Most Occidental students say their final farewells to Eagle Rock upon graduation. A select few, however, decide to return to give back to the community that served them during their four years as students. Such is the case with Jonathan Padron, Juliet Suess and Jack Stabenfeldt, three former student-athletes who graduated in 2014 and have since returned as assistant coaches.
Padron, a Hawaii native, is currently working as an assistant track and field coach. As an Occidental student, he was a theater major who ran sprints for track and field all four years of his undergraduate career. Prior to his return to Athletics, he had a 10-month internship at A Noise Within Theatre in Pasadena, where he worked with the education director. This past summer, he was involved in Occidental’s summer children’s production. He also assisted Occidental’s track and field program in the spring of 2015.
Currently, Padron is working with Director of Operations Katie Grogan as operations assistant. He is also responsible for keeping track of Athletics’ front desk schedule, a task he is taking over for Head Conditioning Coach Melinda Houston while she is on maternity leave.
Padron said coaching track and field is different than running in that he now has to pinpoint specific areas of improvement for each individual rather than focusing on his personal running technique.
“As an athlete, I had a very narrow mindset on what I needed to improve on,” Padron said. “As a coach, you have to have a very open mindset.”
Although Padron works in Athletics, he hopes to become more involved in acting — an interest that began in his first year of college. The flexibility he has in his job at Occidental is crucial to gaining exposure and experience in his ideal field, which involves going to auditions and taking acting classes.
Padron values the opportunity to remain a part of Occidental’s athletics program because it was a big part of his own experience as an Occidental student. He considers it one of the highlights of his college career and credits it with helping him manage his time as an undergrad.
“I want to hopefully pass on any knowledge I have to younger athletes and be there as a resource to show that I got through it, running all four years while getting an education and also still being involved socially on campus,” Padron said.
Hailing from St. Charles, Illinois, Suess spent the year after her graduation in Germany as an English teaching assistant with the Fulbright Scholar Program. As an English major of German heritage who loves to travel, the Fulbright opportunity aligned well with her personal interests.
“Every moment [in Germany] was something different and new,” Suess said. “It was so overwhelming to be leaving and to be saying goodbye to all the friends that I’d made and the students who I feel as though I’d impacted and who impacted me in a really deep way.”
As assistant swim coach, Suess wants the students she works with to experience the unique camaraderie of being involved in college swimming — a sport in which athletes practice as a team despite competing individually. Although improving the athletes’ speed is always ideal, her ultimate goal is that the swimmers are happy and swim for the love of the sport.
Suess, who cannot remember a time in her life when she did not love being in a pool, recalls swimming as a child in 60-degree water until she was purple from head to toe. She would swim as early in the year as her father would allow and could not be dissuaded by near-freezing temperatures.
Despite her childhood experiences, her tolerance for the cold is extremely low, which played a part in her return to Los Angeles. In addition to the heat, Suess missed the culture, widespread culinary options and proximity to quality hiking spots and beaches.
“I think people severely underestimate how cool Los Angeles really can be,” Suess said.
Suess is appreciative of what Occidental’s athletics program has done for her in the past and relishes the chance to give back to it. She feels that her background as a student-athlete contributed to her relatively seamless transition from student to employee.
“I love Occidental, and if the opportunity were to present itself, I would stay here for a really long time,” Suess said. “I love this culture, I love this team and I love what we’re building here, and I think that there’s nowhere to go but up right now.”
Stabenfeldt, who is originally from Larkspur, California, is heavily involved in coaching water polo at multiple institutions around Los Angeles. In addition to working as assistant water polo coach at Occidental, he also coaches at Marlborough School, Notre Dame High School and the Rose Bowl Aquatics Program.
“I’ve been pretty lucky to find jobs at a bunch of different places and make the schedules work,” Stabenfeldt said.
Stabenfeldt dabbled in many sports growing up, including soccer, basketball, baseball and swimming. He considers water polo — which his mother initially convinced him to play in his first year of high school — a combination of the latter two.
As a coach, he has greater control over tactics and game plan, which is a role he always wanted as a player. He stresses that coordinating every member of the team is a challenge, but that getting everyone on the same page is key.
“That’s the struggle that coaches face — communication and getting everyone to speak the same language,” Stabenfeldt said. “Every sport is a language.”
One of Stabenfeldt’s favorite things about the job is building relationships with the players. He also has a role in the recruiting process, which he says is about trust and getting to know people beyond merely the sport.
“If you can connect with them on a level that’s deeper than just their talent as a player and as a piece to your puzzle as a team, they appreciate that,” Stabenfeldt said. “I think you have a lot more success.”
Although this is not at all how he envisioned his post-college life, Stabenfeldt enjoys his work and plans to continue in his current coaching jobs for the time being. He has, however, considered the prospect of going back to school to pursue a degree in business or education that might one day assist him in becoming a head coach.