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Giving Back: Scholarship Supports Student-Athletes and Leaders

As Mark and Tammy Berven reflected on their experiences at UNC, they decided to establish the Berven Athletic Leadership Scholarship, which supports one football student-athlete and one female student-athlete who are in their third or fourth seasons and who are active leaders on the Student-Athlete Advisory Council. 

Mark and Tammy Berven are both UNC alumni, but they didn’t meet on campus. They met at a family wedding over the summer, just as Tammy was getting ready to start her first year at UNC, and after Mark completed his first year. When Tammy arrived on campus a few months later, Mark showed her around, and from there they journeyed through their UNC years – and beyond – together. 

Born in Iowa, Mark grew up in Littleton. He attended UNC on a football scholarship as a wide receiver and started out as an education major but switched to business. 

“I thought I’d become a high school teacher and a football coach. Going through my first year of school, I had a general studies class and economics class I really enjoyed. It started to kind of open my eyes to different opportunities,” Mark says. 

“It was an opportunity to be a coach – not coaching athletes, but from a leadership perspective, you work with people and create a vision and an inspiration and learn how to get followership,” he added. 

He remembers learning valuable lessons that his coaches taught him that went beyond the football field.

“The football program in the early 1990s was really on the rise and began to experience a lot of success, so it was really fun to be a part of a winning program.

“Our head coach, Joe Glenn, was a very positive, passionate, energetic leader. And Kay Dalton was our offensive coordinator – he was the tough one who gave you all the critical feedback. I learned how to receive critical feedback. It can be tough to hear, but if you take it the right way and learn to adapt and accept challenges, it can be a real catalyst for whatever you want to do.”

Mark also remembers receiver coach Larry Adams as a quiet leader who always had positive words and encouragement. “Today when I think about him, he was like one of those servant leaders. That was his style, and I learned a lot.”

As an athlete and full-time student, Mark also had a job with Residence Life. 

“Trying to balance [athletics, academics and residence life] definitely taught me time management, and how to make sure that you're prepared for what was coming. Football is the ultimate team sport, so it was great from a teamwork perspective.”

Tammy, who grew up in Lafayette, started at UNC as an education major as well, then switched to social sciences with a minor in sociology during her sophomore year. She also worked in Residence Life, first at the front desk at Turner Hall, then eventually as a resident assistant.

“It was all about being involved in people and learning, but I had a couple different supervisors who provided good inspiration for me,” she says, mentioning Bob Hetzel and Deb Coffin the director of Residence Life for West campus at the time. 

“Having to deal with tough situations with students who maybe had a death in the family or were dealing with different stresses of life, (Bob and Deb) gave us the skills to help people. I really enjoyed that and grew a lot,” Tammy says.

Both Mark and Tammy assert that the people, the relationships they built at UNC, and the lessons those mentors and coaches taught them contributed to their success.

“They wanted to have a successful football team, but you could absolutely tell that it was more about setting up each of us for life after football,” Mark says of his experience as a student-athlete. He stays in touch with Coach Glenn, and Tammy has remained in touch with Deb Coffin. 

“She had such an impact on both of our lives,” she says. “UNC provided a lot of opportunities to get connected with different groups (of people). Mark was mainly connected through football, and I was mainly connected through Residence Life.  I think finding that connection helps make the rest of the journey a little bit easier and so much more enjoyable.” 

Mark and Tammy were married in 1993 and graduated in 1994. Their children, Amanda (24) and Adam (22) were born in Colorado.

But before graduation, Mark attended a career fair at UNC that led to an interview and a job offer with Nationwide Insurance. “I started my career with Nationwide 28 years ago in Denver and have been with the company ever since – it’s a great organization,” Mark says.

It’s a career that took the family from Colorado to Nebraska, Iowa, Virginia, and eventually to the company’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, where they live now. Mark’s roles with Nationwide gave him broad experience within the company. Today he serves as Nationwide’s president and chief operating officer. The Columbus-Ohio-based insurance company owns a group of large U.S. insurance and financial services companies. 

After graduation, Tammy started working at the Cleo Wallace Center in Westminster, a residential treatment center for youth, before moving on to work at the Children's Home, a residential treatment center in downtown Denver. 

Once their first child was born and after multiple cross country moves, Tammy made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom. 

“Once we moved to Virginia, I kind of took a different path in helping people and motivating people.  I became a personal trainer and spin instructor, which gave me the opportunity to work around my kids’ schedules.”

About eight years ago she left her work as a personal trainer and began volunteering with nonprofit organizations. “I’m on a committee that does fundraising for the Ronald McDonald house in Columbus, which is the largest Ronald McDonald house in the world. I also volunteer at Nationwide Children's Hospital in the NICU holding babies and helping out when parents are not able to be there with their children.” 

As Mark and Tammy reflected on their experiences at UNC, they decided to establish the Berven Athletic Leadership Scholarship, which supports one football student-athlete and one female student-athlete who are in their third or fourth seasons and who are active leaders on the Student-Athlete Advisory Council. 

“We started talking about the opportunity to give back to the university that gave us so much – the relationships and the foundational pieces that led us down our career paths and where we are today,” Mark says. 

“We were thinking specifically about scholarship opportunities. You hear so much about mental health, and the stressors that college students are going through today. Obviously financial aid is a really big one. We thought if there was a way we could alleviate at least one of the stresses that student-athletes face while going through a rigorous training schedule and balancing school, what better way to make an impact?” 

The Bervens chose to establish the scholarship as a blended gift, which allows them to contribute now, so that the scholarships can be awarded to students right away, and then fully fund it through their estate. This fall, they had an opportunity to see the impact of their support first-hand when they returned to campus for Homecoming and met both students who received the scholarships they established. 

This year’s recipients (pictured above, at right, with Tammy and Mark at left) are Kassidy Woods, UNC football player, Big Sky Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) president, and vice president of SAAC at UNC; and Alyssa Wenzel, UNC softball player and SAAC Bears Supporting Bears coordinator. 

Wenzel, who is a senior Communication Studies major with a minor in Broadcast Studies, hopes to work as a journalist or broadcaster after graduation. She says the scholarship is meaningful because it recognizes her work as a leader. “I love this university, and to represent it as not only an athlete but a leader is truly amazing,” she says. “To be recognized for my leadership is the feeling that everything I’ve worked for has been paying off and that it’s being appreciated. I am a huge advocate for helping others and so happy to be given this award.” 

Woods graduated last spring with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology but because the COVID-19 pandemic extended his eligibility for another two years, he’s working on his second bachelor’s, studying Philosophy. 

“Receiving this scholarship encourages me to tell my story that when athletes stay the course and see it all the way through the end, everything eventually will fall into place,” he says. “It has been a long journey as a collegiate athlete but it’s comforting to know that as long as I stay humble, value who I am as a human, keep a great work ethic in the classroom and on the field, it will speak volumes and make one qualified to receive scholarships like the Berven Athletic Scholarship.” 

To learn more about how you can help students through a blended gift or through estate planning, call UNC’s Office of Development at 970-351-2551 or email donor.relations@unco.edu. 

– written by Debbie Moors 

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