Cobbers capture the MIAC women’s soccer playoff crown in 2010 and earn a spot in the NCAA tournament three of the last four years. She was also named to the MIAC All-Conference team for women’s soccer in 2010 as the Cobbers’ key defensive stopper.
 
But Swenson’s willingness to learn and determination to succeed not only helped her excel on the soccer field but has allowed her to shine in the classroom. As a Healthcare Management and Classical Studies double major, Swenson has managed to maintain a 3.98 GPA while playing soccer and taking on leadership roles in other campus activities and clubs. She is the current vice-president of the Concordia Student Healthcare Management Association, serves as the Program and Event Commissioner for the Student Government Association and represents women’s soccer for the Cobber Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
 
Swenson’s campus involvement and academic achievements are only a small part of her resumé that made her eligible and deserving of the NCAA’s award. Candidates for the award must also demonstrate involvement in volunteer and community service activities. Swenson’s repertoire also includes participation in Relay for Life, founding and chairing the Concordia Dance Marathon as a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network, mentoring students at a local church and serving as an assistant coach at a local high school.
 
The ability to balance so many activities and excel in each is not only incredible, but is also an exhausting concept. However, Swenson said she’s used to getting a limited amount of sleep and uses to-do lists in order to complete all the tasks she needs to get done each day.
 
“I make a to-do list every day and include everything that I need to accomplish during the day,” Swenson said. “Being a student-athlete taught me and necessitated time management skills.”
 
The Fargo, N.D., native plans to take her learning to the next level with her NCAA honor by entering the work world and then pursuing a dual Master’s degree in Public Health and Business. Swenson said she was interested in applying after learning that Dr. Vince Arnold, Concordia Faculty Athletic Representative, had nominated her for the award and was surprised that she had indeed received the scholarship.
 
Those who know Swenson’s capabilities, though, were not surprised. Weiler said Swenson is more than deserving because of her commitment to her teammates, her academics and off-season activities. He also said Swenson exemplifies the types of student-athletes Concordia prides itself in bringing in and cultivating through its athletic programs.
 
“(Erika receiving the award) shows that we have well-rounded student-athletes at Concordia who excel in the classroom and on the field,” Weiler said. “We target these types of people and have been lucky to have them as a part of our athletic department.”
 
Though Swenson’s time at Concordia nears its end, her learning will continue due to her NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. However, Swenson’s greatest lesson while at Concordia came on the soccer field.
 
“Being a student-athlete has taught me the importance of finding something you love and sticking with it,” Swenson said.
 
A passion for excellence
Passion is a key ingredient to success not only as an athlete, but in all avenues of life. According to Carleton head football coach Kurt Ramler, Will Taylor exudes a passion for excellence in everything he does which has helped him exceed expectations during his four years at Carleton an receive the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.
 
“Will has a zest for learning and a zest for life,” said Ramler. “He really epitomizes what our team and Carleton is about.”
 
Taylor, who Ramler considers a “borderline genius,” used his passion for learning to take full advantage of every opportunity available to him at Carleton. As an International Relations/Political Science major with a concentration in Archaeology who owns 3.86 GPA, Taylor still managed to find time outside of his studies and football career to study abroad in Beijing, China and travel to Southeast Asia on a political economy seminar. Taylor also participates in the Carleton chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), studies Chinese and teaches hunter education in his hometown of Missoula, Mont.
 
Taylor’s passion for excellence is also noticeable in his achievements on the football field. Behind Taylor and the Knights’ offensive line, Carleton was able to increase its rushing production significantly in the last three years. That same offensive line was twice named the D3Football.com O-Line of the Week during Taylor’s four years and led the Knights to a second-place MIAC finish in 2008.
 
Though Ramler described Taylor’s personality off the field as gregarious and fun-loving, he said Taylor was tenacious on the field and helped fuel Carleton’s success offensively while still finding joy in just being on the field.
 
“When he steps on the field, he changes into a tough, tenacious person,” Ramler said. “He always had a grin underneath the determination and hardcore toughness that he had.”
 
Much like Swenson though, Taylor said the ability to perform at a high-level both on and off the field comes from the ability to perfect time-management skills and do something that he really enjoyed.
 
“For me, my best academic performance is usually during football season, because with so many things going on you have to manage your time carefully,” Taylor said. “I think the other thing that helped was doing things that I really enjoyed. I wouldn’t have survived college athletics if I didn’t love my teammates, coaches and playing football, and I wouldn’t have survived Carleton if I hadn’t found great professors and subjects that I was really passionate about. Being excited about what you are doing makes balancing so many commitments much easier.”
 
Taylor’s latest commitment to his pursuit of a career in archaeology will begin with an expedition to Mongolia in May to conduct archaeological research with the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. Following the trip, Taylor will enroll in graduate school for archaeology in the fall at either the University of New Mexico or Cornell University.
 
Though Taylor is well on his way to finding success in his career field, it was a process that didn’t come easily. Carleton Faculty Athletic Representative Jenny Wahl said that the college’s archaeology program is very small, but Taylor’s “entrepreneurial spirit” and devotion to his major have allowed him to follow his desired path.
 
“Will has made the most of related coursework and has struck out on his own to find ways to complement his excellent liberal arts background with meaningful field work, culminating in his Mongolia expedition this coming summer,” Wahl said.
 
Taylor also hit a road block in his pursuit of his future career when considering what to do upon his graduation. He originally planned to find an entry-level archaeology job and later apply to graduate school. However, being nominated for the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship significantly changed his plan.
 
“One of the biggest challenges about studying something like archaeology is that there just isn’t a lot of funding available, and you need a Master’s degree or Ph. D. to get a stable job,” Taylor said. “Thanks to the NCAA, this process is going to be a whole lot easier for me.”
 
More importantly though for Taylor, receiving the award has reaffirmed that his passion for and dedication to football, his studies and extracurricular activities has been worth it.
 
“It’s a huge honor,” Taylor said. “It really makes me feel like all the hard work of the last four years has paid off and that’s a great feeling.”
 
“The ideal of the ‘student-athlete’ really can exist”
Swenson and Taylor’s accomplishments during their time as MIAC student-athletes have not only made them deserving of the recognition each has received from the NCAA, but Wahl said their accomplishments show that, “the ideal of the ‘student-athlete’ really can exist.” 

“Recognizing our athletes for their intellectual achievement reinforces our belief that scholarship is truly important,” Wahl said. “At Carleton and other MIAC schools, we try to focus on the whole person, and we think this holistic approach helps MIAC athletes achieve their best no matter what the forum. For our students to receive the NCAA scholarship helps confirm this approach is working.”

MIAC Release on Swenson and Taylor's NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships