Former Nebraska placekicker Spencer Lindsay spends a lot of time in the library these days. He wants to attend law school, so he’s busy studying and preparing for the LSAT. While a major test would be enough for one person to focus on, Lindsay has another opportunity on the horizon — to study in Germany this fall.
Lindsay’s opportunity to travel and study abroad is possible because of Nebraska’s Post-Eligibility Opportunities (PEO) program. The PEO program awards former student-athletes who meet certain criteria $7,500 for use in studying outside the country, interning and attending Nebraska graduate school.
To qualify for the $7,500 scholarship, a Nebraska student-athlete has to letter in a varsity sport, graduate from Nebraska, exhaust athletic eligibility and earn a scholar-athlete ring. There also are mandatory workshops and opportunity requirements for each individual who applies. For those who meet the criteria, they have up to three years from graduation or the end of their playing career — whichever comes later — to participate in the PEO program.
Lindsay will use his stipend to study immigration law and German national security in Berlin for nearly five months. He’s the first Nebraska football player to utilize the PEO program to study abroad, but he won’t be the last.
“We educate all of the head coaches about this program,” said Keith Zimmer, senior associate athletic director for life skills. “They’ve heard several presentations early and often so they can best promote this program.
“Our life skills team also meets with every prospective student-athlete and their family on recruiting visits and they hear about this, in addition to all of the other services [life skills] provides. We think it’s a game-changer. We want these student-athletes to know that the support does not end when they graduate. We’re invested to help them make that transition.”
Ashley Stone is the director of Nebraska’s PEO program. Since its inception in December 2015 (the first student-athletes eligible were in the spring semester of 2016), Stone has helped Nebraska disperse roughly $435,000 in scholarship aid. That has helped fund experience opportunities in five continents, nine countries and 13 states. That includes locations such as New Zealand, Iceland, Spain and London.
“By the end of this summer, we will have had 62 individuals participate in the program,” Stone said. “That’s very heavy on the internship side of things. With those individuals who have participated in internships, we have a 97 percent job placement rate, meaning that by the end of that one-semester internship, they have either accepted or have begun a full-time position.”
While the numbers are impressive, Stone holds the success stories closest to her heart. She speaks proudly of one student-athlete in particular — swimmer Jacqueline Juffer — who had an internship on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Two months into her role, Juffer was offered a full-time position.
Others are beginning to take note of Nebraska’s PEO program, too. Stone was recently in Las Vegas accepting the Chevron Award from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The award recognizes the most innovative career services program in the nation. The award and recognition are testament to why Nebraska felt the PEO program needed to exist.
“I think it’s very unique in college athletics,” Zimmer said. “There’s others who have inquired now that they’ve heard about it and it’s really something we started to demonstrate the [importance of] continued commitment beyond athletic eligibility.
“A lot of times once a student-athlete has played their last down or competed in their last game, sometimes institutions don’t offer as much or anything. Nebraska has never been that way. We want to continue to support and help the athletes as they make their transition and that was really one of the motivations behind creating the PEO program.”
Stone reaches out to any Nebraska student-athlete on track to qualify for the program as they enter their junior year. From there, she’ll get the process started with workshops and information sessions. However, as the program has started to gain popularity, she has noticed more and more younger student-athletes stopping in to talk about their future plans. She’ll even get approached in the line for lunch to talk about the PEO program, but she doesn’t mind.
For many student-athletes, they’re unable to have the same collegiate experiences as their peers. Their schedules often prevent them from seeking opportunities, whether that be studying abroad or securing internships. Zimmer and Stone see the PEO program as a way to help those student-athletes achieve their goals off the field.
“When the program was being developed, I think it was more so individuals in the athletic department saying, ‘How can we better serve our student-athletes?”’ Stone said. “So, while that natural next step is often graduate school, when you’re looking at the individuals playing Division I sports, they don’t have the opportunity or the option to have an internship or that study abroad experience. We wanted to make sure we provided them an opportunity to really fill their bucket however they wanted to, especially if they didn’t want to go on to graduate school.”
For Lindsay, that bucket is a semester in Germany. He doesn’t speak much German now, but he’s excited to learn. After five months in Berlin, he’s bound to pick up something. If nothing else, Lindsay will return home with an experience that he may not have had otherwise.
“These are opportunities to really build their foundation and things they can count on for the rest of their life,” Zimmer said.