By Saylor Hawkins

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

When I earned a scholarship to be a diver for the Mean Green, I knew I had a unique opportunity in front of me.

As hard as I worked and trained to compete in the pool, I’d be wasting a chance to make a valuable impact if I was only known as a diver.

I’ve always been a firm believer that if you want to make a difference or see change in the world, you have to do something about it.

You have to be the change.

Early on in my career at UNT, I got involved with SAAC — our student-athlete advisory committee. I also helped co-found BAC (Black Student-Athlete Committee), and I can’t tell you how rewarding it’s been to be a part of these organizations to help improve the student-athlete experience at UNT.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum held in Baltimore, which gave me even more opportunities to connect with student-athletes across the country and take leadership concepts that I can apply on campus and with my team.

There was a time in my life when I was only focused on improving the student-athlete experience for me and my team.

The longer I’ve been at UNT, the more I’ve realized…

It’s so much bigger than that.

Turning thoughts into action

Right when I got to UNT, I was ambitious beyond belief. I had all these ideas in my head of how I wanted to make an impact, but I didn’t really know where to get started.

When I talked to my coaches about this, they suggested I join SAAC.

One of my favorite things about being involved with SAAC is seeing how the organization has inspired progress and growth at UNT.

With UNT officially joining the American Athletic Conference this upcoming July, it’s been exciting to have a voice in requesting access to improved resources and facilities as we make the transition.

It’s one thing to request these upgrades and changes, but I always try to effectively communicate why we need them and how they can benefit our school.

I think that goes a long way in order for school administrators and us as student-athletes to be on the same page and share matching goals.

Putting some of those ideas into fruition has been unbelievably fulfilling and hopefully has improved – and continues to improve – the student-athlete experience.

I’ve always been a firm believer that if you want to make a difference or see change in the world, you have to do something about it. You have to be the change.

Sharing the UNT bond

As a senior, with graduation coming up, I’ve had the chance to reflect a bit on everything I’ve accomplished at UNT and what I’m most proud of.

Helping to start BAC is easily one of my proudest accomplishments. We didn’t know how many people would be interested or show up, but it’s been growing rapidly within this past year, and it’s been thrilling to see the ascension of an organization that I helped create and am so passionate about.

Another memory that stands out is an event we put together as part of SAAC.

We essentially did an athlete-sports-switch event, if you like.

The premise was that athletes would participate in all these different sports that weren’t their own. Football players would partake in diving. Basketball players would try playing tennis, and so on.

This was an incredibly impactful event because it allowed student-athletes to engage with each other and make connections they otherwise likely wouldn’t have. Once those connections are established, it makes going to various games and sporting events more fun because you know the athletes you’re watching on a personal basis.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own sport with your own teammates. But once you’re able to branch out and share that bond of being a student-athlete at UNT with people from different backgrounds and walks of life, it’s an amazing feeling.

That event will always hold a special place in my heart.

A life-altering conference

While I was thrilled with everything I’ve helped organize and accomplish at UNT for student-athletes through SAAC and BAC, I’m one that is always striving to improve and learn.

That’s why when the opportunity to attend the Student-Athlete Leadership Forum in Baltimore came up, I wasn’t going to let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass.

One of the speakers that left the biggest impact on me was the keynote speaker, Jonathan Sprinkles. His main message was finding your why in anything that you do.

When things get hard, instead of sulking or having a bad attitude about your situation, remember to always be aware of why it’s hard and who you’re doing it for in overcoming challenges.

He just had tons of metaphors and ways of looking at life from a positive perspective that hit home for me in a number of ways, and I couldn’t wait to come back home to implement some of these concepts on campus moving forward from a leadership standpoint.

In addition to all the great speakers I heard from, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the student-athletes from all over the country. It was a Thursday-Sunday event, but I couldn’t believe how much camaraderie we built up in that time and all the fun we had together in those few days.

I was a little nervous going into the conference because I didn’t know anyone else there, but everyone was so open and vulnerable that complete strangers became friends and added to group chats on my phone within no time.

I knew the conference would be meaningful for me in a variety of ways, but it became far more influential on my life than I ever could’ve imagined.

Leaving behind a greater purpose

The biggest lesson I learned at the conference that I was able to bring back home to UNT is that every single member on a team is important and has a role.

I think what can get lost sometimes in sports is the misconception that you have to be a team captain or an upperclassman to lead.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Leadership qualities transcend both talent and age.

There are many different ways to lead, and it comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. A true freshman can be just as impactful in leading a team as a fifth-year senior.

As I get ready to graduate from UNT, these are the sort of lessons I hope to leave behind that others can understand and help cultivate the utmost experience for student-athletes across every sport.

I’ll be forever grateful if I can say I left an impact of change and growth that improved the student-athlete experience.

If I left something behind that can continue to evolve and facilitate progress for generations to come, that’ll mean even more.