There’s an old saying in basketball that players “shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot”—essentially meaning that hoopers must have a short memory if a shot doesn’t go in and play with the confidence that the next one will swish through net.
Faith Blethen, a senior guard on the George Washington University women’s basketball team, has carried that mantra on the court, and for four seasons she’s been a reliable player with the ability to step back and hit a 3-point shot at a crucial time of the game. But she never really thought about how that mentality could translate on a resume.
When practice, treatment, film study, travel and games are all factored into the equation, being a student-athlete at the Division I level is all encompassing. That simultaneously prevents student-athletes from pursuing internships or part-time jobs that might give them a leg up in their careers, thus making for a more difficult transition to the professional world once they’ve hung up the jersey for the final time.
But thanks to the GW Professional Competencies Initiative, launched in 2019, Blethen and other student-athletes at GW have been equipped with tools that incorporate skillsets needed to be high-level athletes into their resumes and eventual job applications.
Through the program, Blethen learned how resiliency on the basketball court—such as continuing to shoot the ball even if you missed the shot the last time—prepares a person for the ebbs and flows of the workforce and even application process. The accountancy major used the program’s resources to land internship opportunities she never thought she’d have, including one at Deloitte in Arlington this summer.
“It has made all the difference in my time at GW, especially as an athlete,” Blethen said. “I feel like it's shown me more about myself, but also it's helped me get even further ahead with this skill set that I've gotten through athletics.”
Launched as a pilot in 2019 thanks to a gift from former women’s basketball player Cathy (Neville) Cranberg, B.A. ’95, that provided the funding for associate program director Julia Browne to lead the Professional Competencies Initiative, the program empowers and prepares student-athletes in the transition from playing field to workplace.
Every student-athlete works through a development plan to focus on eight competencies (teamwork, professionalism, communication, inclusion, critical thinking, technology and data, leadership and career development) with the aim of identifying and building real-world skills that employers covet.
The program takes on a multi-faceted approach to integrating competencies that includes the GW Life Skills Career Development Model, LEAPP, academic advising and individual career appointments. Every student-athlete also identifies their strengths through the CliftonStrengths Assessment and learns how they can intentionally continue to build them during their time donning a GW uniform.
“Career competencies is really a framework to talk about and process things,” Brown said. “It’s about giving them the tools and then showing them how to go about and use them.”
The percentage of student-athletes with job plans at graduation increased by 17% from 2019 to 2022, and more than 65% of GW student-athletes have completed internships since its launch.
“Student-athletes indeed have a unique experience and skill set to bring to the workforce that are inherently attractive to employers, but they have also missed some valuable real-world internships, experience and deeper skills that employers may require or desire, so there is a tradeoff,” said Cranberg, who played on three NCAA tournament teams and was captain of the 1995 women’s basketball squad that made the Sweet 16. “With our program we hoped to close that gap with a very purposeful foundation of competencies that they might not be exposed to on the court or classroom.”
“I’m proud that we are taking action for the whole person, not only the athlete part of them. We are setting a path for them when they step on campus to understand the long game of life and to prepare them with the skills necessary to be successful.”
She got to see the proof firsthand this past summer, as Blethen interned with Aspect Holdings, LLC, in Denver, where Cranberg serves on its board of directors.
This past fall, Browne introduced the professional career readiness competencies to academic deans and faculty so that all first-year students can be introduced to the competencies in their First Year Seminars. She is proud of how student-athletes on campus have used these resources and connected the dots for others to understand the level of proficiency that comes with teamwork, leadership, communication, critical thinking and inclusion.
“Helping these students travel this path with the kind of resources that allow them to really excel is something that has helped to empower them to be able to achieve their goals both inside and outside of athletics,” she said.
Brendan Conley, a senior international business major on the men’s swimming and diving team, is one such empowered student-athlete who used the tools of the program to secure a pair of internships—first as a trade ally fellow for the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility and then as a business development intern for Sol Systems. He admitted that at such a high level of competition, it can feel like he has blinders on with such a narrow focus on the pool day in and day out. But through the program, he was able to see how his skills translated and landed at internships that fueled his passion for working within the renewable energy space.
“Having this framework has really allowed me to translate all of the skills that I'm working on and developing every single day into an interview or application format,” he said. “We’ve been introduced to professional vocabulary that employers are looking for in graduates and students and how we can translate our skills for that.”