Internship program transforms the lives of student-athletes at SDSU
SDSU’s Aztecs Going Pro Internship Program transforms the lives and careers of student-athletes through innovative internship opportunities.
Student-athletes live exceptionally busy lives.
From waking up at the crack of dawn for morning practice, then classes, afternoon practice, and finally spending the evening completing assignments, many have little time to focus on their post-college career outside of sports.
Working an internship? That’s often outside their reach.
However, through generous donors and alumni at San Diego State University, an eight-week paid internship program designed exclusively for student-athletes is providing professional experience in the offices of the Athletic Department.
Launched in the summer of 2023, the internship program allows 16 student-athletes to work around their training schedules and receive experience to help advance their careers post-college. It represents a significant advance for Aztecs Going Pro, created through the generosity of the James Silberrad Brown Foundation through the San Diego Foundation. Brown was a San Diego real estate professional and entrepreneur; funding was recommended from his widow, Marilyn Creson Brown and Jim's daughter, Kelly Brown.
Students have the opportunity to interview for one of 14 offices in the athletic department and can work up to 20 paid hours a week.
Senior Christiana Williams was among 16 students chosen for the inaugural internship program in summer 2023.
The Arizona native competes on the women’s swim and dive team, where she won gold in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke at the 2023 Mountain West Championships and qualified for the 2023 NCAA Championships.
After transferring from Tulane University, Williams pivoted from a neuroscience major ― not offered at SDSU ― to public health.
“I want to go to medical school. That's a goal of mine. I want to go to grad school first, but it is something that I've prepared for and that I'm excited about,” said Williams.
As someone extremely passionate about making a noticeable impact in medicine and diversity and inclusion, Williams knew going into her junior year that having an internship would help her get a leg up.
“I was so grateful to have this opportunity to be able to work around my schedule and to be able to do it with people who really actually understand at their core,” said Williams.
During her internship, Williams worked in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office with Associate Director Paige Diggs, promoting diversity in sports, celebrating Title IX, researching major universities, creating slide decks and graphics, and more.
Williams said the program gave her the necessary transmittable skills to succeed post-grad and allowed her to create networks with people who she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise.
“I am super grateful to be able to have these sorts of opportunities,” said Williams. “And it's something that's not sort of focused on enough throughout general college athletics. This is a rarity.”
Aztec football kicker and senior Jack Browning, another student-athlete selected for an internship, transferred to SDSU in 2021 from nearby Grossmont College. Staying on top of his academics and preparing for a career outside of sports are a matter of pride for him.
“At the 2022 Ace Awards, I was actually able to earn scholar-athlete of the year, so I was able to have great accomplishments not only on the field but also in the classroom,” said Browning.
As a kinesiology major, Browning had never explored the different kinds of internships he could do as most of his time was packed with his studies and practices. But Danielle Kelly, associate athletic director in Student-Athlete Development, encouraged him to take a shot at an internship.
“It just really interested me. She had all the representatives of each internship come and speak to us, and when coach Eddie Padilla came and spoke about strength and conditioning, I was totally bought in,” said Browning.
Exercising interviewing skills he learned in the Aztecs Going Pro class, Browning received an offer to work under Padilla in the strength and conditioning department. While Browning had envisioned himself working as a fitness specialist, he found this internship giving him opportunities to explore alternative paths.
“I just saw this as a great opportunity, and I jumped on it,” Browning said. “One of the highest-level athletes here, you can work with pretty much Division I collegiate athletes. Who wouldn't want to be working in this field?”
Browning’s internship allowed him to receive not only the experience of helping and working with athletes but also gave him a valuable network of people who will continue to help him grow his career.
“In this field, it's not always just what you know. It's sometimes just who you know,” he said. “So, I was able to expand and grow my network with all the coaches in the strength room, and I feel like it prepared me a lot.”
Now, as he prepares to enter the post-grad world, Browning is grateful for the work experience he hadn’t thought was possible.
“I don't think I would have taken the opportunity if it weren't for our donors and their generosity for the student-athletes,” said Browning.
After J.D. Wicker, SDSU athletic director, led the initiative to start the internship program, the generosity of six donors allowed the program's funding.
SDSU alumnus Ed Brown (‘79) helped lead the charge in getting the ball rolling on the program, funding five out of the 16 internships for the program.
As a long-time supporter and sponsor of internships, Brown saw the need for the inclusion of a focused program for SDSU student-athletes to gain practical exposure and experience outside of athletics.
“Athletes have often had difficulty balancing the time constraints of valuable internships with the demand of their combined academic and athletic schedules,” said Brown. “This program seeks to find valuable experiences with impact to the organizations they are providing their talent to and their Aztec Going Pro espoused personal objectives.”
Brown hopes that as time goes on, the program can grow into something bigger, with the possibility of student-athletes getting opportunities to work outside of SDSU’s athletic department.
“My vision is to continue to expand the interest and opportunities for the student-athletes within the college athletics program but also with the business world,” he said.
With 16 internship opportunities currently available, the program hopes to expand and grow the number of internships offered to student-athletes. Applications for the second summer session of the internship program, set to start in July, are due by March 1.
Additional information can be found at GoAztecs.com/AGP.