Student-Athletes Attracted By Sports-Minded Curriculum

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With its NCAA Division II athletics’ program expanding, Dominican University of California has added a new minor to meet demand from student-athletes wanting to not only play sports, but also to learn about sports and the impact they may have on their lives and careers.

The University has reintroduced a sports management minor into its curriculum, offering courses such as sports marketing, the finance and economics of sports, sports history, and sports psychology.

“The main thing that inspired me to take sports psychology was the fact that I have experienced how important the mental side of your game is when playing sports. It can be the make or break in an important situation in a game and be the difference at the college level,” says Nick van der Waart Van Gulik ‘24, a soccer player from Alamo who is majoring in business administration and minoring in sports management.

“Growing up with an older brother – who also plays soccer and had three ACL knee injuries – I saw how much the mental side of the game mattered and how much your own personal confidence can change the way you play.”

Softball player Celeste Salas ’23 from Sacramento agrees. Like Nick, she is a business major minoring in sports management who took the sports psychology class.

“I wanted to know the cause and effects of actions us athletes have due to our mental health,” Celeste says. “Being a college athlete, you will have a lot of drainage on your mental health and sometimes it gets too much. So, when I saw this course was offered, I really wanted to take it to know more about myself as an athlete and my fellow peers. I also got to learn about coaches and learned what is healthy and what is not overall. I loved this class.”

The class was taught by Dr. Benjamin Rosenberg, who is planning to introduce a new one-unit class -- Psychology of Fantasy Football – in the fall 2023. Dr. Rosenberg said there was so much interest in his sports psyche class that he taught a double session with 50 students. He and Dr. Jordan Lieser, history professor who in the spring of 2021 taught 20th Century Sports as Political and Social Discourse, have discussed adding more sports-related classes as their popular classes have been filled to maximum capacity in the classroom and created waiting lists.

“Students do have the option of pursuing an Interdisciplinary Studies pathway here at Dominican,” Dr. Lieser notes. “The idea is that students can weave together two or three different academic disciplines under the guise of a shared topic of study.  So, things like `Sports Studies’ or `Medical Humanities’ become their major.”

Business major Alissa Salazar ’23 from Vacaville, who is minoring in sports management while playing on the Penguins’ golf team, is an avid sports fan who has competed as a gymnast and a dirt bike rider in her lifetime. She was naturally drawn to Dr. Lieser’s 20th century sports history class.

“I went to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio a few years back and I found myself reading through every piece of information, looking at old uniforms, and of course, taking a picture with the Vince Lombardi trophy and it was at that moment I knew I wanted to learn more,” Alissa says. “I wanted to learn more information about how these sports developed, their origin, and how they changed through time to the sports we know and follow today.”

Alissa added that it is a bonus that Dominican professors seem to be pro sports. It creates a learning environment that is a plus for student-athletes who, at Dominican, are majoring in 18 different majors, led by business, nursing, biological sciences, psychology and political science.

“Before deciding to go here, my biggest concern was that I would get lost in a sea of other people and that the professors could care less about what sports event I was going to. I thought they would only care that I was missing their class. Dominican is quite the opposite,” Alissa says. “My professors support me when I leave for tournaments and wish me good luck. They help me get ahead or catch up when I get back, and for me, that is what I needed. From an athletic standpoint, I knew I would have everything I needed to excel in my sport.”

Student-athlete enrollment at Dominican is climbing. There are currently about 275 student-athletes practicing or competing on campus, including 96 new student-athletes this academic year. According to Amy Henkelman, Director of Athletics, Dominican has increased its overall student-athlete population by more than 100 since 2019-20.

Last year, Dominican added a women’s lacrosse program and men’s and women’s track and field and now sponsors 15 intercollegiate athletics teams, almost double the number of teams the University sponsored when it joined the Pacific West Conference in 2008.

Since it became a member of the conference, Dominican has won the PacWest Academic Achievement Award 11 times.

For Nick, the opportunity to have sports-related classes is impacting his career path as a business major. He cites the value of his sports psyche class for enhancing his business marketing perspective.

“We talked a lot about how athletes put out their personal brand in a much more open way compared to in the past and players are using their social media as a marketing ground to spread awareness for mental health issues surrounding athletes,” he says. “That’s great to learn.”|


For a business major such as Celeste, a first-generation student, sports-related classes are attractive and beneficial for her major.

“In Sports Psych I learned a lot about leadership and how you should communicate with others. That is a huge part of the business world as you will have to work in teams and communicate properly,” she explains. “I got the chance to understand the mental side of people who have been through what I have been through. It also allowed me to understand myself as a person and how to manage my time, effort, mind, and mentality. Being able to understand why I am the way I am will allow me to grow in the business world.”

For Alissa, sports history confirmed for her that the sports world is ultimately a business.

“I was inspired by how small-town activities such as sports evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry and how they gained loyal supporters to help contribute to the business as well,” she says. “I compared what I learned in sports history class to real-life scenarios. Every business starts from an idea and hopefully grows into a large business or corporation. Take Amazon for example. What started out as selling books online turned into developing an international marketplace where you can buy pretty much anything. I found that sports and business go hand in hand and are similar in that anything can start as an idea and grow into whatever you want it to be. That is what I took away from that class.”

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