Being a Rotman Commerce student can be challenging and time-consuming — and so can being a Varsity Blues student athlete who spends many hours practicing with their team. Doing both at the same time can be overwhelming.
That’s why Rotman students Everett Smith and Katie Gay co-founded ‘Blues in Commerce,’ a student club that creates a space and support system for Rotman students who are also Varsity athletes. Smith is an athlete on the swimming team, and Gay is the captain of the women’s rowing team.
The Varsity spoke with Gay and Smith about what motivated them to start the club, how they went about it, and what they hope to achieve with their mission.
The beginning of Blues in Commerce
Smith and Gay’s main goal was to create a group to support students in two challenging programs and to connect people through mentorship, networking opportunities, and by creating study spaces. They felt that creating a personal space for Rotman student athletes was particularly important in the COVID-19 era, especially for first-years who hadn’t had the opportunity to meet their teammates and peers in person yet.
“I remember when I was in my first and second year, when you go to Rotman, everyone’s such a good student, and on top of that, you are committed to a team, where they might require you to wake up super early, go to practices,” recalled Gay.
When asked about the motivation behind starting Blues in Commerce, she added, “I just remember being so overwhelmed, and it didn’t seem like anyone around me had the same kind of issues.”
Smith, who faced similar challenges, came up with the idea for the club during his first two years at U of T and got the ball rolling to create it during his third year. He and Gay started working on the necessary steps to create the club last November. They met with Rotman administration, who supported them in their endeavour to create this community. They hosted their first event in January 2021, which was attended by approximately 25 people. Other members of the club’s executive team include baseball player Jack Hewitt and hockey players Riley Bruce and Fred Foulem.
Events during this past year
The executive team divided their events into various types. The first is corporate outreach, which consists of guest speaker events. So far, their guest speakers have been baseball player and MBA student Josh Graham and former swimmer Zach Chetrat, who is now at a private equity firm.
They also held study sessions, which acted as a low pressure environment for students to discuss their course content; and skill-building sessions, which focused on résumé building, writing a cover letter, and curating a professional LinkedIn profile. Additionally, they held general discussions for students to connect with each other on a more personal level.
There were challenges that came with inaugurating a club during a pandemic. The biggest concern that Gay and Smith had was that people may have Zoom fatigue. It was a challenge to only be able to reach out to fellow athletes on social media and to not be able to talk to them face to face.
Despite these challenges, Gay and Smith’s brainchild has been a success, and they’ve been to reach and help a number of students. One of those students is first-year football player Charlie Polet, who wrote in an email to The Varsity, “Blues in Commerce was a welcoming environment filled with people who genuinely cared for me as a student, an athlete, and a person.”
“I think a really important takeaway from Blues in Commerce this year was the fact that we really exceeded our expectations. And it was, not to sound cheesy, kind of an underdog story. It’s so hard to get people involved in a pandemic,” said Smith.
One metric by which the group wants to measure its success is how much it can increase the number of Rotman students that are invited to the Academic Excellence Breakfast hosted by the Varsity Blues. The event is meant to honour Varsity student athletes with an academic average of 80 per cent or above in the past academic year.
Through tutoring support, mentorship and networking opportunities, Smith said that the club wants to provide “a metaphorical hand to hold” to students who are in both programs.
The group also intends to hold in-person events next year and increase its presence by involving more student athletes in Rotman Commerce.