Photos special to Fighting Hawks Magazine
Hawkademy allows UND student-athletes the chance to build their leadership skills alongside teammates and fellow athletes. It’s goal? To create quality leaders on and off the field.
When Amanda Hajdu came to the University of North Dakota in 2009, one of her goals for the athletic department was to create a leadership program. The current Associate Athletics Director for StudentAthlete Support Services was keen on the idea of offering a leadership academy to serve as an extra-curricular for UND’s student-athletes. Given the amount of time that went into being a collegiate athlete and a full-time student, Hajdu found that UND’s student-athletes were looking for ways to involve themselves in campus life.
Due to a lack of resources and staff, the idea was only a dream for the first five years of Hajdu’s time with UND athletics. However, in 2014, that changed. “We would always say, ‘maybe next year or maybe next year’ and then we sat in here one day in 2014 and we just said ‘let’s do it’,” Hajdu said. “We’re going to keep talking about it, so let’s just do it and get it started.”
That was the beginnings of what would become Hawkademy, a leadership academy designed for UND student-athletes to assist in their leadership skills as well as personal and professional growth. While the mission has remained the same, Hawkademy’s structure has fluctuated greatly in its four-year existence.
Originally known as just the “leadership academy”, the program’s inaugural year in 2015 saw 20 to 30 athletes participate. Hajdu says that this group of student-athletes were a good litmus test for where the program would go in the future. The curriculum was purchased from an outside source while Hajdu and others looked to the program’s impact for future student-athletes.
That is where Tyler Burmeister comes in. Burmeister, who is the Coordinator for Student-Athlete Development, formed what would become the core curriculum for the newly re-named Hawkademy. A student-athlete at the sophomore level or higher is allowed to join Hawkademy. The goal is to have student-athletes be involved in the academy for their sophomore, junior and senior years. Due to this, there are three tiers that student-athletes go through, each correlating with their year in school.
The tiers and the corresponding skills and teaching lessons are as follows:
1 – Emerging Leaders (Sophomore): Student-athletes discover their own personal leadership style and learn how to communicate with others.
2 – Rising Leaders (Junior): Application of their personal leadership style in various situations, Student-athletes also participate in effective communication exercises and properly dealing with conflict based on their leadership style.
3 – Soaring Leaders (Senior): Focuses heavily on the student-athletes career after graduation. Learning to apply leadership lessons and how to sell yourself in the professional world. Hawkademy works with UND’s Career Services Center to help student-athletes apply their leadership style to the real world.
Hawkademy works with four different leadership styles using the DISC assessment. Those styles are dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. With differences in leadership styles across the student-athletes, Burmeister is left to sift through it all. “With our sophomore group we do a lot of self-assessments,” Burmeister said. “Those are the guiding tool to finding themselves. A lot of those assessments sort of talk about the differences in other people as well. The big focus is not only finding themselves but others as well. That transitions to dealing with conflict.”
One of the most important aspects of Hawkademy is how diverse the population is. The student-athletes who join not only play different sports, but they also come from different walks of life. For Burmeister, that only helps the student-athletes effectively communicate with their teammates, and eventually, peers in their career field. “We definitely want that diversity factor in Hawkademy,” he said. “We want them to figure out their ‘why’, but in order to do that, they have to communicate with others. We want it to be an open dialogue and help them understand how other people may tick.”
The most vital aspect within Hawkademy’s structure is the importance put upon student-athletes finding a career after graduation. While some UND athletes move into professional athletics, a lion’s share of athletes will look to find a career in their chosen major field. Hawkademy has continually taken steps forward in helping senior student-athletes move into the professional world.
“One of the big things we created last year was a mentorship program. Everybody from our senior group will get matched with someone in a career field they are interested in,” Burmeister said. “It’s usually a former alumnus in the professional sphere. We create that dialogue and allow them to ask those questions. Now they are getting some real-world experience from someone who is working in a field they want.”
This dialogue is an initial informational interview with the mentor. Athletes will then follow-up with that professional once a month, or more if they choose. In turn, it almost serves as an internship for the student-athlete, giving them a chance to get their feet wet and see what professional life looks like. While several Hawkademy graduates have moved to graduate school, Burmeister and Hajdu hope that these mentorships lead to employment opportunities in the future.
As for the future of Hawkademy, both Burmeister and Hajdu see growth. “I want to see continued numbers, obviously,” Burmeister said. “I think this program is always going to adapt because the athletes will change, there will not be a set in stone way we do this program. Their interests will change and the society around them will change too.”
For Hajdu, who formulated the idea when she first started with UND athletics, it is about keeping the Hawkademy group tight, even after graduation. “A big thing will be to create that feeling of being an alum of Hawkademy,” she said. “Every time alumni come back or whatever, there will always be this sub-group of people who went through Hawkademy together.”
Regardless of what the future holds for Hawkademy, it has proven to be a unique avenue for student-athletes. Not only are they afforded the opportunity to cultivate leadership skills and grow personally and professionally, but they create relationships as well. Relationships with other UND student-athletes that may play a different sport or come from a different background than them. That fact alone will go a long way as UND student-athletes phase-out of college life and into the professional world.