The evolution of RDC student-athlete Amy Szymanek
There have been many changes at Red Deer College since it first opened its doors in 1964. The College has experienced substantial growth in student population, additional modern teaching and learning spaces and facilities, and expanded program offerings with more than 100 paths across a diverse breadth of credentials.
Despite the development, RDC remains committed and true to its vision of proudly serving its learners and surrounding communities through leadership, excellence, and innovation. Red Deer College continues to offer a supportive environment for students to grow academically and socially, encouraging student leadership at the College and in the community.
One example of a current RDC learner who has experienced this multi-faceted growth is Bachelor of Education student Amy Szymanek, who also plays for the RDC Queens Basketball team. She began competing with the Queens in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) in 2018/2019, and has progressively expanded her impact on and off the court.
In addition to Szymanek more than tripling her offensive output from her first year (2.8 points per game) to her second season (10.2) in 2019/2020, she was named one of the squad’s captains, which is a role often reserved for older and more experienced student-athletes.
“It was quite a learning curve being a leader that young. I believe that the best way to lead is by example. My effort, energy, and attitude are things that are within my control,” explained Szymanek. “I always try to exhibit a strong work ethic and remain calm and composed in all situations.”
Szymanek also believes confidence plays a significant role in strong leadership.
“A successful student-athlete leader needs to be selfless, brave, vulnerable, and willing to lead on a high pressure platform, without fear of scrutiny,” she said. “Great leaders are true to themselves and encourage others to do the same, while looking out for the best interests of the team before their own.”
Queens Basketball Head Coach Mandy Botham appreciates how Szymanek motivates other student-athletes to become the best versions of themselves.
“It has been really impressive to observe Amy’s growth as a leader, whether in practice or games, or in other capacities as she supports the team,” said Botham. “She is inspirational and the kind of leader that helps others reach the next level. She doesn’t ask anything of her teammates that she doesn’t ask of herself.”
Botham believes Red Deer College is the ideal setting for leaders to develop.
“The community-minded environment at RDC provides more personalized opportunities for students, which are often more difficult to experience at larger institutions,” she says. “There are a lot of faculty and staff at RDC who are very supportive and genuinely invested in our students, and willing to go above and beyond for them.”
Szymanek uses a variety of resources to enhance her basketball and leadership capabilities. She has sought advice from past coaches and mentors, current RDC coaches, and family, including her older brother Kevin, who played on the Kings Basketball team.
“Mandy and [Assistant Coach] J’Anna [Aitchison] give me valuable advice and encouragement. Kevin totally understands what it is like to compete at the college level and balance life as a student-athlete, so I seek leadership advice from him,” stated Szymanek. “In my down time, I also read books, watch videos, and TED Talks about how to become a better leader because it is a skill that can be further developed.”
As Szymanek evolved throughout her second season, so did the Queens Basketball team (10-11), which nearly captured the final playoff spot in the South Division in 2019/2020. The Queens finished only two points behind the Medicine Hat College Rattlers (11-10). At the end of the campaign, Szymanek and the Queens noted several valuable lessons.
“It really hit our group hard when we missed the playoffs, but our coaches encouraged us to use it as a learning opportunity,” said Szymanek. “The biggest take-away is that there are no nights off. It takes more sacrifice, more work, and more cohesion.”
The cancellation of the 2020/2021 ACAC season due to COVID-19 was disappointing, but Szymanek remains heavily involved with the Queens and RDC Athletics, while increasing her GPA to nearly 3.70 for Fall 2020 Term. She also trains and works on her parent’s farm.
“As wonderful as Amy’s progression has been on the court, her development as a leader off the court has been simply incredible. I ask a lot of Amy outside of basketball, as well, and I’ve seen a tremendous commitment from her in all facets of being a student-athlete,” explained Botham. “She is really great at checking on her teammates during a normal season, but it is even more important this year because we are all isolated from one another due to the pandemic.”
Despite a busy schedule, Szymanek is always willing to lend a helping hand.
“Amy is always one of the first athletes to step up and volunteer. I gave her the opportunity to be a part of the Student-Athletes Advisory Council last year, and again this year as a co-chair,” said Botham. “It has been rewarding to receive positive feedback from others within RDC Athletics, and around the College, about Amy’s commitment, preparation, and articulate demeanour.”
Szymanek’s duties as the Council’s Co-Chair connects her, along with other College student-athletes and coaches, with the community.
“We have several projects planned this year, which include a blood drive, mental health awareness, and a food drive in support of the Red Deer Food Bank, which will take place on March 27. These are important to me because they emphasize community,” said Szymanek, who hails from Stauffer, Alberta. “In addition to the community outreach I perform as an RDC student-athlete, I also volunteer at the Red Deer Food Bank. Where I come from, nothing is possible without the support of the community.”
Until competition safely resumes, Szymanek continues to evolve and make a positive impact as a Red Deer College student-athlete and leader.
“Amy is the type of athlete who I want on the Queens Basketball team,” said Botham. “She works incredibly hard and embraces the opportunities that arise academically and athletically, while successfully managing her leadership duties and community engagements. I am extremely proud of Amy and I look forward to watching her continue to grow in all of these areas.”