UD’s BLUE First of its Kind in the CAA Offering All Student-Athletes, Spirit and Club Team Members a Structured Four-Year Leadership Curriculum

After more than a year of planning and collaboration between the Athletic Department and the Division of Student Life, a new four-year leadership training program will be implemented this fall for student-athletes, spirit team members and club sport leaders at the University of Delaware. Known as BLUE—Building Leaders Utilizing Education—the program is the first of its kind in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) that is led by a collaborative effort between Student Life and Athletics to offer a comprehensive and structured leadership training curriculum throughout all four years of college.

The brainchild of Chrissi Rawak, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation Services, and outgoing Vice President for Student Life Dawn Thompson, BLUE not only aims to prepare students for life after college, but also to ensure they get a chance to experience the same opportunities available to the rest of the student body that strict time constraints and busy practice schedules often preclude.

“This is an exciting time to be at The University of Delaware. We are investing in the student experience to allow all of our athletes the opportunity to take advantage of the full scope of resources this University has to offer,” Rawak said. “This is a unique, collaborative effort between Athletics and Student Life that will develop our student-athletes, spirit team, and club sport members and prepare them to be well-rounded leaders as they head into their future.”

Demonstrating the University’s commitment to this program was the hire of Benjamin Oser, Assistant Director of Student Services & Leadership, who was brought in to oversee the creation and implementation of this program last fall.

“This is a four-year comprehensive leadership program designed to empower and engage all of our student-athletes outside of the classroom and outside of their competition,” Oser said. “When they get to UD they are so focused on their sport and this is going to help them open up to the full university experience and to prepare them for life beyond college athletics.”

How the Program Works
The BLUE program is structured around five dimensions of experiential learning: Personal success, diversity and inclusion, health and wellness, career preparation and community engagement. Each class, program, workshop and lecture will touch on one of these dimensions, with a standardized four-year schedule set up to ensure that all students get the same experience.

The curriculum starts for an incoming freshman student-athlete with the H.E.N.S. (Helping Each Newcomer Succeed) Peer Mentorship Program, whereby an older student-athlete will be assigned to help them acclimate to campus life even before school starts. Once class begins, freshmen will take a First-Year Seminar similar to the First-Year Experience course required for all UD students, which is the only part of the curriculum that is completed for academic credit.

Thereafter, each of the programs will be offered in both the fall and spring so that students can participate during their non-championship season.

Highlights of the core curriculum include:
     ·     Freshman Year: Talks on time management, study habits, career mapping, self-assessment, inclusive excellence and healthy relationships.
     ·     Sophomore Year: Service learning workshops offered in partnership with the HORN Program in Entrepreneurship in the Lerner College of Business & Economics.
     ·     Junior Year: Workshops on professional etiquette and stress management aligning with professional or career experiential opportunities.
     ·     Senior Year: Programs dedicated to lifelong mental and physical wellness and financial literacy.

Mixed in throughout these four years will also be team building and personal leadership trainings and career networking events to get students thinking about and prepared for life after college.

Additionally, the UD Athlete Internship & Job Shadowing Program will be launched in 2017 through BLUE. Although not a core component of the program, it aims at getting student-athletes connected with UD employers, alumni and parents as a way to work customizable experiential programming into their schedules by the end of junior year. The goal is to provide some kind of professional opportunity for every student-athlete before they graduate.

The order the programming is offered to students throughout their college career is just as significant as the substance of the programming itself. Oser emphasized that BLUE offers tailored programming by year that builds on itself, preparing students to be successful in college before trying to teach them how to thrive in the real world.

“We want the students to learn to crawl before they can walk,” Oser said. “The curriculum is designed to provide a solid leadership foundation during freshman year so students can develop and build on their skills as they get closer to graduation.”

Upon completion of BLUE, students will be recognized at the annual department banquet and receive a special sash to wear for graduation. More importantly, they can receive a co-curricular report to attach to their resume and stand out while on the job hunt. Students looking to satisfy more than the basic components can choose to attend supplemental workshops and programs, which the BLUE planning group will continue to expand throughout the year. Any student who completes at least six supplemental programs will receive a special certificate of completion.

Cross-Campus Collaboration
BLUE was conceived jointly by the Athletic Department and the Division of Student Life. While competing goals can sometimes make it difficult for athletic and academic administrations to work together on college campuses, the BLUE program represents a strong alignment of the strategic vision of athletics and the central university administration at UD.

To demonstrate the Athletic Department’s commitment to campus-wide collaboration, they hired Oser largely because of his strong student affairs background.

“Ben’s student programming experience was really critical for us because of the partnership we saw for the future and the investment we are making in this program University wide,” said Jennifer Judy, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Student Services and Sport Administration.

Oser chairs the 11-person BLUE planning group representing partners across campus, including Recreational Sports, Student Services for Athletes, Residence Life and Housing, Student Wellness and Health Promotion, the Blue Hen Leadership Program, Career Services Center, Sport Performance and the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

“Although BLUE is owned by athletics, it’s a partnership between athletics and student life,” said Susan Luchey, Associate Director of University Student Centers for Student Leadership Development, who oversees the Blue Hen Leadership Program and is a member of the committee.

When comparing BLUE to similar programs from around the country, Luchey pegged the intra-campus cooperation as unique. “The partnership with student life is what stands out. Especially with high-profile universities, athletics is such a huge machine that although there are links to other parts of campus, I think this is a genuine partnership in terms of contribution and development of ideas. We developed it from the ground up together.”

Rather than try to recreate the wheel, the BLUE planning group has taken existing programs available to all students at UD and tailored them to be relevant to student-athletes and other special populations of students who struggle to find time for priority programs. Having partners from all over campus represented on the committee has ensured that programming touches all areas of life at UD while still falling within the five dimensions of experiential learning.

Why BLUE?
With such little time to squeeze in extra-curricular activities, the BLUE program was designed to fit into the schedule of a typical Blue Hen student-athlete. Christine Motta, Assistant Director at the Career Services Center, is a member of the BLUE planning group and was herself a former basketball player and coach at UD.

“BLUE is making sure our athletes are not at a disadvantage because of the time demands that they are under,” Motta said. “If you’re siloed and separated you miss out on how great of an institution UD is and on the impact of the college experience in general.”

Judy, another member of the planning group and former field hockey player at UD, feels the same way. “There is always a sense of frustration at how much our athletes can actually participate in the plethora of university activity, resources, programming, and speakers,” she said. “We know that life skills development is happening on our campus, but what a student-athlete doesn’t have is extra time to engage in it.”

In addition to making sure the BLUE curriculum fits into a busy college schedule, Judy and the rest of the planning group take pride in making the program inclusive to a much larger group of students than a typical university, where these kinds of programs are usually more exclusive and may not last the duration of a college career.

“We are striving to work across the university to build a programming model where we are inclusive of all our student-athletes, 500 to 600 students a year, including our club sports leaders and spirit members in cheer, dance and mascots,” Judy said. “We do not want to minimize this program to just an application-based academy, but want to be inclusive of all the student-athletes we impact and to integrate across campus to offer new opportunities they have not yet been able to realize at UD.”

BLUE has officially launched as of September 2017 and will host its first programming session the week of September 11. The BLUE planning group will continue to meet and assess programming via surveys and feedback from students as the program grows.