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    'Cats Think Big at Wildcat Professional Excellence Program

    The 2013 edition of the Wildcat Professional Excellence Program connected more than 40 professionals with 100 student-athletes who eagerly sought their advice in networking sessions.

    The 2013 edition of the Wildcat Professional Excellence Program connected more than 40 professionals with 100 student-athletes who eagerly sought their advice in networking sessions.

    Dec. 17, 2013

    WPEP Photo Gallery


    Rest. Catch up on schoolwork and laundry. And rest some more.

    That might be the typical Sunday agenda for a Northwestern student-athlete. But on Sunday, Nov. 10, 22 Northwestern Football juniors invested in their day off in a way that undoubtedly paid dividends well beyond just the remainder of their fall quarter or playing season.

    On that day, NU for Life -- an initiative dedicated to the professional growth of Northwestern student-athletes from the moment they arrive on campus -- hosted its second annual Wildcat Professional Excellence Program (WPEP) at Hardin Hall. WPEP is an event aimed at providing student-athletes in their junior year the chance to meet and learn from professionals representing a wide range of career fields, giving the 'Cats insight into the roads they'll travel after graduation and a network of industry leaders to call upon for advice.

    More than 40 professionals attended this year's WPEP, representing such diverse organizations as William Blair, Abbot Labs, Accenture, Creative Artists Agency, PepsiCo, Under Armour, Leo Burnett, Lurie Children's Hospital, Merrill Lynch, the Chicago Sports Commission, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among others. Over the course of the networking sessions, each of the approximately 100 Northwestern student-athletes who attended WPEP met in small groups with five different professionals of their choosing.

    NU For Life began in 2012 following a generous donation to Northwestern Athletics by David Kabiller, a member of the University's Board of Trustees and a former Wildcat tennis player, and is overseen by Julie Dunn, Assistant A.D. for Career Enhancement and Employer Relations.

    "These [student-athletes] could be the great future leaders of the United States, of corporations all over the world, and the talent is there," Kabiller said in his address to WPEP attendees. "To us, it's just making sure we cultivate that talent and open up new possibilities."

    Kabiller opened new possibilities in a very tangible way for five Wildcats this year, introducing the inaugural class of recipients of the Irving Kabiller Memorial Award for Excellence in Character, Commitment and Community. The award, part of the larger program "A Life Touched, A Generation Changed," is named in honor of Kabiller's father and offers $5,000 per student for use in professional development opportunities.

    Arthur Omilian, a place-kicker on the Wildcats football team, was one of the five students from across Northwestern's 19 varsity sports selected to receive this special honor. An industrial engineering major, Omilian plans to put his funds to use next spring by attending the Sloane Sports Conference at MIT; the event annually brings together the brightest minds in sports analytics and is co-chaired by Daryl Morey, a 1996 Northwestern alum and the general manager of the NBA's Houston Rockets.

    "I was extremely humbled and excited to receive the Irving Kabiller Memorial Award," Omilian said. "Combining my interest in statistical analysis with my love of sports has driven me to explore the field of sports analytics, and NU For Life and the generosity of Mr. Kabiller are opening up doors to that field that might not have existed for me otherwise."

    Awards aside, NU For Life offers lifelong lessons that will be invaluable for students in search of competitive job or internship opportunities. To prepare for success at WPEP, student-athletes participated in educational seminars on improving their personal brand as well as etiquette rules for networking and formal dining settings.

    Attendees also had the chance to learn from the event's guest keynote speaker, LCDR Rorke T. Denver, a former U.S. Navy SEAL turned bestselling author and star of the film "Act of Valor." Denver followed an All-American lacrosse career at Syracuse University with 13 years as a platoon commander with the SEALs. At WPEP, he reminded student-athletes that the values of teamwork, resilience and calm under pressure learned in the context of Northwestern Athletics will serve them well no matter what professional career they choose to pursue.

    For the average college student, events such as these, with the potential to so positively alter one's postgraduate career plans, are exceedingly rare. Even more so than a Big Ten football player's day off.

    "[This program] gave me opportunities to meet with VPs and heads of marketing from several different types of organizations," said football defensive end Deonte Gibson, a communication studies major with a concentration in integrated marketing and communications. "As a student-athlete, not only do I want to take pride in being an athlete on the field, I also want to take pride in the opportunities I have being at this University. Events like this show we're here to perform on the field and also better ourselves outside of athletics."

    To learn more about NU For Life and its mission, contact Julie Dunn (


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