The convenience of online courses is one of the many reasons busy people have turned to institutions like DeVry University to further their education.
But for Olympians such as Elana Meyers Taylor, even online coursework can be a challenge to fit in to a rigorous schedule of training and competition. The three-time Olympic medal-winning bobsledder travels frequently, often to small ski villages so remote that she often had trouble connecting to the internet.
But thanks to DeVry’s partnership with the United States Olympic Committee, she didn't have to be put at a disadvantage in the classroom while being an elite athlete.
“Luckily I had professors who worked with me and understood the situation and were willing to help me out in that regard,” she said.
DeVry became the official education provider of the USOC in 2011. The university offers Team USA athletes the opportunity to take courses online and earn undergraduate and graduate degrees, with the possibility of full scholarships, without disrupting their highly structured training regimens.
Taking online classes off and on, Meyers Taylor earned her MBA in four years — the amount of time from one Olympic Winter Games to the next.
In addition to allowing currently competing athletes to train and earn a degree, the DeVry program has helped level the playing field for retired athletes looking to change careers. With a graduate degree, they’re better equipped to earn lucrative jobs despite sometimes not having as much working experience as other candidates.
“I had already taken some classes at the local community college on (human resource) management and things like that,” said Carol Lewis, a two-time Olympian and one of the top U.S. long jumpers in the 1980s.
“But I knew that if I really truly wanted to have a career in human resources and have the opportunity to be an HR director or an HR assistant director at one period of time that I needed that extra education.”
Carol Lewis competes in the long jump at the USA Mobil TAC Championships during Feb. 1991 in New York.
Lewis graduated with a pair of bachelor’s degrees from the University of Houston — in journalism and radio and TV broadcasting. She also earned a bronze medal in long jump at the 1983 world championships.
After retiring from competition, Lewis put her education to work as a track and field TV commentator for around 25 years.
She provided analysis for several Olympic Games, including the 2008 Beijing Games, but she was ready to leave the TV booth for a human resources department.
Lewis heard about DeVry’s MBA program offered through the USOC. She called to get more information about it, then applied and received a scholarship to DeVry’s Keller Graduate School of Management.
Athletes who compete in at least one Olympic or Paralympic Games – along with those who meet various other criteria – are eligible for a full scholarship to the DeVry program.
“Those are the types of programs we did not have access to when we were competing. There was no DeVry program,” said Lewis, the sister of American track and field legend Carl Lewis.
“There are so many programs that they have now instituted in the USOC that are helping today’s athletes that yesterday’s athletes didn’t have an opportunity at.”
Now living in Houston to help take care of her mother, Lewis has only three classes to pass before she earns her MBA next June: economics, business law and marketing management.
In 2016, five years after the USOC began its partnership with DeVry, more than 240 American athletes had enrolled in one of the university’s associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree programs.
Meyers Taylor was among them.
She played softball at George Washington University and graduated in 2011 with a master’s degree in sports management after earning a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. She intended to work as a softball coach for the rest of her life.
Elana Meyers Taylor (R) reacts after competing at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 21, 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
However, once she started competing in bobsled, Meyers Taylor realized she wanted to be involved in sports outside of coaching. She knew she needed a business background to do that.
She also realized that, in a dangerous sport such as bobsled, she never knew when her last trip down the ice might come.
“Not everybody is going to win an Olympic medal. Not everybody is going to make an Olympic team,” said Meyers Taylor, who has won a medal at each of the past three Winter Games — two silvers and a bronze.
“But you do need to be prepared for when that day comes and you’re no longer able to play sports. At the end of the day, too, an Olympic medal won’t feed you for the rest of your life, so you have to be prepared.”
It’s a message Meyers Taylor learned from her father, former Navy running back Eddie Meyers, who earned an MBA while pursuing an NFL career in the 1980s. He stressed the importance of getting an education as both a student and an athlete.
Meyers Taylor started DeVry’s MBA program in 2011 and, taking all of her classes online as a part-time student, she graduated in 2015.
Along the way, she has interned with the International Olympic Committee and has understood the financials that are involved as a board member with USA Bobsled & Skeleton.
In an odd way, graduate school has also made Meyers Taylor a more focused athlete.
“I tend to overthink in my sport. I tend to spend too much time worrying about things I can’t control and what’s going on in my sport,” Meyers Taylor said. “So, what going to school enabled me to do was once I stepped off the ice I had something else to think about.
“I didn’t have to think about bobsled all day, even though I would have tried. All I could do was focus on this homework that I had.”