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SJMC prof and star basketball player gain life skills through athletics

Bruhn poses with basketball players on Senior Night at Valparaiso University in 2000. Dean Kelly Bruhn learned many communication skills during her time as the women’s basketball team’s manager at Valparaiso University. Photo Courtesy of Kelly Bruhn

Student-athletes and team managers work together to better their team, but through the process, they also better themselves. Devoting time to athletics may detract from studying time, but invaluable life skills can be developed through athletics. Kelly Bruhn, the interim dean of Drake University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC), and Grace Berg, a Drake women’s basketball player and graduate student, are proof of the impact athletics has on people’s futures. 

Bruhn was a women’s basketball manager for three years at Valparaiso University in her undergraduate years. She graduated from college in 2000.  

“Managers just have to do everything,” Bruhn said. “Their jobs are to get the athletes and the coaches ready for the day.”

Bruhn would scout hotels, nutrition and restaurants for the team when they traveled. She also got the unique opportunity to travel with the team, even going as far as San Francisco. Bruhn served an important role on Valparaiso’s team, sometimes going beyond what was expected. 

“I love being a connector for people,” Bruhn said. “I was always out walking the stands, meeting with the donors and super fans and thanking them for being at the game and for supporting our girls.”

Drake and Valparaiso women’s basketball are both in the Missouri Valley Conference, meaning that they play each other every season. Bruhn’s job at Drake has generated split interest between Drake and Valparaiso basketball, but she said she roots for both.

student athletes and Kelly Bruhn posing underneath the St. Louis Arch circa 1998-1999

Bruhn and the Valparaiso women’s basketball team posing underneath the St. Louis Arch. Picture taken in 1998 or 1999. Photo Courtesy of Kelly Bruhn

“I’ve got some of my students playing for Drake,” Bruhn said. “So I just love to see good competition and to see them elevating women’s sports.”

Berg, a student in the SJMC, is currently getting her master’s degree in brand communication. Berg echoed the importance of managers to a college basketball team’s success.

“They’re really just another piece of the family,” Berg said. “They just do all the little things behind the scenes that most people don’t recognize or see.”

Managing a team also allows non-athlete students to connect closely with student athletes.

“I’m so glad to say that I stood up with players in their weddings,” Bruhn said. “They’re still some of my dearest friends, and certainly some of my greatest memories from college came from the time working with those girls.”

Not only does playing or managing college sports allow for close friendships to blossom, but it also serves as a stepping stone for career and life. Bruhn, also a professor of public relations at Drake, used her managerial role to build career skills. 

“That’s why I think it was just such a great marriage of my skills and this opportunity — because so much of public relations is understanding what is needed from you and then delivering on those needs. I think I was able to build those skills through this program,” Bruhn said.

Similar to Bruhn, Berg said she has already seen personal and professional growth from her time in athletics.

“I’m learning something every single day, whether it’s on the court or in the classroom, that definitely translates to the team and my leadership abilities,” Berg said. 

Berg said she aspires to play basketball in Italy and someday start her own boutique business. She said her SJMC brand management degree perfectly complements her marketing major and graphic design minor and will be useful for starting a business in the future. 

“Our coaches and professors in general do a great job of preparing us for life outside [of] school or basketball,” Berg said. 

Berg said she was shy her first year in college, but her time in classes and on the court has allowed her to grow in communications skills throughout college. 

Bruhn talked about how athletics are helpful because students are forced to overcome difficulties, specifically relating to time management.

student athletes and Kelly Bruhn pose in San Francisco in the 90s.

Bruhn and the Valparaiso women’s basketball team in San Francisco in the late 90s. Photo Courtesy of Kelly Bruhn

“The student athletes have to balance all the great things they’re doing in the classroom and on the court,” Bruhn said. “It just takes key time management. I wanted to give my all to them because I was getting some scholarship money.”

Being a manager is challenging, and sometimes managers won’t stay for the entirety of their undergraduate years. Berg said that she hasn’t had a consistent manager during her time at Drake. 

“COVID threw a little wrench in people’s plans,” Berg said about manager turnover. “Having a consistent manager all four years would be very helpful.”

The roles of being a student athlete or manager are time-consuming and strenuous, but Bruhn and Berg were able to merge those responsibilities with school to prepare for the future. 

“If students want an opportunity to learn and grow, our athletics department is going to try to find a way to make that happen,” Bruhn said. “I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to be able to [manage]. I knew sports were an important part of my time growing up, and I wasn’t ready to let that go in college.” 

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