W.I.L.L. and Land O’Lakes help Gopher women become “career ready”

Monday, January 14, 2019 - 1:15pm

Land O’Lakes, Inc. partners with Golden Gopher Athletics to help students succeed on campus, and become “career ready” for life after athletics. W.I.L.L. (Women Invested in Leadership and Learning) is an important aspect of that partnership.

Anissa Lightner is director of career services and relations for Intercollegiate Athletics. Here, Lightner describes the program:

Q: What is W.I.L.L.?   It’s a mentoring program as well as executive coaching and brand excellence for female student-athletes. The mission of W.I.L.L. is to assist our young women in developing critical job competencies, customized mentoring, and developing the next generation of business leaders. Our mentors help participants work on career preparation, networking, accountability, and leadership. Currently, 156 women from seven sports programs are participating in the program. Fourteen great women from Land O’Lakes are mentors in the program, which is funded by Schwan’s, the headlining sponsor.

Q: What are activities like?  Mentors help W.I.L.L. women practice interviews, for example, and develop an elevator speech in preparation for the Pro Day recruiting event. They also conduct resume reviews, and work on networking, listening, self-reflection, and values exploration. Our goal is to tie each of the activities to our pillars of character, teamwork, and achievement.

Q: What do the women take away from their W.I.L.L. experience?  Our women student-athletes get connected with alumni and professional mentors in a supportive environment. They practice professional development, and get valuable feedback on interviewing, resumes, and leadership skills. They also work on the practical application of building trusting and caring relationships. All of this helps them gain a deeper understanding of self and others. Additionally, this experience prepares them personally and professionally to be the next generation of business leaders.

Q: Why is Land O’Lakes interested in this particular program?  As a company, Land O’Lakes, Inc. values diversity and inclusion, with a special emphasis on the professional development of women. They are a true partner in supporting our Student-Athlete Development Department’s efforts to help student-athletes develop for life after athletics. Our mentors are interested in sharing their considerable knowledge and experience, thereby helping us cultivate the leaders of tomorrow.

Current participants:

-14 mentors from Land O’Lakes, Inc.

-156 women student-athletes from 7 teams

-more teams were added in 2018-19


Q: What are the overall Golden Gopher Athletics goals for student-athletes?  We are committed to helping our student-athletes develop skills essential to life after athletics. We want to help our student-athletes to:

  • be independent and self-regulated: student-athletes are encouraged to act independently and regulate their own learning and leadership. Resource cards are created for them to continue their leadership development.
  • have supportive relationships with self and others: a positive self-image, self-confidence, long-term supportive relationships, sense of belonging is important. The building of trusting and caring relationships is essential to their success.
  • be “career ready”: inclusive and diverse leaders support the development of our student-athletes at events, in small groups, and one-on-one. These leaders offer career readiness insights gained from first-hand knowledge and experience.
  • be led by a moral compass: character development support is the foundation for what we build on. For example, we specifically address morals, integrity, and character in our Character and Team Work Session as well as a mentor panel.
  • be leaders: one of the signature features of the W.I.L.L program is the dedicated and personalized time student-athletes have with leaders in small groups. Leadership skills are modeled, as well as taught.

Thank you, Land O’Lakes 2018-19 mentors!

Courtney Benson

Rita Bielinski

Brandi DeVries

Sammi Fleckner

Marissa Gautsch

Kristin Horvath

Kristen McConnell Johnson

Corey Ramsden

Heidi Riese

Hannah Rosenwinkel

Brianne Sprenger

Keely Streeter

Megan Wolle

Christina Yeater


photo: University of Minnesota photo library