Student Profile: Michael Gagnon
Fostering a strong sense of entrepreneurial leadership becomes increasingly important in an economy characterized by uncertainty. Most will agree that the creation and support of small, local businesses is a key component to stable economic recovery. Colleges across the nation strive to form these leaders, infusing them with a strong sense of service and community consciousness. Take, for example, Aquinas College senior Michael Gagnon, a math and international business major, and founding president of College Prep Soccer LLC.
Like many students, Gagnon first visited Aquinas during high school, on a tour with his father. “I liked the campus,” he said, “the ‘woodsy’ feel and the small atmosphere here next to the big city. I was deciding between here and a bigger state school, and Aquinas offered me a soccer scholarship. I wanted to continue on with soccer, and so it worked out.” Gagnon has found success in Aquinas’ soccer program, and currently serves as the men’s soccer team captain.
Reflecting upon his three years at Aquinas, Gagnon emphasized that faculty support has been a major positive influence. “The professors definitely give you the confidence to do whatever you want to do,” he said. “I’ve worked with a ton of faculty and staff here, trying to improve my projects. The confidence that they instill is a great thing, and something that I don’t think you’d find at other schools.” Thus encouraged, Gagnon decided to pursue an entrepreneurial business project.
Gagnon entered the Aquinas Business Plan Competition in early 2012, with a proposal that would help high school athletes improve to compete at the collegiate level. The competition looked for well-developed, comprehensive business plans, and awarded cash prizes to the top three entries. After he finished as one of the top finalists among fifteen entries, Gagnon decided to bring his plan from concept to reality.
However, Gagnon admitted that implementing his plan was more difficult than he first thought. “Anything can look good as a plan; things change. Initially, what we were trying to go for was a program for high school players who wanted to play in college.” Realizing that this initial market was too small, Gagnon expanded his vision. “High school coaches can’t work with their high school athletes in the summer; it’s a Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) rule. So we come in, train with the kids, get them in the best shape possible, and then they’re there to help their team in the fall. The niche was college-level athletes, local players, who were all-state in high school, trying to help the next generation.”
Thus, in 2012, College Prep Soccer was born. In its first year, the program quickly surpassed expectations. “Last year we projected our numbers around fifteen or twenty [participants], and we actually got twenty-eight. We’re hoping for around forty to sixty this year. Last year at this time we had maybe one or two dead-bolted, solid commitments to participate, and this year we have twelve already registered and paid. So that’s really helpful, and we’re looking to hit our projections for this year.” College Prep Soccer has been very well received by participants, and has also been featured in local television and newspaper media. This year, the program begins on June 10, 2013.
Gagnon emphasized that service continues to be a large part of College Prep Soccer’s mission. “What we’re doing is essentially giving back. And I think you can find that in everything; the more that you give, the more you get back from it. All six of the program’s instructors are from Grand Haven and Spring Lake, so all are local athletes giving back to their area. They’re building up that community, building up that next generation of athletes. So, in helping these athletes, the best thing wasn’t the paycheck or the help of the summer job that I received, it was those phone calls in the fall, like, ‘my kid just made captain of his team, he’s their MVP, thank you so much for the help.’ Those are cool phone calls to get.”
Though soccer has always been his passion, in the future Gagnon plans to utilize his degree in international business to enter the field of banking. “I have an internship right now with Mercantile Bank, just downtown, as a credit analyst intern. The goal, then, would be to do something with international banking, with the credit analyst experience being the foundation you need for international banking transactions. So, I’d hope to end up doing something along those lines.”
Entering his senior year, Gagnon still recalls the uncertainty and newness that came with him to Aquinas as a freshman. He advises incoming students to take initiative and become involved early on. “Use the resources that are here. There are professors here who are really involved, really interested, who will help you to learn, but your experience is really what you make it.”