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Alumni commitment launches Student-Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative

Dan and Joanne Castles holding cocktails while seated in a lounge.
Dan and Joanne Castles

Entrepreneurship education for Washington State University’s student-athletes is expanding thanks to a generous financial commitment from alumni Dan and Joanne Castles.

The Student-Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative, scheduled to launch this summer, will provide programming for student-athletes in entrepreneurship and business education through collaborative efforts between WSU Athletics and the Carson College of Business.

“Our passion for WSU has been fed from a lifetime of positive experiences, and our intent with the gift is to contribute in some way that truly ‘makes something happen’ that wouldn’t happen without our gift,” said Dan, who along with his wife, Joanne, earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Carson College in 1978. The couple are loyal football season ticket holders. 

In June 2021, the National Collegiate Athletic Association adopted an interim policy allowing college athletes to benefit financially from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). The Student-Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative will use NIL opportunities to help student-athletes explore potential careers, build professional networks, develop business skills, and interact with other faculty and students from disciplines across campus. 

“We want to help create a leading-edge experience for student-athletes,” Dan said.

Because of Castles’ gift, the initiative will add a full-time athletics staff position focused on developing, implementing, and evaluating the initiative’s curriculum. The new programming for student-athletes includes opportunities to visit companies in Seattle, Spokane, and Silicon Valley during the summer for professional development tours. The goal is to expand internship possibilities, networking, and eventual job placements for student-athletes.

The initiative builds on the collaborative partnership announced in spring 2021 between The Cougar Pursuit and the Carson College’s Center for Entrepreneurship. Shelby McKay, director of The Cougar Pursuit and associate director of athletics, staff and student-athlete development, and Marie Mayes, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, led efforts to educate student-athletes about current topics in NIL. The partnership allows all incoming student-athletes to take a five-week course on intellectual property, personal branding and marketing in a digital world, finance and contracting, and life after sports during the Summer Bridge session.

“We are very appreciative that our commitment is possible only due to the collaboration between the Athletic Department and the Carson College of Business,” Dan said. “This leverages my time involved over many years with the entrepreneurship program and my love for athletics. The collaboration brought some innovative thinking to the table that neither could have done without the other.”

High praise from alumni

“The Student-Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative combines experience, exposure and coaching for student-athletes, all while giving them opportunities to develop their personal brand,” said Jerret West (’98 Intl. Busi.), chief marketing officer at Xbox. “I’m pleased WSU continues to provide creative solutions for individuals to grow in many ways beyond the field-of-play.”

“Our mission at Meta is to give people the power to build community and bring the world together. WSU student-athletes are in a unique position to help us advance this mission by building community directly with their fans on our Facebook and Instagram platforms,” said Colan Sewell (’98 Econ., ’00 MBA), vice president, Reality Labs @ Meta and part of the WSU student athlete-track from 1995-1999.

“The Student-Athlete Entrepreneurship Initiative is providing groundbreaking, holistic student-athlete education by merging classroom theory with real-world business application. This not only prepares them for opportunities after they compete, but it provides them with the tools to leverage their status as student-athletes into entrepreneurial success in real time.”

“As someone who understands first-hand the value of networking and personal branding, I am very excited that WSU student-athletes will have access to resources and guidance on how to promote and protect their personal brands, and take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them,” said Fanny Chen (’97 Mgmt., Human Res.)  lead talent acquisition consultant for LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions. “This knowledge will serve them well during their collegiate athletic careers, and for many years, no matter what career path they choose.”

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