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2023 - How the game can change your life: Schaefer shares her journey

Tags: Staff Profile
Published 06/08/2023
Melanie Schaefer, sports information and academic support specialist

Melanie Schaefer, sports information and academic support specialist

On each given work day, and the occasional off-hours pep-talk, I work closely with the Elgin Community College student-athletes, but I am not a coach.

As the sports information and academic support specialist, I work directly with our student-athletes to ensure they have the necessary support to balance life as a collegiate athlete, one that is busy and stressful but worth every moment. I know the lives of our student-athletes because I am a former student-athlete. I know how hard balancing school, work, practice, and games can be and that it is essential to provide them with both guidance in their academic journeys and cheer them on the sidelines for them to find success.

My academic support role includes advising, referring students to tutoring or wellness services, and running the Athletes Committed to Excellence (ACE) program. ACE is an educational monitoring program that includes study tables and checking in with the student-athletes. Thanks to the multitude of resources on ECC’s campus,  our student-athletes have what they need to succeed both on and off the field. My position has provided me with a lot, but working this closely with student-athletes is extremely special. I know I have done my job if I positively impact them as they move forward with their lives.

I was a competitive swimmer throughout high school. Thanks to the help and support of my favorite English teacher, I wanted to combine my interest in journalism with my passion for sports. I chose the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to major in journalism with an emphasis in broadcast, print, and web and minor in sports management while continuing my swimming career.

As a student-athlete, I loved the opportunity to continue playing in college, but that came with its challenges. At UWW, we had mass advising, so student-athletes did not have a specific support system to help balance our academics with our sport. I recall the stress of planning my way through school and figuring out that balance alone, which wasn’t easy. I even found myself helping other athletes with their schedules and needs, deepening my niche in academic support and later Athletic Communications, also known as Sports Information.

I began as a student worker in the athletics department, and the summer before I started that job, I had career-ending shoulder surgery. It was a very emotional time, to say the least, as I’d been swimming since I was eight, but working kept me distracted. By the end of that semester, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in athletic communications, leading me to remain at UWW for graduate school, where I worked as a graduate assistant in the athletic department.

I went from being a graduate assistant to landing a job as the Assistant Director for Athletic Communications at one of the top Division III schools in the country before graduation. Due to my own experience as a student-athlete, I was dedicated to supporting these athletes beyond that of athletic communications but branching into academic support, seeing how essential it can be to have someone in your corner and ensuring you remain on track in the classroom.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the lockdown began, it would be almost a year until I worked another game. I felt like something was missing when they started again, even when traveling to national championships with my teams.

I never pictured myself working at a community college, but I wanted to stay in this field and find a school where I could create and build a following and make my own decisions. So, I took the new opportunity at ECC and moved to Illinois. Taking this chance at ECC has exceeded my expectations for what I wanted in a career. I finally feel settled, and I have the ECC athletic department, the college as a whole, and our exceptional student-athletes to thank.

Since I began at ECC, during the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 academic years, 74 student-athletes earned Academic All-Conference honors, with 20 being named Academic All-American. During the 2022-23 academic year, 104 student-athletes made the academic scholar list. We’ve seen an increase in award recipients and even a GPA increase of 0.3 from Fall 2021 to Fall 2022.

Athletically, I have promoted one All-American, nine All-Region, and 24 All-Conference recipients while at ECC. Seeing my student-athletes succeed furthers my dedication to them, my department, and my college.

Without a doubt, sports have changed my life.

Melanie Schaefer, sports information and academic support specialist