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Embracing opportunities prepares Blugold for future success

| Judy Berthiaume

As a UW-Eau Claire gymnast, Destiny Cobbs regularly earns high marks for her balance beam routines.

As a Blugold?

The senior scores a perfect 10.

Student-athlete? Check. Study abroad? Check. Research? Check. Internship? Check. Leadership experience? Check. Honors student? Yep. Community involvement? Of course.

Simply put, Cobbs has packed a lot into her four years at UW-Eau Claire.

“Taking advantage of opportunities allows me to make more connections,” says Cobbs, a management major from Minnetonka, Minnesota. “I've gotten to interact with so many more students and faculty, and with people in the communities I've been in, through my research with the Honors Program, study abroad and by participating in athletics.”

Those connections — and a plethora of outside-the-classroom experiences — enhanced her college career in countless ways, and already have paid off in terms of her future, Cobbs says.

After she graduates in May, she has a job waiting for her with Target Corp.

Cobbs first connected with Target during an on-campus career conference last year, a meeting that led to a summer internship in the Twin Cities.

Her internship, she says, was an invaluable learning experience that has given her even more confidence as she looks to her life after college, Cobbs says.

“As an intern, you get to make mistakes and learn from them, without the same consequences as being a full-time hire,” Cobbs says. “Internships add so much value to a student’s experience and can help you understand the concepts you’re learning in class better, too.

“My mentor made sure I was comfortable with the business and able to learn a bit about all parts of the store from logistics and operations to guest experience and human resources. The internship also was a great way to test out the company to see if it is a good fit. It’s as important to know you want to work for a company as it is to know that they want you.”

When the 10-week summer internship ended, both Cobbs and Target knew they were a good fit.

Target offered her a full-time position to start in July, as well as an extended internship, allowing Cobbs to gain more experience with Target at its store in Eau Claire during her final year of college.

The extended internship is preparing her for her full-time position, but it also is helping her see other potential career opportunities that may interest her down the road.

“Each week, I lead the orientations for new Target team members, which is super fun and different,” Cobbs says. “After a few months of leading these, I am thinking about pursuing a master’s degree in human resources. I also get to help out in each work center of the store, which helps me get to know the team members and continue to learn the business as well as see the different leadership qualities each manager has.”

The internship and job offer are possible because of the many opportunities to learn and grow that she found in and outside the classroom during her years as a Blugold, Cobbs says.

Cobbs came to UW-Eau Claire after a high school gymnastics coach, a UW-Eau Claire alumna and former Blugold gymnast, said she thought the university and its gymnastics team would be a good fit for her.

“Meeting the team and the coaches pretty much sealed the deal for me,” Cobbs says of deciding to attend UW-Eau Claire. “It also helps that UWEC is close to home, has a beautiful campus, decent tuition price, and quite a few majors to pick from.”

She came to UW-Eau Claire undecided on a major but with an interest in business.

An Honors class in macroeconomics convinced her to think more seriously about business as a career path.

Once she began taking classes within the College of Business, she quickly decided that a management major was a good match for her interests and talents.

At UW-Eau Claire, she also discovered a love of languages and an interest in new cultures.

“When I began taking Spanish classes at UWEC, I immediately enjoyed the courses more than I expected,” says Cobbs, who decided to minor in Spanish. “The professors are so passionate about the language and helping students. I took a class taught by Analisa DeGrave, where I learned more than I could have ever imagined about Latin America. Dr. DeGrave shared many personal experiences that make me want to travel to parts of Latin America that I have never been to before.”

One of UW-Eau Claire’s requirements for Spanish minors is that students study abroad for at least six weeks in a Spanish-speaking country.

To meet the requirement, Cobbs spent nine weeks in Costa Rica, immersing herself in that country’s language and culture.

“Studying abroad was one of the greatest experiences I have had,” Cobbs says. “Eight weeks of my time there was spent taking two Spanish courses, living with a host family and traveling with my classmates on the weekends.

“I was able to advance my verbal skills in the language while experiencing the different parts of the culture throughout different cities in Costa Rica.”

During the ninth week abroad, Cobbs’ family joined her in Costa Rica, which she says was “an experience I’ll never forget.”

By studying abroad in the summer, Cobbs met the requirements of her Spanish minor and still could compete during the gymnastics season, something that was important to her because of her love of the sport as well as the bonds she shares with her teammates.

“As a freshman, it was nice to have a friend base and coaches that acted as a family from the beginning of that first fall semester,” Cobbs says of being a student-athlete. “You spend so much time training in the gym, lifting in the weight room and doing activities with one another.

“My teammates, coaches included, are so supportive of me and each other. When you have 20+ girls giving you constant support and motivation, it so positively impacts your college experience.”

While the friendships and camaraderie are important, being a student-athlete also helped her develop skills that will make her more successful in her future career.

For example, successful student-athletes work as part of a team and manage their time well, two skills that also are important to professional success, she says.

In addition, gymnastics motivates athletes to work hard to achieve personal success, while also helping the team meet its goals, Cobbs says.

“Each time I beat my personal best, it reinforces how hard work pays off,” Cobbs says. “Gymnastics especially can be very individualized, but at the end of the day your individual goals need to match up with your team’s goal. That’s true in business as well.”

Through gymnastics, she also improved her organizational and leadership skills by coordinating the team’s Junior Blugolds program, which offers gymnastics classes to girls in the community.

“Acting as the program coordinator is something that benefits our team, but also allows me to gain experience on the professional side of the sport I love so much,” Cobbs says. “I create schedules for our program, work with parents and see the administrative parts of the program. Coordinating this program has given me professional experience in a way that is manageable while I also am a full-time student and participating in athletics.”

Like being part of her gymnastics team, being an Honors student also offered opportunities to challenge herself, including experiences that take her outside her comfort zone.

For example, her Honors class, “Homelessness and Power,” required students to complete a research project.

Her project sent her into the Eau Claire community, meeting people that she would not normally encounter as a UW-Eau Claire student.

“My research was very different from what I thought I would ever participate in,” Cobbs says. “It involved going to the Eau Claire County Jail weekly to interview inmates. I learned about how homelessness in the Eau Claire community affected them and how resources could better assist people like them in our community.

“It was very interesting and gave me a different perspective on homelessness here.”

As she starts her final semester at UW-Eau Claire and reflects on her years as a Blugold, Cobbs is encouraging other students to make the most of all the university offers them.

“Find what's important or interesting to you and then pursue it,” Cobbs says. “You may not value going to a jail every Saturday morning to interview inmates or traveling to another country for months at a time.

“But there are so many opportunities here that you can find something that interests you and connects you to others. If you do that, you will get so much more out of your college experience.”

Photo caption: Destiny Cobbs has juggled gymnastics along with a variety of other high-impact experiences during her years as a Blugold, including an internship with Target that led to a full-time job.