It is volleyball tournament time which means the season will end sometime during the next few weeks. And before we know it the school year will be complete. Many will graduate. And more than a few will be wondering what they are going to do with their lives after college. In this "Where are they going?" edition a program called "Linked Lipscomb", under the guidance of setter Caitlin "Dot" Dotson, is trying to assist student-athletes along their chosen career paths.
Her leadership skills are exceptional. Her confidence knows no limitations. She is aware that after she ends her volleyball career this season that there is much more of life ahead.
She has balanced the demands of her studies with being a co-captain of the volleyball team. She also writes a regular blog for Lipscombsports.com. And in the summer she has traveled to Haiti and Brazil on mission trips.
Dotson calls volleyball at Lipscomb a lifestyle, not just an athletic program.
“It’s a mentality that you come to have, even if it takes a full four years to completely embrace it,” Dotson said. “The mentality not only expresses that we are elite and strong, but also deserving of rewards because we have worked hard.”
On the court her hard work is evident. She is an All-Atlantic Sun First Team member this season and leads the nation in assists per set. She also has been named A-Sun Co-Conference Volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Off the court she has worked hard on a new program called “Linked Lipscomb” which she developed over the summer. She introduced the program this fall with the goal of helping her fellow athletes be better prepared for what lies ahead after they complete their careers on the court or on the field and graduate.
“It is an amazing opportunity for Dot and the rest of the girls,” Lipscomb coach Brandon Rosenthal said. “They want this to go somewhere. Our girls have jumped in with both feet. It is really neat to see.
“The basic premise is that a lot of students and student-athletes get to graduation and say, `O.K., now what?’ It is more so with student-athletes because they don’t have as much time to dedicate to internships and hunting for jobs.”
“Linked Lipscomb” started with volleyball. All 14 of her teammates signed up. But she is targeting any student-athletes that are willing to be a part of the program. Freshmen are a special priority.
“Our freshmen will not only be introduced to their school work,” Rosenthal said. “They will also get an opportunity to build their network so by the time they get to graduation it is not what’s next, but all of the different choices they may have.”
The most important thing that separates “Linked Lipscomb” from other mentor programs is that it is designed for athletes. Dotson developed the program with the assistance of Dr. Gary Jerkins, an ophthalmologist who is also a former tennis player for Lipscomb.
For the past three years a group of doctors has rented a suite in Allen Arena where pre-medical students are connected with Lipscomb alumni who are physicians.
“We call it the `Doc Box’,” Jerkins said. “It is a very non-threatening environment where young pre-med students can come and meet somebody in the medical field.”
Jerkins wanted to place an emphasis on student-athletes who might be interested in a medical career. He met with Philip Hutcheson, Lipscomb’s athletic director, and asked for a list of student-athletes who were interested in going into medicine.
“We wanted to make sure we got them to visit the `Doc Box’,” Jerkins said. “Philip sent me a list and on top of the list was the name, `Caitlin Dotson’. And he verbally told me I needed to meet her. Philip also evidently told her she needed to meet with me.”
Dotson originally planned to go to medical school to become a doctor. But she has changed her career emphasis and plans on becoming a physician’s assistant. They met in the `Doc Box’, but Dotson also spent time with Jerkins and his family at dinner. She shadowed Jerkins at his practice and also spent time with other physicians observing their work.
“She is bright,” Jerkins said. “She is a critical thinker. She is a remarkable writer. She is a disciplined person.
“Dot was sharp enough to think that if this worked well for her why wouldn’t it work for her teammates who are going to be in other professions.”
Dotson and Jerkins met with Rosenthal. Dotson, as a team co-captain was given the go ahead to introduce the program to the members of the volleyball team.
Jerkins prefers to use the term “career coach" instead of “mentors” when referring to those who are working with the program.
“We took great pains with trying to partner with young people with what they think they want to do professionally and people who are already in that career,” Jerkins said. “It worked with the volleyball team so Dot decided to move to men’s and women’s tennis.”
Many of the tennis players are from other countries with majors in international business. Turney Stevens, Dean of the College of Business, is overseeing connecting the athletes with career coaches. Stevens is also serving as a career coach for one student as well.
“There are different definitions of international business,” Jerkins said. “Jamie Aid (women’s tennis coach) and I met with Turney.
“I reached out to Turney and said we needed some help. He then personally came over to the tennis center and met with all of the players and got a grasp on the concept. It has been about making a personal task - the grassroots approach - and taking the time and effort to match up career coaches with the students.”
On the education side, Dr. Candice McQueen, the Dean of the College of Education; is working with four volleyball players who want to pursue careers in education.
“Dr. McQueen paired the students with their career coaches,” Jerkins said. “It is all about knowing the right people.”
The emphasis is on personal relationships between the students and their career coaches.
“It is really a grass roots approach,” Jerkins said. “It has worked remarkably well.
“Dot can see the big picture of the program. I think she has expanded something here that has legs in the long term.”
The long term success of the program is the vision for Dotson. Her philosophy is that everyone should do what they can to leave something behind that will impact the future.
“Dot is very smart…very street smart,” Rosenthal said. “She is very confident, but not unapproachable.
“I have been around her for five or six years. I have been able to see her really take ownership of her life. It is awesome. It is nice to see this next big step she has taken. It is just not to benefit herself, but other student–athletes. She wants to leave this legacy for years to come.”