Mavericks in Medicine

It’s too easy to accept the widespread belief that college athletes aren’t academically inclined. After all, permeated in our subconscious is everything pop culture has taught us about “jocks,” mashed up with the vexing stories coming out of major athletics programs on an all-too-regular basis.

If you hope to hold on to those stereotypes—at least as they relate to the student-athletes at Minnesota State University, Mankato—you probably won’t want to read further.

This is the story of two pre-med Maverick athletes who represent a sampling of the former Maverick athletes who have gone on to pursue health-care careers after graduation and who now credit some of their success to combining athletics and academics.

Dr. Kelli (Freeman) Roenfranz ’05, and Dr. Bob Jeske ’03 were pre-med students and stand-out athletes at Minnesota State Mankato. Today, they’re family practice doctors.

“Our athletic program focuses on the total development of student-athletes,” Athletic Director Kevin Buisman says. “We want them to be successful as a student-athlete, but also as a future professional. We talk about ‘Building Champions’ in our athletic program. Part of that is competitive success of course, but we also ask them to excel in the community and the classroom. With that sort of mission, we provide them a great foundation to be successful both in sport and in life, and to go on and be a valued member of their community and succeed as a professional. These are terrific success stories … we’re very proud of everything they’ve accomplished.”

Jeske played center for the Maverick football team. The two-time Academic All-District First Team selection ended his Minnesota State Mankato career with a streak of 33 consecutive games started and served as a co- captain for a squad that set a school record for largest single-season improvement. A three-time Academic All-North Central Conference selection and a Maverick Achievement Award honoree, Jeske maintained a 3.91 grade point average while earning a pair of bachelor’s degrees and gaining admittance into the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Jeske, whose career in medicine has brought him back to southern Minnesota, will practice as a supervising physician for the Mayo Health System in Mankato starting in 2017. It’s a location that has a formidable place in his heart.

“I met my wife in Mankato, because she was a biology major and we took a lot of the same classes,” Jeske explains. “We got married in Sibley Park in Mankato on a Friday in July after graduation, had our reception on Saturday and on Sunday packed up the U-Haul. On Monday we left and moved from Mankato to Miami, where we spent the next four years while I went to medical school and my wife got a nursing degree.”

Roenfranz finished her Maverick women’s basketball career ranked ninth in team history in scoring (1,083 points) while setting the school record for three-pointers made. She was Academic All-District First Team and received Academic All-America Second Team honors from ESPN the Magazine with a 4.00 grade point average as a biology and chemistry major. Roenfranz was selected as the recipient of the Georgene Brock Award as Minnesota State Mankato’s outstanding senior female student-athlete of the year in 2005. The recipient of a NCAA postgraduate scholarship, she was accepted at the medical school at Des Moines University in Des Moines, Iowa, upon graduation.

Roenfranz insists that pairing athletics with education was never a potential barrier to the career she decided on during her high school years, in part because of the type of institution she picked for her student-athlete endeavor.

“Minnesota State Mankato was a wonderful school where I knew I could compete as an athlete, but also where academics are taken very seriously,” she says.

These Maverick doctors agree that the fundamentals earned through their experiences as athletes pay dividends today for themselves, their colleagues and the patients they serve.

“Athletics in general teaches you a lot of life lessons that are hard to learn other ways,” Jeske says. “Discipline is a big thing that it taught me. It kept me busy and out of trouble and away from distraction. It forced me to be disciplined with my classes and take care of my business when I needed to.”

“One of the biggest things I learned from being an athlete is teamwork, and working with others,” Roenfranz says. “And that’s what medicine is. Especially in rural medicine, where I work, you don’t always have a ton of resources, so it’s a complete team effort. Especially with my partners, covering for each other and helping each other out being flexible and adaptable. I really think being successful here goes hand-in-hand with having been an athlete.”

For Buisman, these Mavericks are standard-bearers. They are not exceptions, but rather examples of the program’s success both on and off the field of play in preparing student-athletes for life after college.

“I think that’s why our student-athletes are so sought after when they enter the professional world,” Buisman explains. “What we call transferable skills—traits such as teamwork, dedication, loyalty, commitment, focus on achievement, driven by goals—all those things are a part of their student-athlete experience. It is a challenge to live on both sides of the dashes as a student and athlete. To succeed, you have to have extraordinary time management skills. Those skills, those types of things that are a part of their student-athlete experience, equip them to move on to further study and high accomplishment in very challenging careers.”  —Wayne Carlson