He Builds Student-Athletes into Leaders
Steven Spaulding, MA ’14, has a strong opinion about leadership. Leadership is a privilege and a service. It’s not ‘you’re on top.’ It’s ‘you’re on the bottom, holding others up,’ he said.
Steven, who just graduated from AUNE’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, is the assistant athletic director for leadership for the Dartmouth College Athletic Department, a position created for him two years ago. An alum had donated a large gift to the college to help develop leadership in its students. Dartmouth gave Steven the job of building a four-year program, based on holistic well-being, that would educate its student-athletes in character, values, and service. The program is called DRIVE: development, resilience, integrity, valor, and excellence.
Steven heads a team that includes a nutritionist, alcohol, and substance abuse counselors, a body-work specialist, and a sports psychologist. They work with Dartmouth College’s 150 coaches and more than 1,000 student-athletes.
The holistic approach to teaching leadership is unique in the athletic world, Steven said. No college is doing this the way we’re doing it and as seamlessly, as integratively. Other schools are already calling to ask about Dartmouth’s approach, and Steven hopes DRIVE will be a model for colleges and universities.
Students aren’t required to join the program. What we’re doing is life-changing, Steven said. It’s not a ‘come to model;’ we go to where they are at because otherwise, it would be one more ivory tower they have to approach.
From the Ground Up
It was difficult to build a new program from scratch while trying to run it at the same time. He held many forums for coaches and student-athletes and worked with the teams’ senior managers. It’s like building a bridge while you’re crossing it! There’s no other way than to just dive in and do it, he said.
But he did it; and on top of that, he raised the funds to endow DRIVE far into the future. Steven also created and runs a DRIVE summer program for current and emerging leaders. He wants them to learn that what’s most important about sports: comprehensive excellence, not just winning.
Dartmouth’s president, Philip Hanlon, has given the initial support with his strong stance on improving a college culture that can include binge drinking and sexual assault, Steven said. His approach is to think about what are our collective values and how can we find a positive direction as a community, and also to highlight what is positive on campus.
Steven didn’t imagine he would be working with college students at this stage in his life. A 1995 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he played football, he served with the U.S. Army in Iraq as an Airborne Ranger and then worked in the nonprofit field for ten years. Before his current position, he led the Dartmouth College Fellowship of Christian Athletes program, helping student-athletes make healthy choices and promoting responsibility.
He had had some informal training in counseling which convinced him that he wanted to go into the field of therapy. One of the things that led him to AUNE’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program as he was researching his options, was the lived experience at AUNE! As a certified program, it was real, close, and personable, he said. I said ‘It’s going to be a sacrifice but I’m going to do it.
Because of his military experience, he wanted to work with veterans. But when the Dartmouth Athletic Department came calling, he couldn’t say no. And he sees similarities. Like vets, students are under a lot of pressure, and I understand what he said. And I’m trying to take everything I learned at AUNE and apply it here, at Dartmouth.