Sept. 9, 2015
Steve Elmer embarked on his learning journey in the corridors of power in the United States Capitol building.
James Onwualu carved out the start of his career path on the greatest thoroughfare of the world's economy – Wall Street.
Joe Schmidt honed his skills and vision in the world of investment finance closer to home in the University of Notre Dame Investment Office.
Fighting Irish football players Elmer, Onwualu and Schmidt reached the highest levels of learning through internships set up through the University.
Notre Dame's unique and elite educational opportunities incorporated into the demanding schedule of student-athletes provides football players like Elmer, Onwualu and Schmidt a chance to start forging a bright future beyond football.
“It's a typical saying, that it's a 40-year decision to come to Notre Dame, not a four-year decision, and that definitely shows true with internships,” Onwualu says.
For Schmidt, the internship opportunity reinforces the concept that the Notre Dame experience is so much more than just football.
“Notre Dame really cares about the whole person,” Schmidt says. “You come to Notre Dame, not because you want to be the best person only in the classroom or the best person only on the field; it's because you want to be the best in all of those areas.
“The football program and the academic people have been great about helping football players go after what they want to do and prepare them for life after football. That's something that they really do well here, working that balance and helping you be successful in more than one area in life.”
Irish football head coach Brian Kelly says that the way the University prepares students for their futures is a critical part of Notre Dame's commitment to its student-athletes, and one that puts the Irish program ahead of the curve.
“I just think it shows a piece of what we can do in balancing both academics and athletics at Notre Dame and making it work,” Kelly says. “... we've opened up something that I think other schools want to emulate.” Onwualu earned selection to an elite Wall Street internship with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch as one of only 10 sophomores out of thousands of applicants from all over the country selected for the program. He worked as a stock analyst on the stock market trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange.
Onwualu stepped into the bare-knuckled world of finance, learning trader techniques and styles, gaining insight in the world markets. The economic turbulence in Greece added to the learning experience.
A 6-foot-1, 220 junior linebacker from St. Paul, Minnesota., Onwualu believes that the internship is a vital jumpstart to crafting a career.
“The internships are extremely important,” Onwualu says. “There are so many careers today. A couple of years ago, if you were going into your senior year, that you would have the opportunity to do an internship. Now, you see it after freshman and sophomore years.
“Getting that real-life experience is what puts you ahead in the business world. I think it's something that a lot of student-athletes miss out on, just because they have commitments that they need to stick to. I am obviously one of those guys, but luckily, I got to work around that and get the experience that a lot of normal students do, to put myself ahead and prepare myself for life after football.”
Onwualu stayed at his brother John's place in New York City's Tribeca neighborhood, sleeping on a blow-up mattress in his brother's room. He arrived at his Bank of America/Merrill Lynch office by 6 a.m. He would take a break at about 6:30 p.m. for an hour workout, and then go back to the office. Onwualu estimates he put in at least 65 hours a week.
The Notre Dame alumni network on Wall Street proved invaluable to him and his helped make the internship program such a valuable experience.
“There were many alumni there within the firm that helped me so much,” Onwualu says. “Brian O'Neill, who just graduated from the finance school, was a tremendous help. He's in his first couple of years starting there, but he took his time every day to make sure that I was on point and that I was doing what I needed to do. David Ulrich, who played lacrosse at Notre Dame, also spent a lot of time with me.
“Brian and David understood what I was coming from, and being able to talk to them and ask them the questions that I might not be able to ask a senior guy, I think that's what really prepared me. Having that Notre Dame network to reach out to and get an idea of what to expect was definitely something that helped me be prepared.”
Elmer, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound junior offensive lineman from Midland, Michigan, served as a Congressional intern in Washington, D.C. to John Moolenaar, who represents Michigan's Fourth District.
“I didn't really know what to expect,” Elmer says of his summer political journey. “It ended up being really, really great, and blew away my expectations.”
Elmer's duties included traditional intern work.
“I was pretty good at lugging water cooler jugs,” Elmer says with a laugh. “The storage room was a few floors up, and I had to get it from up there.”
Besides lugging water coolers, Elmer attended committee meetings and hearings and composed reports.
A life in public service intrigues Elmer, but he doesn't know that he will ever throw his helmet in the political ring.
Schmidt, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound graduate student linebacker from Orange, California, has worked Notre Dame’s investment office since January. He praises the vision and intelligence of Scott Malpass, Notre Dame’s vice president and chief investment officer, and investment directors Richard Buhrman and Paul Buser in providing exceptional learning opportunities.
“I couldn't feel more blessed to have this opportunity,” Schmidt says. “My internship has really been more about learning what I don't know. Our investment office … those guys are all Notre Dame grads, they were all top of their class, they have certifications from the best places: Harvard business school, Columbia business school and Notre Dame.
“It's just a very smart and well-oiled machine. Seeing how those guys come to work every day is a blessing. It’s been great to understand, to learn from them and to build a foundation.
Schmidt believes that Notre Dame's commitment to the complete person is something that sets the university and its academic and athletic programs apart from other schools.
“I think Notre Dame does a really good job of taking this mashed up ball of clay and turning out this Notre Dame product,” Schmidt says. “They do it with every person who comes here and embraces the university and what it stands for.“
Obviously, the athletic journey and the academic journey here at Notre Dame really prepared me for when I went into the investment office. I didn’t understand much when I went into the office, and it was all going to be new to me. I just tried to work hard, trust in the process and put to use what I had learned in my four years as an undergraduate. I knew to ask the right questions in order to get to the right conclusion.
“I think Notre Dame really prepares you for an internship and the workplace environment. You have a mindset of inquiry in order to learn as much as you can.”
Every day was an eye-opening experience in the investment office for Schmidt. He sees parallels from the culture that his coach, Brian Kelly, has cultivated in his football program, and the blueprint for success in the Notre Dame investment office.
“If you look at the most successful endowments in the world, Notre Dame is right at the top of everyone's list,” Schmidt said. “What Scott Malpass has done, since he got here in the late 1980's and building this great institution … it's really a one-of-a-kind accomplishment.”
Learning through the Notre Dame internship experience has Onwualu confident about his future.
“I love being here with my team all summer and training hard, preparing for the season, but at the same time, we are student-athletes, and we need to experience some of the business world as well,” Onwualu says. “It's a tough balance, but I was fortunate that Coach Kelly let me take a little extra time off. I took an extra week to make it a month-long experience in New York. It's definitely a tough balance, but it's one that we continue to push and work together and we need to continue to get more athletes in the business world.
I'm not ready to be in the work force, yet,” Onwualu continues with a laugh. “I still have some football to play, which I'm pretty excited about. It was a great experience. I loved the environment. I can definitely see myself doing that, but it doesn't beat playing football for Notre Dame, and it doesn't beat working out with my best friends, my teammates, every day, preparing to win the national championship.” I'm not ready for the Wall Street life just yet. Not many people get the opportunity that I had. I think more student-athletes definitely should do an internship.”