Kelsi Schaer is ready to take on all the challenges
For Kelsi Schaer, there's no challenge too big.
There's no obstacle she won't power past.
Need something done? She's the one to turn to.
There seems to be no task, no situation, or no deterrent that she can't handle.
It's been that way since she won a track and field state championship while at Tigard High School, to handling any challenge in her professional life, which now has her serving as an academic counselor for the University of Tennessee, located in Knoxville, Tenn.
"I'm pretty competitive. It's hard to outwork me," Schaer said with a laugh by phone. ""My mom (Christi) always used to say that, 'if you've got some time, then Kelsi will fill it.' At the end of the day, I want to be good at whatever I did. I try to pass that along — pay it forward."
Pay it forward, and keep going forward — as fast as she can.
Schaer, a 2011 Tigard High School graduate, certainly did that when competing for the Tigers. She played four sports at Tigard — soccer, cross country, basketball and track and field. But her brightest moment came during her senior season, when she turned in an amazing come-from-behind performance in winning the 1,500-meter run at the Class 6A state track and field championships, held at Hayward Field in Eugene.
"Looking back, it means a lot to me," Schaer said. "I remember being in sixth, or seventh place with about 250 meters to do. I remember saying to myself, 'if you want to do something, you have to do now.'"
She did it, passing by Jesuit's Annamarie Maag and St. Mary's Paige Rice in front of the finish line, winning the race in a time of 4 minutes, 37.03 seconds. Rice was second at 4:37.47, and Maag was third at 4:37.78.
"It was a matter of pride," Schaer said of her come-from-behind victory. "It was a fun experience, so gratifying. It took courage and bravery, and that continues to play out in day to day life."
For Schaer, it certainly does.
Born to be a Beaver
After graduating from Tigard High School, Schaer knew exactly where she wanted to go — or, where she was destined to go — next.
"I went to Oregon State University," she said. "I got to run there (cross country and track), and that was one reason. But I was born and raised an OSU fan. My grandparents lived on 29th street (in Corvallis), and that was about a mile off of campus."
Schaer thought she knew what path she wanted to follow, academically, when she started at Oregon State.
"I started as a math major. I thought about maybe becoming a teacher and a coach," Schaer said. "I was really into human development. But I ended up hating it. I thought there must be something else I could do. I switched over and started taking some entrepreneur classes. I really liked that, and got into business."
And, just like she was sprinting the final 100 meters of the 1,500, the determined Schaer didn't let anything stand in her way at that point. Graduating from OSU in 2016, she ended up doing a double major, finance and marketing, with a minor in economics.
Schaer also ended up doing some internships along the way. She was an intern with the Oregon State Athletics ticket office, and she was a merchandise operations intern for the Corvallis Knights baseball team of the West Coast League, just to name a couple.
"But I still didn't know what I wanted to do," Schaer said. "I did some internships, but I didn't know what I wanted to do after college."
The next step
Not knowing what she wanted to do next, Schaer was looking for some advice.
"I had a mentor, Kimya Massey, who encouraged me to go to grad school, and to go somewhere I've never been before," Schaer said.
She took that advice, and it led her out of state — and to another part of the country.
"So, I applied to a lot of schools, and ended up landing at the University of Tennessee," Schaer said. "I joked that I was upgrading my color of orange."
While at Tennessee, Schaer earned her Master of Science degree in sports management. She also found a possible career path.
"I moved to Knoxville in 2016," Schaer said. "I served as a graduate assistant in academic services for student athletes while I worked on my Masters. It was a whole new world. There's a huge fan base here. It was weird seeing 100,000 people at a football game."
Meanwhile, her job as the assistant academic counselor certainly kept her busy as she finished up her education.
Among many other things, the position required Schaer to cultivate mentoring relationships with student-athletes who competed for the football, women's basketball, women's soccer, women's tennis, track and field and men's golf teams. She also needed to identify effective learning styles, study habits, time management, and communication skills of each student to tailor teaching methods to the needs of each student to promote a successful transition into higher education.
During her time in graduate school, Schaer received the Joan Cronan Lady Vol Graduate Fellowship.
"I would say Joan Cronan is someone I've looked up to for many years for her leadership in our industry, and as a woman in college athletics," Schaer said. "Her influence at the University of Tennessee, and within college athletics as a whole, has inspired me since high school."
The fellowship was established in 2014 to honor the legacy of Joan Cronan, and her contributions to women's collegiate athletics.
After getting her Master's Degree from the University of Tennessee, Schaer was looking ahead to her next opportunity — the next challenge.
"I finished up there in 2018, and applied for a lot of jobs," she said.
Then the opportunity arose.
"I had a connection at the University of Pittsburgh, and they said, 'hey, I have this job open for you,'" Schaer said. "I'm a big believer that you should go where there are good people, so I moved up to Pittsburgh."
So, Schaer was off to the University of Pittsburgh, located in Pittsburgh, Penn. At Pittsburgh, Schaer worked as a career consultant.
"I worked in a hybrid role, in student affairs and assisting in career direction with athletes," she said. "It was very interesting. I learned so many new things. I loved it."
Among her duties at the University of Pittsburgh, Schaer provided career consultation services to 475-plus student-athletes from 19 varsity sports, and assist Current Panthers with major exploration, career planning and graduate-school preparation.
Still, while the position at the University of Pittsburgh was interesting and educational, another opportunity presented itself.
"This past August (of 2019), my old supervisor at Tennessee called and said I could come back and work there," Schaer said. "It seemed too good to be true. It was to be the academic counselor to the track and field teams, and some football as well."
Back at Tennessee
Since that call in August, Schaer has moved on to become an academic counselor at the University of Tennessee.
"I help students adjust to life in college. I help them get to the next stage. It's fun being on the other side now," Schaer said, referring to the fact that she was a former student-athlete herself. "It's been a wild ride since last fall, going through football, and then getting ready for track and field. I had to adjust on the fly."
That's just one of the challenges.
"You have to show support to students who may not be academically focused when they get here. There are a lot of challenges," Schaer said. "Sometimes, you need to help someone realize that they need to identify as a student/athlete. Those challenges start right when you step foot on campus. I wear a lot of hats here, and no two challenges look the same."
But, sometimes, those challenges could end up being gratifying.
"You get to see young people develop and achieve small wins. That's rewarding," Schaer said. "Not all high schools are created equally. In my role, I have to be dynamic, and meet them where they are. Ideally, everyone would walk out with a degree. It's huge, as an administrator, to see them go through every stage of development, and be successful. It's rewarding to see that."
Changes with COVID-19
Like the rest of the world, Schaer has had to deal with changes to her job due to the threat of the COVID-19 virus.
"This is an adventure. It's very weird," Schaer said. "My job has changed, so that now I spend most of the day on FaceTime. It's probably going to stay that way at the university as we transition to all-online classes. It's probably going to stay that way until the start of summer, at least."
But, no matter what, Schaer is going to keep at her job with her usual tenacity.
"In our department, we want every student to still feel like we're here. We've split them up, into once-a-week, twice-a-week, and daily categories. My goal is to make sure that I'm here whenever they need me. I've been really busy. It feels like I'm the CEO of 140-some students. It's a fun challenge."
Instructing on the web
In addition to her duties at the University of Tennessee, Schaer has also taken part in a series of webinars.
"I'm part of the national association of N4A (the National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals). I started getting involved with that during my senior year in college. I got connected with other young professionals in the industry. We did a program called, 'Wait, I'm not an intern any more? Maximizing your role as a professional.'"
The last webinar Schaer was part of was held March 11, and also included DaWon Baker, diversity and inclusion director from the University of Nebraska, Tim Bryson, program director student-athlete career development from the University of Maryland, Sable Lee, assistant director of student-athlete development from Clemson University, and Michael Salm, director of leadership development from Rutgers University.
"We show how to go from being a young professional into having a full-time roll, dealing with issues like financial awareness and time management."
At the N4A national convention in 2019, Schaer received the Professional Promise Award for Region 1 within the organization. The N4A Professional Promise Award honors 'new' professionals who serve student-athletes, and who have dedicated their energy to the association and its mission.
Even though she's nearly nine years past, and many, many miles away from her days at Tigard, Schaer is still driven from her days as a Tiger.
"My days at Tigard influenced me so much," Schaer said. "All of the coaches, like Denise Foote (cross country) and Erik Smith (track and field), at Tigard meant so much to me. Tigard set the foundation for everything I've done in life."
Sports also played a big role for Schaer.
"For me, that's extremely important," she said. "I started playing sports at a very young game, and I played every sport under the sun. My dad (John) told me that I should be the best first mate in every thing that I do, with the idea being that he exposed my brother (Will) and I to a variety of diverse activities when we were young to build a vast foundational skill set, if we ever needed to lend a helping hand or were asked if we wanted to participate in activities. Now, looking back, that is so meaningful. It's important to give back from the experiences that I had."
But it was more than just sports that influenced Schaer.
"My freshman year at Tigard, I had to pick an elective class, and I ended up in choir," Schaer said. "At first, I was skeptical, but I ended up loving it. I got to meet, and become friends with, a whole bunch of new people. That experience, along with the ceramics class, with Mr. (Greg) Johnson, were awesome. I'm the least artistic person there is, but I loved it."
Ceramics, choir, sports, college, counseling, career — it doesn't seem to matter. Kelsi Schaer is ready for the challenge, and she's going to take it on with everything she has.
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