LEWISBURG, Pa. -- Bucknell seniors Kelly Pontecorvo and Kristen Purdy will be vying for gold medals at next week's Patriot League Swimming and Diving Championships, but on Sunday they took a break from those preparations to host a student-athlete career networking event through the Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy. Eleven student-athlete alumni gathered in the Terrace Room on campus for "speed-dating" style breakout sessions with more than 50 current Bison student-athletes.

"The focus of the event was less on 'let's go get a job' and more on networking and building relationships," said Purdy, who is the fifth-fastest performer in school history in the 100-yard butterfly. "It was great to hear what they have learned in the business world and how we can apply everything we have learned as student-athletes toward our future careers."

"Students can be so focused on getting internships and getting jobs, so this was great for us to learn about networking," said Pontecorvo, a three-time All-Patriot Leaguer who holds school records in every distance freestyle event. "It was really inspirational to hear about their successes, and we are so grateful that they were willing to come back and talk to us about their careers or even just answer an e-mail from us with questions."

Among the alumni mentors in attendance were the husband/wife tandem of Bob '85 and Cheryl '86 Rhein. Cheryl, a volleyball player and cheerleader at Bucknell, is the owner of Penn-Air and Hydraulics Corp. in York, Pa. Bob, a soccer and lacrosse athlete, is the president and COO of that company.

"I got as much out of listening to the athletes today as they did hearing from us," said Bob Rhein. "This was great perspective for me as a business owner to understand the challenges that they are facing and the pressure that they are under. These are the best of the best -- elite student-athletes at a great school who are used to working toward excellence. I am just blown away by their knowledge and social skills and sense of purpose, but at the same time they are all anxious about their futures."

Other alumni who returned on Sunday to share their knowledge were Doug Williams '63 (football), Kaitlyn Sweeney '12 (swimming), Adam Volath '90 (lacrosse), Dr. Tom Martin '92 (football), Andy Linden '92 (lacrosse and football), Bill Belmont '88 (lacrosse) and John Gardner '72 (wrestling, rugby clubs). Also participating were Craig Henderson (Western Michigan '75, ice hockey), who is a member of the Bucknell Parents Board, and Loni Kline (Juniata '03, softball), who is the director of the Bucknell Annual Fund.

Purdy and Pontecorvo noted that this inaugural student-athlete networking event was the brainchild of fellow Leadership Academy participant Shelby Romine, who is one of the stars of the Bison women's basketball team. Romine said the idea came to her because she is still undecided about her future plans, and "I figured it was time to get some advice." 

"It was very rewarding to hear the alumni show us first-hand how being an athlete led to their success," said Pontecorvo.

The Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy was launched in August 2011 with the goal of delivering programming and instruction that bridge theory, development and real experiences in an interactive learning environment. Through this endeavor, team leaders can enhance their impact on their teammates' and their program's performance immediately and for years to come. The next round of student-athlete leadership training is scheduled for March 16.