For Kaylan Gaines, the thing that attracted him most to the field of professional recruiting is also what drew him to the football field. “The thing I liked most about football was the relationships it forces you to build with teammates and the constant goal of working toward winning,” he says. Recruiting manager for The Consortium since November 2018, Gaines takes the same thoughtful, relationship-based approach to his work.
“I really like to dig deep and know about the person I’m recruiting in depth — ‘What are your long-term goals? What do you want to do? How do you fit in here?’” he explains.
Gaines got his start in football at the age of 6 — transitioning from touch to tackle quickly thereafter — and although his involvement is now limited to youth coaching, he extols football for helping him get where he is today.
A talented high school football player, Gaines was recruited by and played for Wisconsin Lutheran College, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2011. In October, the college recognized his achievements on the field by inducting him into its football hall of fame. Honored to be memorialized in this way, Gaines says the benefits of his involvement in the sport, however, extend far beyond the field.
Even more than the immediate impact football had on his life — from exposing him to different climates and cultures to teaching him how to effectively juggle academics with extracurriculars — it ultimately helped guide his decision making when it came to higher education and a career.
“When I committed to go to Wisconsin Lutheran College, I never thought about being inducted into the hall of fame; I just wanted to choose the best option for me, and at that time, that’s what it was,” says Gaines. He wanted to attend a college in a city with many “social life offerings” and that boasted a football program where the coaches cared about the players’ well-being both on and off the field.
“Wisconsin Lutheran College checked off all those boxes for me,” Gaines notes.
Without a specific career track in mind, he opted for a general degree in communications, knowing he could use that across many sectors. “I always knew I wanted to help people in some capacity, and I also wanted to be able to reach goals and build relationships with people,” says Gaines. But a short stint in social services after graduation proved not to be quite the right fit.
“I noticed something was missing while working in that field — and that was the constant pursuit of reaching a goal,” says Gaines, who quickly found himself drawn down a new yet familiar path.
“Playing college football actually gave me the opportunity to work in higher education,” he explains. “I got my start working in student recruitment from my experience as a graduate assistant football coach at my alma mater.”
Because of the relationship he had formed with his coaches, Gaines says they reached out to him when the graduate assistantship became available, believing he would be a good fit. “I got my student recruitment start on the football field [by] finding student athletes who could attend and play football at the college,” he says.
The experience he gained with student-athlete recruitment through the assistantship was coupled with the knowledge he attained earning a master’s degree in leadership and innovation at the college. Gaines soon realized he may have finally found the right match.
“Student recruitment [aligned with] all the things I was good at professionally, which is building relationships, advising people and reaching goals,” he says. “That’s when I realized that student recruitment could be a good fit for me because it [involves] helping people, building relationships with people. Also, it’s something that I can track with regard to reaching goals, and it was going to put me in line with what I wanted to do long term in higher education.”
In his role with The Consortium, Gaines is able to both use his skills and do what he loves while helping advance diversity in management education and leadership — a vision he says he can get behind.
“I decided to join The Consortium because I truly believe in the mission of the organization,” he says. “As a black man who attended a predominantly white college, I understand how important diversity is and the positive impact it can have on everyone when actions are formed around it.”
Gaines helps the organization by finding prospective students who can demonstrate a commitment to The Consortium’s mission. “Through that process, I advise and help students with their journey of applying to MBA programs and becoming a Consortium member,” he notes. “Advising students and building relationships with them is the best part of working at The Consortium.”
Having come a long way, Gaines has his sights set even higher. He plans to continue to climb the recruitment ladder — whether that’s in higher education or corporate, he’s not sure. However, one thing he is sure of is the positive impact football has had on his life. In addition to helping him develop persistence, Gaines says it pulled him out of his comfort zone, effectively challenging him, preparing him for professional life and making him an all-around better person.
“I promised myself that I would work at being the best student and [athlete], and [things] kind of unfolded to where I am today,” he says. “I never thought about it; I just wanted to work as hard as I could, and this is the result of hard work and persistence and not giving up.”