June 14, 2012
By Bill Bennett
UCLA student-athletes are nationally known for their accomplishments both in the classroom and in collegiate athletic competition. During the 2011-12 school year, five UCLA student-athletes have been making their mark in a new venue - on the third floor in the J. D. Morgan Center, home to Bruin Athletics, working as Development Interns representing the Wooden Athletic Fund.
Senior Lainey Gera (women's volleyball), sophomores Samantha Peszek (women's gymnastics), Eric Kendricks (football) and Aramide Olaniyan (football), and freshman Maddi Mobley (softball) are all office interns for the Wooden Athletic Fund, which is dedicated to honoring the lasting educational and athletic legacy of Nell and John Wooden. Together, members of the Wooden Athletic Fund team provide invaluable support for all 700 UCLA student-athletes, and every gift has a positive impact on their ability to succeed in the classroom, in competition and in the community.
Their office duties include: assisting in coordination of all outreach, cultivation, stewardship and donor relations with the 5,000+ annual fund donors to the Wooden Athletic Fund; day-to-day management of Wooden Athletic Fund marketing efforts; and helping with the planning, organization and implementation of special events such as the OC Bruin Bash, Revelry Before the Rivalry, Football Kick-Off Dinner and the Coach Mora Kick-Off Tour.
The most important aspect of the internship for these five Bruin student-athletes, however, is speaking with donors on a daily basis to enhance their experience with membership in the Wooden Athletic Fund and season tickets, as well as their overall experience with UCLA Athletics.
"We believe strongly that including current student-athletes in our UCLA Athletics Development internship program not only benefits the student-athlete by providing them the necessary work experience they need for life after UCLA, but it greatly enhances our ability to provide our generous donors the first-class experience they deserve," said Josh Rebholz, UCLA Associate Athletic Director for Development. "It is such a wonderful opportunity for our student-athlete interns to get to work hand-in-hand with the donors that so graciously support their scholarship at UCLA. They get a true appreciation that there are so many great Bruins out there who make it possible for them to participate in their sport, as well as get an education from this great institution."
For Gera, a starter on the UCLA women's volleyball 2011 NCAA Championship team, the internship has allowed her to be involved in the day-to-day work process in the Athletics Development office.
"Going into this internship I did not know what really went on behind the scenes of athletics," she said. "I realize now how important our donors, fans and supporters are to Bruin Athletics. Without their donations, UCLA would not have the successful athletic program that it has become today. The lack of funding from the State would not provide enough for this institution to thrive as much as we have now. We would not have these great training facilities, this many scholarships and passionate coaches if it wasn't for the support of our donors. I now see how important they are, and I have learned to appreciate how important fundraising is to Bruin Athletics."
Mobley, a catcher on the softball team, enjoys the competiveness within the Development Office environment.
"It has definitely shown me that I want to do something involved in athletics just because of the awesome environment that is created when dealing with competition," she said. "As an athlete, I crave competition, and a sports type of environment harvests that perfectly. I need a job with the kind of energy our development staff exhibits every day."
All five Bruin student-athletes agree that talking on the phone to the Bruin donors is the most enjoyable part of the job.
"I love telling them I'm a student-athlete and letting them know how much I appreciate all that they do," said Peszek, a four-time All-American and the 2011 NCAA balance beam champion. "I think it's cool that they know so much about our athletic program and are so involved as well. It's really great to figure out how they became such a big UCLA fan and hearing stories from them. They also are so interested in all the sports and what our majors and passions are. They recognize the balance we have in our lives here at UCLA and couldn't be prouder of our accomplishments thus far."
"It makes the donors proud to see the responsibility we take in our own future and the true appreciation we have towards them and everything they do," Mobley added. "It's funny because we meet donors who are so excited to meet us, but in reality they are the superstars; they are making our dreams come true!"
For Bruin football players Olaniyan and Kendricks, as with all of the Bruin student-athlete interns, teamwork and Coach John Wooden's legacy are important elements of the Wooden Athletic Fund internship. "Team Spirit", of course, is one of the 15 building blocks in Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success.
"I have learned how important teamwork is in an office setting," said Olaniyan, an inside linebacker who appeared in 13 games last season and earned Honorable Mention Academic All-Pac-12 honors. "Working in the office has really showed me how things I practice in football, such as teamwork, have a direct correlation to a professional setting."
Kendricks was second on the team in 2011 in tackles (76) and earned Honorable Mention Freshman All-American and Honorable Mention Pac-12 All-Academic acclaim. "I wanted to get work experience to prepare for my future after athletics," said Kendricks, whose father, Marv, led the Bruins in rushing in 1970 and 1971. "This experience will allow me to make connections, learn how to work in an office environment, follow instructions, multi-task and strengthen my work ethic. It makes it more special knowing I'm involved with a program named in honor of the greatest coach of all time."
Rebholz believes these five Bruin student-athletes are examples of how hard-working and dedicated all of UCLA's student-athletes are to Bruin Athletics and to the University.
"These student-athletes are great examples for all of us at UCLA," he said. "They are dedicated to excellence in everything that they do, and their involvement with our program, along with going to school and participating at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics, is remarkable. Hopefully they are learning as much from us as we are from them."
Members of the Wooden Athletic Fund are reminded that the deadline to renew your 2012-13 membership, which may be required to maintain priority seating in the Rose Bowl and new Pauley Pavilion, is due in full by June 30th. You can renew your Wooden Athletic Fund membership or donate to UCLA Athletics online at woodenathleticfund.com or by calling 310-206-3302.