SVSU has plenty of alumni who, once as student-athletes, represented their school in sport. However, several of those alumni have found a new way to give back to their university: full-time careers.
Jim Dwyer, the executive director of Alumni Relations for SVSU, has been stepping foot on campus for over four decades. After growing up in Detroit, Dwyer enrolled at Saginaw Valley College in 1971.
Dwyer majored in history education while playing on the school’s basketball team. It just so happened that 1971 was the beginning of what is now the Hamilton Gymnasium. Under the guidance of then-head coach and long-time administrator Gene Hamilton, Dwyer began his basketball career.
Dwyer looks back at his career as a student-athlete and how different it was in 1971 compared to today.
“We came in when the program was just starting,” Dwyer said. “People have to remember that, back then, there was no football team.There were no facilities, and we didn’t really have a weight program. So truly, the seed was just being planted.”
The now long-time staff member recognizes how lucky he was to be able to watch not only the basketball program evolve but athletics at SVSU as a whole. He also realizes how valuable his time in athletics was in preparing him for a life in higher education.
“When I go to an event now and see that dream that we all wanted when we were athletes, to see that open in front of my eyes is a pretty special thing,” Dwyer said.
Josh Ode currently holds the position of associate Vice President for Academic Affairs. Once upon a time, however, Ode wore a jersey as a member the SVSU men’s basketball team.
Starting in 1996, Ode grew as a student and also as a basketball player. Playing either at small or power forward, Ode competed for four years for SVSU.
For Ode, however, it wasn’t the competition that allowed him to grow the most. Instead, it was the collaborative effort of being on a team.
“Achieving a goal takes a collaborative effort from different people, and that’s what we did as a team every single time we stepped on the court,” Ode said. “Whether it was practice or a game, we had to operate as a team and a unit.”
After graduating with a teacher’s certificate in physical and health education and biology education, Ode earned his Ph.D. in kinesiology and eventually came back to SVSU. When asked what gave him the tools to be successful in his career, he is sure to not leave out his time in athletics.
“It was an incredible experience,” Ode said. “It was an experience that I would not trade for anything. Part of that is because it wasn’t all perfect; in fact, it was far from perfect, and that’s prepared me for a lot.”
Also in the kinesiology department is Becca Schlaff. Schlaff came to SVSU in 2004 and walked on to the cross country and track teams. With a drive to not be the weakest member of the team, Schlaff worked exceptionally hard the summer before her first season started, and, as a result, she was the number one runner on the cross country team. In her first season of track, she competed in the national tournament in the 5K race for the outdoor team in Texas.
Schlaff took on a leadership role early in her career, as she became a team captain for both cross country and track in her sophomore year.
“I think, above anything else, (athletics) showed me what I was capable of if I worked really hard,” Schlaff said. “I didn’t realize in high school that I could be a leader, but my coach saw potential in me and made me a captain. That led me to realize that I was able to be a leader and build great relationships with my teammates.”
In Schlaff’s best campaign, her junior year, she was awarded with being an All-American in cross country and the 3K race in outdoor track.
During her senior year, however, Schlaff was plagued with injury after injury, ending her cross country career early and resulting in only qualifying for nationals in track.
Schlaff ties her overall success in athletics to her success in academics, instilling in her confidence to complete her Ph.D. program and begin teaching at the place where she grew in so many ways.
“Working at and giving back to the place that I got so much from is surreal,” Schlaff said. “This place taught me so much as a student and an athlete, and I felt like it was something I was supposed to do, to come back and teach here.”
SVSU Dining Services Marketing Manager Zach Myers was a top contributor to the SVSU men’s soccer program.
Myers led the SVSU defense into his third year. During that 2011 season, the program won its first GLIAC championship title. Myers won the GLIAC Defensive Player of the Year that season.
It wasn’t until his senior season, however, that Myers peaked. He played his senior year from the new position of forward. He finished with 17 goals and led the conference with 35 points. His 17 goals included the game winner in the 110th minute of the Cardinals’ NCAA Tournament Elite Eight match to send them to the Final Four. Myers was then awarded the GLIAC Offensive Player of the Year, making him the first student-athlete to win both offensive and defensive player of the year awards in the GLIAC’s history. In addition, he was named an All-American for academics and athletics and was awarded the NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Player of the Year.
Myers now has the chance to give back to SVSU through his job he started after graduating with a degree in business management.
“When I came here, I didn’t think I’d want to stay around the area, but SVSU was something I fell in love with,” he said. “If I didn’t play soccer, I wouldn’t have as much of a connection with the university as I do.”