When Terps quarterback Jordan Steffy ’08, M.R.E.D. ’10 suffered the concussion that ended his football career, and the agents and media stopped calling, Barry and Mary Gossett didn’t. They encouraged Steffy to think about how the qualities that helped him on the field—competitiveness and a team spirit—could help him beyond it.
A few years later, when Steffy was trying to triple the size of his nonprofit after-school program, the Gossetts welcomed him into their home to talk about his vision and how to realize it.
“If this was just about football, our relationship would have ended a long time ago,” says Steffy, who created the Children Deserve a Chance Foundation as a student. “My interactions with Barry and Mary were never about me as a college athlete. They were about me as a person.”
Mentorship of student-athletes—from enrolling at Maryland through transitioning to careers—is at the heart of a new initiative funded through a $21.25 million legacy gift from the Gossetts, longtime supporters of the university.
The Barry and Mary Gossett Center for Academic and Personal Excellence will significantly enhance and expand programming offered through what’s now called the Academic Support and Career Services Unit in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA).
Highlights will include more paid internships and stipends, workshops on topics such as job interviews and financial literacy, and a major focus on connecting alumni student-athletes with current ones as mentors.
“It seems like so many of these youngsters that come in that want to be athletes are not prepared with life skills, and they haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of things other than play ball,” says Gossett, a University of Maryland System regent and former chair of the Board of Trustees for the University of Maryland College Park Foundation. “So we were drawn to the idea of when they come in as freshmen to have somebody put them under their wing and help them through some of the life experiences of what to expect and how to manage their time.”
Sue Sherburne, senior associate athletic director for academics and student development at UMD, says research shows that student-athletes delay their career preparation. One reason is that workouts, practices and games limit their free time and prevent them from getting valuable internship experiences. Some may also be laser-focused on going pro, and feel like they can’t take their eyes off that goal, while others are overwhelmed by the prospect of juggling career planning with other responsibilities.
“No matter what field you go into—the professional world of sports or another career—you still have to interview and have EQ (emotional intelligence) and self-awareness,” she says. “You have to walk into a room, shake hands and articulate your elevator pitch. And they need more reps on that. They need more practice. The Gossetts’ gift will enhance our ability to provide these types of professional development opportunities to our student-athletes.”
Barry and Mary Gossett have seen that firsthand over their decades of involvement with the university. Gossett grew up in Riverdale, a bike ride away from Maryland, where as a Boy Scout he was an usher at the football stadium. He enrolled in 1958—he never considered going anywhere else—and majored in engineering (not very successfully, he says self-effacingly) for two years. But when his father, a bricklayer, died, Gossett withdrew from UMD in order to support his mother and two younger brothers.
He became a CPA, and was hired in 1969 by A.V. Williams, Class of 1917, who owned a construction firm that pioneered the use of mobile offices, construction trailers and commercial modular buildings. Gossett, Williams’ right-hand man, worked there until 2002 and ultimately became CEO and chairman of the company, then of Baltimore-based Acton Mobile Industries, from which he’s now retired.
Williams, a Terrapin Club member, convinced Gossett to join in 1971. Mary and Barry Gossett have supported ICA ever since as season ticket holders in football and basketball; as donors, including a gift to renovate what’s now called the Gossett Football Team House; and as mentors to countless student-athletes.
Increasing mentorship for and among this group is central to their new gift, which builds upon ICA programs such as the InTERPship Academy. The Gossett Center will provide personal, leadership and career development of Maryland’s 500 student-athletes, along with mentorship from alumni. Fifty will be selected as Gossett Fellows to receive paid summer internships and graduate stipends, and the center will track their progress in their careers for the next decade.
Steffy, co-founder and ceo of Xylem, a mobile app that enhances and measures the success of mentoring relationships, will create an online networking platform to connect former and current Terp athletes and to encourage alumni—particularly Gossett Fellows—to pay it forward by providing advice, helping to place interns and financially supporting the program.
That way, the Gossetts say, the fellows will have some skin in the game.
“These kids now have the opportunity and the ability to make something really significant happen,” he says.