What do you want to do with your life? All college students face the question. Finding the answer isn’t easy and often changes over time. But if you’re looking for an example of how to go about it, Patrick Conniff ’17 has a story to tell.
Since September 1, he’s been working in Chicago as a member programs coordinator in the U.S. Soccer Federation’s national headquarters. It’s a prized position for anyone just out of college, not to mention a soccer addict. Conniff says it’s his dream job. And he got there by embracing everything Augustana had to offer, especially when the road took some unexpected turns.
“So many things came together and I don’t think I could have planned for it to turn out this way,” he said. “That's one of the great things about Augie. No two stories at Augie will ever be the same, but I'm thankful for the one I got to be part of.”
Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Darien, Conniff started playing soccer at the age of 4. He was recruited from high school to play for the Vikings.
All went well until the summer after his first year. He took an overseas trip to Trinidad and Tobago with the team and while there, suffered his sixth concussion. He would no longer play soccer at the collegiate level.
A winning team of mentors can make it happen
Feeling his life was incomplete without soccer, Conniff dove into a support network of mentors and advisors at Augustana.
“He refocused and redirected himself to pursue his goals, knowing his passion for sports,” said one of those advisors, the Rev. Kristen Glass Perez, director of vocational exploration at Augustana.
Vocational exploration led Conniff to think about what he loved, and how he could meet people’s needs. It also led him to all the other assets of CORE (Careers, Opportunities, Research and Exploration).
Located in the Olin Center, CORE is where students can find a customized network of mentors, resources and experiences focused on their future—including career and life paths, graduate school, internships, off-campus study programs, research, entrepreneurship and community outreach.
“The resources and mentors really enable you to assemble your own team at Augustana, from faculty advisors to career and vocational counselors," Conniff said.
"We take the same effort you'd make on your own and we collaborate with you to magnify that effort," said another advisor, Karen Petersen, former director of employer relations and internships at CORE.
Conniff also brought his own determination to succeed. Almost immediately, he picked up a bigger role in the Augustana Sports Information Office, learning about the athletics department from every perspective. He wrote numerous articles for the athletics website, broadcasted games, and learned to manage game day operations for varsity sports, including NCAA tournament events.
At the center of that experience, he said, was the mentorship of Dave Wrath ’80, associate director of athletics. “It really cleared up what I wanted to do, and from there, it was full speed ahead,” Conniff said.
“Dave Wrath truly cared about me and every other student worker on an individual level. His guidance really helped me throughout my time at Augustana.”
Approaching sports from a new direction with his own team of Augie advisors, Conniff discovered a career path that he otherwise might have missed. And he seized every opportunity that came his way.
“He completely gave himself to these jobs,” said Petersen. “In other words, he excelled.”
Innovation, persistence and the liberal arts pay off
Conniff volunteered, took paid and unpaid internships, coached youth soccer, helped raise over $10,000 for local charities through recreational sports leagues in Chicago, and coached a third division professional soccer club in the African nation of Ghana while using his Augie Choice ($2,000 given to every student to support study abroad, research or an internship). He also innovated. One Augie internship had him showing other students how to find sports internships.
To read about the success of—and the need for—economists and others who are liberal arts graduates, see “Liberal Arts in the Data Age” by JM Olejarz, Harvard Business Review.
The persistence paid off, taking him to two leadership seminars in Colorado hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Air Force Academy. Then an internship with Illinois Youth Soccer opened the door to an internship with the U.S. Soccer Federation, which led to full-time employment as their member services coordinator less than a year after graduating from Augustana.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved sports. Being here doesn’t feel like work,” Conniff said with a smile.
Right now, he’s working with all of U.S. Soccer’s member organizations, from the professional leagues to youth soccer associations at the state level.
His degree includes a major in economics with minors in Africana studies and French. He knew economics would be useful in the workplace; the minors were part of a classic pursuit of a liberal arts education that he knew would be useful in life.
It’s amazing, Conniff notes, how things turned out. French is one of the official languages of international soccer, and soccer is the number one sport on the African continent, where many countries speak French. As he says, things came together at Augustana, and no two stories are ever alike.