“The day you commit to becoming a Forester student-athlete is the day you commit to becoming a Forester forever.”
Sydney Gardner, class of 2018, was an outfielder for the Forester softball team from 2015 to 2018. After her freshman season, she was named the team’s Most Improved Player and earned a spot on the Second Team All-Midwest Conference. She was named captain her junior year and held the leadership role through her senior year. Sydney was awarded the Forester Commitment award after her junior and senior seasons. Also as a junior, she was named to the Lake Forest College All-Sportsmanship Team. As a senior, she earned Academic All-Midwest Conference distinction.
During her time at the College, Sydney majored in Communications and minored in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She now works as a Project Coordinator at Horizon Therapeutics in Lake Forest, IL. She answered a few questions for this Feature about her time as a Lake Forest College student-athlete and gave us a glimpse about what she's doing now as an alumna.
Talk a little bit about your experience as a Forester Student-Athlete. What was the best thing about being a part of the softball program?
Being a student-athlete is one thing, but to be a Forester student-athlete holds a completely different meaning. The day you commit to being a student-athlete is so much more than just committing to a strong athletic program. The day you commit to becoming a Forester student-athlete is the day you commit to becoming a Forester forever. As an out-of-state freshman, who didn’t know much about what the next four years would hold, I was amazed by the outpouring of support the College offers its student-athletes. Right off the bat, you are welcomed into the Forester family and challenged both on and off the field. To be a Forester student-athlete requires more heart than anything. At Lake Forest it is a privilege to play the sport you love and you are expected to play with the same caliber as any other program out there all while concentrating on other activities in addition to your sport.
Lake Forest College has the motto “A Tradition of Excellence,” and I think that especially holds true for the varsity women’s softball program at the College. Under Coach Kinsella’s leadership, he steered us to always keep the end goal in mind. I recall during one preseason lift, we heard news of where the National Championship was to be held that year and from that day on all we could think about was what it was going to take to get there. While many of us knew it was important to train hard and show up to compete, we also understood it was equally important to have fun and make memories with your teammates along the way, too. Today, some of my very best friends and greatest memories were made through being a part of the Lake Forest College softball family.
In what ways did the student-athlete experience you had prepared you for life outside of college?
Being a student-athlete teaches you several transferrable skills that can be applied to life outside of college. For me being a student-athlete taught me time-management, self-discipline, leadership, grit, teamwork, and the power of collaboration. In addition, Lake Forest College requires their student-athletes to partake in Forester Game Plan. The Forester Game Plan program provides student-athletes with early career preparation for post-graduate success. This four-year career preparation program begins on day one of your freshmen year and is a part of your college experience until the day you graduate. On top of the skills playing a sport taught me over the years, Forester Game Plan really set me up for post-graduate success while entering the workforce.
What are you doing now? What’s your favorite part of your job?
Currently, I work at Horizon Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company located in Lake Forest, IL, focused on helping those impacted by rare and rheumatic conditions. At Horizon, I am Project Coordinator working with Corporate Affairs to cross-functionally support patient advocacy, public affairs and corporate social responsibility, corporate and brand communications, and government affairs. Within these teams I manage internal and external programs, which include patient related events, volunteer projects, and civic and community engagements. I truly enjoy having a diversified workload and the ability to collaborate with numerous individuals each day. However, the best part of my job is being able to connect with people from all over to make a difference in the lives of the patients and communities in which we serve.
Coach Kinsella mentioned that you’re doing some interesting volunteer work. Can you talk about that? Where do you volunteer, and what are your responsibilities when you do?
While a portion of my role at Horizon revolves around organizing and participating in a variety of volunteer projects, I also serve as a board member on the Arthritis Foundations Chicago chapter. With more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children living with arthritis -- the nations leading cause of disability -- the Arthritis Foundation works to address the needs of those living with the condition and is dedicated to providing funding for innovative research, resources and efforts towards a cure. Locally in the Chicago area, I volunteer my time attending both the annual Jingle Bell Run and Walk to Cure Arthritis events.
In addition, each year I volunteer as an Invention Judge for the Chicago Student Invention Convention. The Chicago Student Invention Convention brings together young innovators from all over Chicago K-8th grade to come up with an idea or invention that solves a problem and must build a prototype. As an Invention Judge I get the opportunity to listen to each student’s pitch, evaluate their inventions based off a set of criteria and provide objective feedback for the student’s invention. During my time at Lake Forest College, I studied entrepreneurship and innovation and love that I am able to continue working in the space to help Chicago’s young innovators and future entrepreneurs.
What advice do you have for current Foresters? What’s one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were at the College?
One piece of advice I have to future and current Foresters would be to never stop chasing your curiosities. It’s extremely important to explore all interest, whether it be joining a sorority/fraternity or another club on campus, getting involved in student government, taking that class that doesn’t necessarily align with your major or minor, going abroad, or playing an intermural sport. Whatever it is that interests you, go for it because you never know where it will lead you or who you’ll meet along the way.
One thing I wish I knew when I was at Lake Forest College would be that it’s okay to not have it all figured out on day one. I came in thinking I wanted to be a biology major and changed my mind several times along the way, and the most important thing to understand about it is that, that’s okay. I wish someone had told me that when I didn’t know what my next move was. Lake Forest offers a variety of networking sessions and opportunities to learn more about careers, and while I did attend as many as I could, I advise all Foresters to take full advantage of these opportunities. Networking is so important and something I still do today because getting to know people opens your eyes to more opportunities than you could ever imagine.