By: Lesley Dawson
Geologists like Dustin Bauer examine cross-sections of rock to shed light on the passage of time. They ask questions about what happened to the earth at a certain point in history, and what the climate was like, to ultimately gain a deeper understanding about what forces shaped the land at that time.
For Bauer, the passage of time in his life is coming full circle. In 1999, Bauer left his home in rural Alberta, a town of just 200 people, to begin his career as a defenseman with Winterhawks. This weekend, Bauer will return to Portland where he will receive the Scholastic WHL Alumni Achievement Award as part of the WHL’s 50th anniversary season celebration.
Not long after arriving in Portland, Bauer was enrolled at Milwaukie High School and later took classes at Portland State University, as he adjusted to the challenges of the fast-paced lifestyle in the Western Hockey League.
Bauer’s off-ice experience in Portland was characterized by the organization’s overall commitment to furthering the education of its players, an effort which began at the top with then-General Manager Ken Hodge and Head Coach Mike Williamson.
“Ownership was very committed to making sure they were developing not just as athletes, but as people,” Bauer said. “If players didn’t perform academically, they had to sit out. It had a huge impact on me.”
Academics were always important to Bauer, but the Winterhawks drove the message home with personalized educational resources and tutor sessions for the players.
“Growing up, you’re surrounded by people that instill behaviors in you that allow you to succeed,” Bauer said. “The Winterhawks then give you those opportunities to succeed, even with players that maybe aren’t as academically focused coming into the program.”
Along every step of his career, Bauer impressed those involved with his education including then-Winterhawks educational advisor Hazel Hansen and Milwaukie High School counselor Sue Johnson.
As the team’s liaison at Milwaukie High, Johnson helped Bauer assimilate into the environment of high school in the United States, making a point to show the players that they could become active with their high school’s student life while still playing a high level of hockey outside of school walls.
“Sue took it a step above and introduced us to other students outside of hockey, and that was one of the big takeaways for me,” Bauer said.
“It’s great to have your teammates around, but you also want to still be a high school student, so Sue’s help in meeting other students and convincing us to go to events like football games was key.”
After 25 years as a counselor at Milwaukie, Johnson stepped into the role of the Winterhawks’ educational advisor where she has worked for the past six years. Johnson is a key component of each player’s personal educational development, often working one-on-one with both high school and college players and their instructors to help strike a balance between academics and athletics.
Once Bauer finished high school at Milwaukie, he made sure that he was enrolled in at least one class per semester at Portland State where he took a variety of classes from entry level writing to statistics.
“I finished six or seven Portland State courses, using it as an opportunity to see what I may be interested in taking once I was to attend university full time,” Bauer said. “It was a great opportunity to be able to test the waters on a number of different topics.”
When Bauer then began pursuing a degree full-time, he enrolled at the University of Calgary and was able to pay for four years of tuition and books using the Winterhawks Player Scholarship Fund.
“When I look back, meeting other students that were getting student loans or funding through other means by part time jobs, the Winterhawks Scholarship Program really did allow me to focus on being a student, having less of a financial burden on my studies.”
With the support of the Player Scholarship Fund, Bauer received his Bachelor of Science, and eventually his Master’s Degree in Geology. He now works for Chevron as a geologist based in downtown Calgary. On an integrated team with engineers, geophysicists, and business managers, Bauer has found that the teamwork roots he developed in Portland are invaluable in his professional career.
“A hockey team is a great place to learn how to get along with different types of people with different backgrounds and approaches,” Bauer said. “There’s a technical side of my job, and it’s great to have a technical skill set. At the same time, having leadership skills and the ability to work well with others is just as, if not more, important to my day to day work than my technical skills.”
One of the greatest lessons Bauer learned in his time in Portland was perseverance, especially coming into the Western Hockey League as a young man. In a developmental league like the WHL, there are ups and downs in the players’ careers that Bauer believes ultimately make individuals stronger and more resilient.
“Even today in your work, you have to sit down for performance reviews and it’s a similar situation to what I experienced 15 years ago in the WHL in sitting down with coaches after games,” Bauer said.
“It can be emotional and tough but it really does prepare you for, lack of a better word, the real world,” Bauer said. “When you move on to full time jobs and careers, it does give you a different skill set and allow you to approach tough situations with more of an open mind.”
Now, years after moving on from the Winterhawks, Bauer will return to accept the Scholastic WHL Alumni Achievement Award from Johnson, the academic advisor who pushed Bauer to succeed years ago.
Johnson knew immediately that Bauer would be the perfect candidate for the award because, in addition to his outstanding academic achievement in honors courses, of his outstanding character.
“Dustin was a very kind and compassionate person. He often helped the other players academically,” Johnson said. “He was brilliant young man and I’m not surprised that he went on to get an advanced degree in his field.”
Bauer admits that he was speechless when he learned he would be receiving the award from the Winterhawks.
“I was honored just having the experience of playing in Portland for four years. The fans there were incredible and the billet families that I’m now friends with were amazing. The city really does embrace the team and embraces the young men that come there to play.”
“The academics were really important to me when I was there, so it’s really tough for me to put into words, but it’s truly special,” Bauer said. “I’ve been back to Portland a few times over the last 15 years and to come back again to receive such a prestigious award such as this, I’m honored.”