Each spring our School celebrates hundreds of students who receive their undergraduate degrees in Kinesiology, Sport Management, or Recreation, Park, and Leisure Studies. Many are beginning new jobs, applying for graduate school, or exploring the array of opportunities open to them. We’re following up with some of our graduates to find out what they’re doing and thinking.
Our December 2016 feature is Cara Gulbronson, who received her B.S. in Sport Management in 2013. She was advised by Alyssa Maples. “Cara was an eager student who cared about her academics, the students and faculty she interacted with and was excited to gain new professional experience in the sporting industry and on campus,” says Maples. “She’s been a phenomenal alum, guest speaking in Sport in a Diverse Society and working with interns from the Sport Management and Recreation program at Courage Kenny.”
Cara grew up in Edina, MN, and transferred to the U of M from Colorado State University in 2011. She received the Rising Alumni Award from CEHD in 2014. Prior to her current position, she worked as Community Relations Associate for the Minnesota Lynx.
Could you describe your current career in detail? How long have you been in this position and what do you like best about it?
I am currently the Wheelchair Sports Program Coordinator at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, CKRI, and have held this position for just over three years. I am coordinating adaptive sport programs for youth and adults with disabilities. My first introduction to adaptive sports was through the Sport in a Diverse Society class in the Sport Management program. The program required a 360-hour internship, which I completed at Courage Center (now Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute) during the summer of 2012. Just a year after I completed my internship with Courage Center, I had graduated and was offered a full-time position with CKRI.
I coordinate all aspects of the CKRI wheelchair basketball (6 teams), wheelchair softball (2 teams), wheelchair tennis, and track and field programs. I also coordinate a few special events, including the Courage Kenny Classic, an annual wheelchair basketball tournament for 12-16 teams from across the country; No Boundaries Sports Camp, where kids ages 6-13 experience wheelchair sports for the first time; and this past summer, the Junior Wheelchair Softball World Series.
I coordinate all aspects, including facilities scheduling, marketing, program registration and database management, equipment maintenance, maintaining relationships with community partners, volunteer management and more. The best part of my job is knowing that I am making a difference each and every day. I am providing an opportunity for individuals with disabilities that they would not have otherwise. The smile on brand-new participants’ faces when they come to our programs for the first time is priceless. For the first time they are surrounded by individuals just like them, and they have shared experiences of living with a disability. Our programs provide a strong sense of community and allow our participants to live an active and healthy lifestyle. We believe that all should be able to work, live and play in a community where we focus on the person’s ability, not their disability.
What sparked your decision to get a degree in Sport Management?
Throughout my four years of high school, I was a three-sport athlete and was able to experience aspects of sport that shaped me into who I am now, both on and off the field. I had and still have a passion for sport, competition, and the feeling of what it means to be part of a team. I had originally thought I wanted to go into health and exercise science and become an athletic trainer, or continue on to Physical Therapy school. However, I soon realized that this was not playing up to my strengths in organization and management. That is when I found the School of Kinesiology’s Sport Management program with a management minor. I knew that I wanted to turn my passion for sport into a career and be able to provide others the same positive experience I had growing up playing sports. Throughout my time at the University of Minnesota, I continued my sports career and joined the U of M women’s club lacrosse team, where I was the travel coordinator for my junior and senior year and was named captain my senior year. It wasn’t until after my internship with the Courage Center that I found my love for adaptive sports.
How do you think your experience in the School of Kinesiology and at the U of M helped you in your career and personal goals?
The best aspect of the University of Minnesota was the option to choose a class with service learning, to volunteer and still get credit for the class. In three of my four semesters at the U, I took a class with the service learning option. I volunteered to analyze statistics for a local school on why students had not been attending class; I was a playground manager; I called Bingo and led activities for senior citizens at Ebenezer Nursing home. As a full-time student and college athlete, trying to have a social life in my free time was limited. However, being able to get these valuable field experiences as part of class gave me a huge leg up when heading into interviews for the required internship for the Sport Management program. Each gave me unique experiences in working with a diverse population, handling conflict, and organizing activities. These experiences prepared me not only for the required internship but were a great asset on my resume when applying for jobs.
The internship allowed me to gain real life experiences in the business of sport and led me to the position I have today. I truly feel that I learned all aspects of sport through the wide variety of classes offered at the University of Minnesota.
What were some of your greatest challenges as a college student? Best experiences?
I was diagnosed with a reading disability after my first semester of freshman year of college, and as all college students know, there is quite a bit of reading in college, and this provided me with quite a challenge. The other challenging aspect was time management and life balance, as school is a full-time job. Making sure you make time to relax and spend with friends and family can be very difficult, but you need to make the time to do it. I was able to overcome these challenges by utilizing Disability Services, which greatly helped me discover the best ways for me to be successful.
The staff, professors, and teaching assistants were awesome and very understanding and supported me. I loved the University of Minnesota Sport Management professors and their passion for teaching. They taught me to actually enjoy school, which previously was very difficult to me. The women’s lacrosse team provided me an outlet outside of schoolwork to be active and meet friends that I am still close with today.
What advice would you give incoming students?
The more connections in the community the better! The more people you can familiarize yourself with while still in school means more connections after you have graduated when you are searching for that perfect job. You would be surprised how far introducing yourself or having short conversations can get you. By getting involved in a club, sport, volunteer group or more can also help you find a balance between school and fun. While your main focus should be school, you are paying a pretty penny for it, and these groups can provide support when you are struggling with classes, overwhelmed with finals or didn’t do as well on that project as you thought.
This includes your teachers, advisers and other staff. They have the knowledge and experience, and have had many students go through the same experiences as you. I visited professors and my adviser outside of class to bounce ideas off of them, and still have great relationships with them today.