When MBA student Sandeep Shah met Cal wide receiver Monroe Young, they talked about football first, one of Shah’s passions, and then moved on to Young’s future career plans.
“He’s exploring the idea of turning professional,” said Shah, MBA 22, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management at the University of Texas at Austin, and worked with the football team there.
Whether or not Young makes it to the NFL, Shah is helping him map out everything from resume drafting to professional network building through a new mentoring program that matches MBA and law students with 20 Cal football players, one Cal women’s rower, and one Cal baseball player.
“An opportunity to create more interest”
Ben Adler, JD/MBA 21, who initiated the mentoring program as vice president of marketing for the Haas Sports Business Club, said his interest in mentoring athletes grew after he worked with Gabby Costamagna, BA 21, a member of the Cal women’s rowing team who was considering going to law school.
He also teamed with the Cal Athletics Department on a consulting project, part of which centered on the lack of graduate student engagement with Cal Athletics.
“Berkeley has thousands of graduate students who have allegiances to their undergraduate teams,” said Adler, who is partial to his own alma mater, University of Michigan. “We’re not as identified with Cal, so there was an opportunity to create more interest among grad students.”
One way of doing that, he thought, was connecting grad students directly to the athletes through a mentoring program. So through the Sports Business Club, Adler reached out to the Cameron Institute.
Bineti Vitta, the Cameron Institute’s director of career development, said they were immediately interested because mentoring aligns with the Institute’s career development pillar.
Piloting the program with student-athletes made sense, she added, as a common mindset among high-profile teams is centered around going pro. Yet in 2020, only 1.6% of NCAA football players were drafted to go professional. If players don’t go pro, they are often challenged with finding an identity outside of sports. “They love their sport and can’t even imagine there’s something that they could love equally,” Vitta said.
They love their sport and can’t even imagine there’s something that they could love equally, – the Cameron Institute’s Bineti Vitta.
Exploring and refining a career path
During five hour-long sessions with mentors, athletes explore various career paths based on their interests, begin to build resumes, and discuss ways to frame their experiences as leaders.
Kendall Stuscavage, MBA/MPH 22, who ran Division 1 cross-country for Cal as an undergraduate, is mentoring Cal cornerback Josh Drayden. Drayden’s top choice is the NFL, but the two have discussed alternate plans—including work in sports management or coaching, or maybe entrepreneurship. “I am helping him to explore and refine that path,” she said.
Drayden called the mentoring program “a great tool for the student athletes here.” “I look forward to working with Kendall more,” he said.
Stuscavage said that the mentoring program is rewarding personally, and also provided an opportunity for her to stay involved with the Cal sports community. “I grew up in the Bay Area and was a Cal Bears fan since I could say the words, “Go Bears,” she said. “As a lifelong athlete, sports are my passion.”
When Adler graduates this spring, he’ll hand off the mentoring program to Stuscavage and Shah. He said he hopes they will expand the pilot to other Cal sports programs, and recruit graduate students from beyond the business and law schools as mentors to expand the career scope of mentorship.
“We would love to expand the mentorship program and the relationship between Haas and other professional schools on campus,” Shah said. “We have high hopes beyond this to create something that is sustainable.”