Athletic success translates to connecting with students

Former Nebraska volleyball standout uses experiences off the court

Star college athletes are fairly easy to come by and about every major Division I program has one. Football, basketball, softball, volleyball, golf, there are athletic studs. These college stars are mostly judged based upon their on-field performance and how they deal with pressure situations as the leader of the team. 

Most athletes, after their careers are over, leave all their past experiences behind them and move on to the next chapter in their lives. Stephanie Brown has carried over her knowledge of her collegiate sport into her job as career development program director at South Dakota State University. 

“One thing I think of is having a coach, having that perspective,” Brown said of connecting her current job to her playing days. “Teaching students the importance of mentorship and having mentors influence your life.”

Brown is a former college volleyball standout at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she played volleyball in the early 1990s. She still ranks third all-time in career blocks and sixth all-time in hitting percentage. Brown also has her No. 11 jersey retired and if you speak to her about it, using the word humble would be an understatement. 

“Very easy to coach, because she had such a wonderful attitude,” said Terry Pettit, Brown’s former coach at UNL and mentor, who retired in 1999. “She wanted to get better, [and was] highly motivated. Technique wise, she might have been the best blocker I ever coached, which was attributed to her focus and discipline.” 

After her senior season, which ended early because of an injury in her left ankle, Brown got a letter from the Olympic team asking her to try out. After full recovery, Brown went to California to try out for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and made the team within the first week. 

While training, Brown got calls from professional teams in Europe, seeing if she would be willing to play with them for a season. Weighing her options, Brown decided to go pro because the Olympic team keeps only 12 players and Brown was in the top 15. 

Brown completed two seasons as a professional, one in Turkey and the other in Puerto Rico, before deciding to “hang up the shoes,” as she puts it. Brown doesn’t currently play but has taken multiple things from her experience into her every day job as a career coach. 

“Every day I’m coaching up students,” Brown said. “I listen to what is motivating to them. I find out what is interesting to them, I also help them assess what they are good at. Also, I think what great coaches do is they help someone identify that, they help them brainstorm where they can get experiences and strengthen them.”

Brown has worked at SDSU for eight years in a variety of positions. For her first three and a half years, she was a graduate student and helped in the counseling program before becoming an academic adviser in the College of Arts and Human Sciences. She moved to her current job this fall and has already made a major impact on students’ lives. 

“She truly inspired me to set goals and to attain those goals and to push myself because she never knew she would play on the Olympic, she never knew her jersey was going to get retired at UNL, but she never gave up on her dreams. She’s definitely an idol of mine,” said Robert McClean, a sophomore mentee of Brown’s. 

Brown knows that success didn’t come easy, alluding to having been through some struggle to get to where she is today. 

“What makes me very real, my realness of where I have been but where I have gone, I have failed and I have succeeded. I’m the first one to tell you that and what has helped me at SDSU is the role I have played,” Brown said. 

Through trials and tribulations, Brown has lived by a life motto that she picked up from volleyball. 

“My philosophy on the court and in life is if I can take care of the person to my left and the person to my right, then I’m taken care of,” Brown said. 

Brown talked very highly of her former coach Pettit, saying she still talks to him on a weekly basis. While Pettit has retired from coaching, he said he’s excited that Brown chose the field that she is in, because that is what she does best. 

“She’s motivated by helping people reach potential, discover their talent,” Pettit said. It’s always energizing to interact with someone like that. She’s a pretty special person.” 

As a former college standout and professional volleyball players, one might think there would be trophies and pictures all over her office. But it’s just her, working to help the people around her. 

“It’s bringing in the team concept that we aren’t alone and as independent as you can be as