THE SMALL WORLD OF ELITE ATHLETES
While at Next Step, Smith says, she gained “high-level exposure to finance, accounting, operations, marketing, and strategy” while improving her interview skills, revamping her resume, and learning how to communicate the value of her athletic experience. “Simply put,” she adds, “my overall business acumen grew tremendously.”
It was with her newfound skills that Smith chanced upon the year-long Visa Olympians and Paralympians in Business Development program. Participants experience two six-month rotations through Visa’s San Francisco Bay Area offices in departments that include sponsorship, product, and sales; those who do well are offered another year in the program to gain more work experience while receiving mentorship and leadership exposure.
Because of the selective nature of the program, it isn’t uncommon for former teammates to find themselves in the same room. Margaux Lohry, assistant director of Next Step, joined Tuck in late 2016; prior to that she had worked for the U.S. National and Olympic rowing and swimming teams. Naturally, Lohry knew Smith even before they reunited through Next Step.
“Caitlin is one of those people who so clearly represents the most positive attributes of elite athletes: humility, integrity, perseverance, dedication, and positivity,” Lohry says. “She missed making the 2016 Olympic team by a painfully small margin and I remember the pang I felt in my heart at Olympic Trials watching her race. Caitlin didn’t know I worked here when she applied for the program. It was a delightful and surprising reunion to get to spend three weeks with her again while she was in Next Step.”
Lohry says that while she’s always been an athlete, she was never outstanding enough to take it to the professional level and found great pleasure in helping other athletes reach their dreams instead. Serendipitously, she was thankful to be able to help Caitlin achieve the next goal she set her eyes on.
SIMILAR LIFESTYLES, WORK ETHICS
There is a natural connection between elite athletes, who often share the same work ethic and mindset. Both Smith and Patel say that their class bonded from the first time they met. They shared the same language of persistence and perseverance — but more than that, they were ready to learn.
While veterans, too, had similar backgrounds, their different experiences and perspectives compared to the Olympic athletes created an interesting dynamic, Patel says. All of the program participants recognized that they were starting from scratch on their next professional careers. In many ways, Patel says, each participant had achieved success in their previous careers, and it became humbling to listen and learn all that each individual had accumulated — and to open up to different opinions.
LIFELONG PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL CONNECTIONS
Maggie Ward grew up in a military family in North Carolina. Influenced by her father, who was in the military, Ward and her two sisters all joined the Coast Guard. After graduating the Coast Guard Academy in 2009, Maggie went on her first tour as a naval engineer to San Francisco. Despite all the familiarity, Ward, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in applied mathematics, knew she wanted to work in analytics full-time and left in 2017. Set on a career in tech or finance, she applied to Next Step and began applying to jobs before even graduating from the program.
“Prior to the Next Step program I was a workforce analyst for the U.S. Coast Guard. My responsibilities included designing, testing, evaluating, and implementing workforce-planning strategies through statistical and predictive models for a military workforce of 40,000,” says Ward, who is now a business analyst with Amazon. She adds that she was initially worried about what her classmates in the program would be like, she says that the most life-changing part of her time at Dartmouth was the network she gained.
“I walked away meeting 70 like minded friends who were all in the same point of their careers,” she says. “I look at where everyone is at now and we are dispersed all over corporate America. These relationships are something I will cherish for many years to come.”