Career Cats Presents Unique Opportunity for Student-Athletes
Thirty-four businesses from numerous locations around the region sent representatives to have lunch with, get to know and interview K-State student-athletes.
Every year, the luncheon is the final meeting of K-State Athletics' Career Cats program, a series of workshops throughout the year that prepare student-athletes for professional life after college.
"It's a great program," said football junior Morgan Burns. "We're able to grow our social skills, learn how to go through the interview process and find a job. We learn how to prepare a resume, interact with different businesses and how to carry ourselves through an interview."
Through Career Cats, student-athletes gather at monthly meetings to discuss and practice numerous topics from dining etiquette to building resumes. Then, at the end of the year, they have the opportunity to show off their newly-learned skills at the annual luncheon.
"A lot of the time, as athletes, we don't have the time to do internships or make connections with businesses and future employers," said K-State basketball senior Shawn Meyer. "So this is really a helpful tool to connect businesses in the community and around the area with athletes who they may not have met otherwise."
The Career Cats program began in 1991 when Wildcat football coach Bill Snyder and Ernie Barrett, then the athletics department's director of development, decided they wanted to help the football team focus on their careers after football. Snyder had been a part of a similar program during his time coaching at Iowa and knew how beneficial it was to the men he coached in Iowa City. Snyder brought the idea up to Barrett who then called upon K-State's Dr. Clyde Jones to help get the ball rolling.
"When Ernie Barrett came back to work for K-State, Coach Snyder asked him to help set everything up, and Ernie said, 'I know just the guy! The retired dean of the business school,'" said Dr. Jones with a smile, "and I was just thrilled to death to do it!"
Jones said the early groups were made up of only football players, and they would travel each year to a different city in Kansas. From Wichita to Topeka to Kansas City, Wildcat football players had the opportunity to get to know future employers from all over the state.
In 1999, Da'Von Brame, a four-year linebacker for the Wildcat football, was a member of the Career Cats program.
"It was very helpful for me," said Brame, now a Master Sergeant with the Kansas Highway Patrol. "At that age you really don't know what you're trying to go into. There are so many different options out there for you, and this helps you narrow down what you want to do. When I went through Career Cats, I talked to the FBI, and that helped me. I was in the criminology field, so programs like this help you realize the different areas you can pursue."
Brame, dressed in his Highway Patrol uniform, sat in the concourse of Bramlage Coliseum waiting to talk to his next interviewee. Representing the Kansas Highway Patrol, he sat on the other side of the table - the employer side - ready to answer any questions student-athletes had for him.
"It's pretty neat to see these guys out here doing the same thing that I did," said Brame about being back at a Career Cats event. "It's great to see them out here. Hiring student-athletes is a great benefit for an employer because the work ethic that these kids have right now and the things they go through, that will carry on through their career."
While it started as a program for the football team, K-State Athletics grew the Career Cats program to include all of K-State's 16 varsity athletics teams in 2006.
Along with Brame, there were a few other former student-athletes and Career Cat members representing their current companies at the event. Brame's former teammate, tight end Brian Lamone (1998-2002) represented Waddell & Reed, while former defensive tackle Jermaine Berry (2002-05) represented Prestige Realty. Former basketball guard Chris Merriewether (2006-10) was at the event with Phillips 66, and former track and field pole vaulter David Taylor (2009-13) represented Ernst & Young, LLP.
"Career Cats includes all the sports now, and that's made a world of difference from my end in recruiting business professionals to come out for it," said Dr. Jones. "The girls in equestrian or in rowing have different needs than the football players, so it's been pretty easy to find folks who really enjoy the opportunity to sit down with the students-athletes."
While Wildcat student-athletes are serious about their sports, they're serious about their futures as well, and for 24 years, the Career Cat program has been a support system to help them prepare for the years to come.
"We're learning a lot of skills that will prepare us for after college and down the road once football is over," explained Burns. "One of my coaches says 'NFL' stands for 'Not For Long', so even if that is an opportunity that we as athletes can pursue, in the end, we're still going to need a job and we're still going to need to know these things."