Niclas "Nic" Bez knows all about running toward his goals – both figuratively and literally.

The 25-year-old, soon-to-be Saint Leo University alumnus originally hails from Bonn, Germany on the western side of the country near Belgium. He and his older brother, Oliver, grew up there before he decided to earn his higher education in America.

Taking a Leap of Faith Across the Pond

According to Bez, he had never set foot in the United States and had only seen pictures of the Saint Leo campus in Florida before he took a chance by enrolling as an international undergraduate student in 2013.

"My former cross country and track coach, Melissa Mangen, recruited me," he says. "We talked on Skype. She offered me a scholarship, and I thought it would be a great opportunity. I also wanted a school in the south in a warmer climate. I did have a friend who enrolled at Saint Leo a year earlier as well."

He was a marketing and management double major as an undergraduate student, wrapping up his bachelor's degree in 2017. He is currently finishing his MBA and expects to officially earn this graduate diploma by August 2018.

"I have always been interested in business and everything that goes on with that, and the marketing aspect allows me to be a little more creative," he explains of his degree track choices.

In terms of faculty, he notes that marketing professor John Lax helped him get an internship with Pride Consulting, a student-run business planning and marketing firm. He also liked Ioannis Pantzalis, his undergrad advisor who he has also had in his MBA program.

"He speaks German, which is pretty cool," Bez recalls.

Additionally, he remembers a practical sales class he took as well.

"It wasn't just sitting and listening to a lecture," he explains. "They taught us how to develop effective communication skills, social skills and even had us do some mock sales pitch conversations."

Bez, who lived on campus as an undergrad, says it was a smooth transition adapting to American culture and his surrounding community.

"It was really easy. When I first moved over, everyone was so open and talkative, and it was easy to make friends. There were also about 15 other German students on campus when I came to Saint Leo. In general, I would say Americans are more open and willing to talk."

Sprinting toward Success

It wasn't until age 14 when Bez started playing competitive sports. Little did he know he'd turn into an award-winning, record-breaking runner one day.

"I've always liked being part of a team where everyone works together for a common goal," he says. "But I also like the competitiveness of individual sports where you can prove yourself and be better than others."

At Saint Leo, he ran track as an undergrad and was able to continue in graduate school. He was named Runner of the Year by the Sunshine State Conference in 2014. In 2016, Saint Leo hosted the Division II men's cross country national championships. Bez competed, and his team placed 25th out of 300 of the top runners in the nation. This past spring, he broke his own school record by running a 1,500-meter race in just under four minutes.

Along with cross country and track, the speedy sprinter has competed in triathlons all over the world, including events all over Europe in Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

"Switzerland was one of the most beautiful countries to visit," he recalls. "It's very clean, organized and has some amazing mountains and blue lakes. It's great for pretty much every outdoor activity."

Bez was chosen out of several candidates to deliver the commencement address at Saint Leo's graduate commencement ceremony this past April. (Read the entire speech here.) 

"It was a true honor and definitely the biggest crowd I've ever spoken in front of," he confides.

He offers up his view on what his time has been like at Saint Leo.

"It has been a great experience because you get to meet so many people from Florida, other states and from around the world. You get to know so many other people and cultures."

A Well-Rounded Runner

Academics and running haven't been the only focus of Bez throughout his time at Saint Leo. He was a paid staff writer for The Lion's Pride student newspaper and had several articles published, primarily doing game recaps of athletic events and feature stories on some of the student-athletes. As a sophomore, he did marketing and communications work for athletics, including camera work for the live online streams of baseball, soccer, lacrosse and volleyball events.

In July 2017 while working on his MBA, he took a job in the Career Services office on campus. In that role, he helped organize career fairs, networking events and workshops.

An Eye on Entrepreneurial Goals

When asked about what he hopes to accomplish in his career, he says it's all about gaining enough professional work experience first before potentially diving into self-employment.

"I want to work for some other employers first and gain as much knowledge as I can, but I'd really like to start and scale my own business doing investment and real estate management."

Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Niclas Bez and are used with permission.