Sometimes, a student really rockets into their future after graduation. Serafin Llerena is one incredible example. Every year since his graduation in 2011, Serafin has been working toward a very specific goal – to be an athletic director for an MIAA school – and every employment and volunteer experience has been purposeful in support of that goal.
After graduating with a degree in sports management and fitness management, Serafin worked as a personal trainer for a year, followed by three years as a teacher’s assistant and coach for two private academies.
On the recommendation of his long-time mentor and friend, Heather Bateman, Serafin applied for a position with Jackson Preparatory and Early College, and he joined their staff in 2014. Now, just four years later, Serafin is the dean of students. He’s also the athletic director and the cross country coach for the prep school in Jackson, Michigan. In addition to his other roles, Serafin also started the athletic program at Jackson Prep from scratch, launching ten sports and joining the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
Not content with three jobs for one employer, he was also named track and cross country coach for Jackson College this past spring.
Serafin attributes his success to hard work, definitive goals, his parents and the support of his mentors. One such mentor, Heather Bateman, was the athletic director at The University of Olivet while Serafin was a student. “I worked for Heather as a student and she really helped me,” Serafin explained. “She provided guidance and coaching, and taught me how to look at things differently.”
Serafin stayed connected to Heather after college and she continued the mentoring that began at Olivet. “I would still reach out to her and go to her for coaching advice. She’s helped me learn how to run a program and how to build relationships with coaches and parents. I’ve always wanted to be a college coach, and she’s helped me learn how to do that. She’s been a bit of a ‘mom’ figure.”
Serafin has always had a strong relationship with his parents, and didn’t necessarily expect the mentoring and guidance he received from other adults during his time at The University of Olivet. “I was surprised at Heather’s willingness to help me and serve as a mentor,” he recalled. “To keep working with my mentor is a great dream of mine. I’m definitely blessed.”
Heather wasn’t the only mentoring relationship from which Serafin benefited. Nick Juday, current department chair and associate professor of health and human performance, recruited Serafin to run cross country and track at The University of Olivet, and then later, helped him understand what to expect when coaching at Jackson College. Nancy Van Hoozier, associate professor of health and human performance, taught him some very specific lessons, as well. “Professor Van Hoozier always said, ‘What you learn now is going to help you in the future. It will guide you in the right direction, help you become who you were meant to be.’ She was the toughest professor I had, but she cared, and I can really see now what she meant,” Serafin said.
“I’m one of those people who always wants to do more, and despite where I am now, I still want to do more.” Serafin credits his experience at The University of Olivet for helping him understand who he was and what he wanted to do. He explained, “Olivet is one of those schools where you figure yourself out, who you are, what direction you want to go toward. And if you needed help, it was there. You knew the teachers and administration, and if you made mistakes, someone was always asking, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”
Serafin described how his experience at Olivet college has impacted the roles and responsibilities he currently has. “I do that with my students now. I ask them, ‘How are you going to make this better?’ and, ‘What are you going to do to change it?’ I still use what I learned at The University of Olivet,” he said. And it’s impacted his career in very tangible ways. He describes the mentoring and relationships that benefited him as a student, and connecting with students in the same way as a mentor himself. “I got hired as the dean of students because of the relationships I’ve formed,” he explained. “I demand respect, but I’m fair and I invest in my students. I’m all about guiding, teaching and mentoring.”
Serafin is a remarkable example of vision, determination and grit. He works hard and pursues his goals with a single-minded commitment. He also lives out the mission of The University of Olivet, serving his community and doing good for others. “Olivet definitely changed my life a lot. I loved it, loved the small environment. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back and do it all again.”