Keeshawn Aleksuk may have enrolled at the University of St. Thomas to play football, but he stayed to study business. “Because St. Thomas has such a legacy behind its program, it was a no brainer for me to study something in business,” he says.

That something turned out to be real estate, a discipline the Minnetonka, Minn., junior first became intrigued with while doing construction cleanup during high school. His inspiration? The transformed 1930s Armory building in downtown Minneapolis, for which his grandmother did interior design. “Seeing that building go from nothing to what it is today” was an exciting experience, says Aleksuk, who plans to eventually work in commercial real estate.

Meanwhile, along with taking a full load of classes, he works 30 hours a week as a housekeeper at Town and Country golf club and as a contract manual laborer. Of the latter he says, “It’s definitely a good workout.”

Back when Aleksuk was touring colleges, he wisely determined to “make sure I would love my school even if I didn’t play football.” After his freshman year, the former running back dropped out of football, but remained at a school where he “loved the atmosphere.”

“The students and faculty are so welcoming at St. Thomas. I toured some bigger schools but felt I would always be just a number there. At St. Thomas I knew I would get a solid degree and be known. Student-faculty relationships are so much more emphasized at St. Thomas,” says Aleksuk, “which allows me to connect with the material, ask questions of the professor, and engage with my peers.”

Then there’s the Ciresi Walburn scholarship, a two-year leadership development program for black men. Being with “other people who understand what I’m going through has made a big difference in my life,” he says. “And seeing all the excellence and intelligence of these men of color — we’re going to do big things with our lives.”