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Developing future leaders in sport and beyond: Team Canada athletes and classmates learn from each other at Smith Business School – Team Canada

Developing future leaders in sport and beyond: Team Canada athletes and classmates learn from each other at Smith Business School – Team Canada

Exchanging notes, exchanging ideas, and collaborating on projects with Olympians and national team athletes are not typical experiences among most graduate students. Unless you are a student at Queen's University Smith Business School.

The Ontario-based business school is the exclusive business education partner of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and a founding partner of Game Plan, Canada's comprehensive wellness program for athletes. Since 2016, Smith has been supporting active and retired Team Canada athletes to develop their business acumen and expertise for the next stage of their career journeys. Jessie Niles, Christine Robinson, and Claire Carver Dias are just three examples of athletes who have taken their leadership skills from the field of play to the workforce with Smith's help.

An overhead shot of Smith Business School at Queen's University.
Aerial shot of Smith Business School at Queen's University.

After retiring from the national volleyball team, Jessie Niles began thinking about what dreams and goals she wanted to focus on next. Her aspirations led her to Smith's Master of Management Analytics program, where her experience as a team player on the volleyball court figured into the program's team-based learning structure.

Niles' colleague, Patrick Linehan, refers to Niles as a “true leader and team player,” noting that he especially appreciates her willingness to step in and take on necessary logistical tasks such as scheduling group meetings. Linehan remembers the way Niles fostered a harmonious environment when the team was under tight schedules — a responsibility not unlike keeping your teammates calm when your opponent is trailing in the final minutes of a game.

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Gbenga Ilori, another classmate, agrees with Linehan's assessment, adding that Niles has shown particularly strong leadership when it comes to creating a respectful environment in a group of people with diverse backgrounds.

“Given the cultural diversity of the students (we had four nationalities in our group of seven) and the intensity of the program, there were many opportunities for conflicts…Jesse's sensitivity contributed to maintaining strong team cohesion throughout the program.”

Christine Robinson in the classroom smiling with a happy birthday balloon
Kristen Robinson celebrates her birthday with her classmates.

It's a skill Niles likely developed and honed in her interactions with peers around the world through sports. As she said in her retirement statement, “Sports is an international lingua franca, one that has the power to change the world. Being part of Team Canada has certainly changed my world and opened the door to a global community.”

Linehan and Ellory's classroom experiences with Niles are no different than those experienced by others elsewhere at Smith. Christine Robinson, who competed in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games as a member of the Canadian water polo team, also made an impression on her classmates in Smith's full-time MBA program.

“As a former Olympian, Christine brought a unique perspective to our classroom and embodied the true meaning of dedication and hard work,” says her colleague Sherri Kho. “I feel honored to have had the opportunity to learn from and work with her.”

Claire Carver (second right) and team celebrate after taking bronze medals for synchronized swimming at the 2000 Sydney Olympics (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson).

It should be noted that these feelings go in both directions. Team Canada athletes have equally glowing things to say about their classmates and their time at Smith. Just ask Claire Carver Dias, who has reached the highest levels of athleticism, winning a bronze medal in artistic swimming at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and who completed the Americas Executive MBA – a dual-degree program in partnership with the College of… Johnson School of Management at the University of Sydney. Cornell University.

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“The highlight of this experience was learning from the real-life work experiences of my classmates. In the Executive MBA, people typically have around 10 years of management experience in a wide range of industries. The theory we learn comes to life when each of us talks about “We all brought different life, cultural and business experiences, which created an environment that Really rich. I think it was the perfect recipe for learning.

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