MBA student Leo Sowa has made the most of his UMSL experience, on the pitch and in the classroom

by | May 6, 2024

Sowa, who is from Berlin, served as team captain his final two seasons on the Tritons soccer team
Leo Sowa

Leo Sowa played three seasons with the Tritons soccer team. He’s graduating with his MBA this month. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Leo Sowa’s origin story at the University of Missouri–St. Louis began as he was waiting for his high school bus in Berlin.

In his final year at Rudolf Virchow Oberschule, Sowa had arrived at the bus stop a little early that morning, around 6:30 a.m. To pass the time, he opened Facebook.

“I saw this ad about an agency that connects soccer players and other athletes to the U.S. and helps them find scholarships,” he said. “You could just fill it out for free and they send you feedback, say if you have good chances. I thought, ‘I’ll do it. I’m just waiting for the bus, and I’ve got 10 minutes anyway.’ ”

Targeted ads, doing work. At that point, Sowa wasn’t quite sure where life would take him next. His grades were solid, mostly Bs and As, but not necessarily at the level he would have needed to be a teacher in Germany, or to pursue geography as a career, two of his interests. He was an outstanding soccer player, though, competing for the prestigious Academy of Union Berlin. Long story short, through the agency he found that morning at the bus stop while scrolling on his phone, he wound up playing two years for East Central College in Union, Missouri, and then transferred to UMSL for his junior season.

Soccer player Leo Sowa dribbles the ball past a chasing defender

Leo Sowa led the UMSL men’s soccer team in goals and assists in his final year of eligibility in 2022. (Photo by Patrick Clark/Athlete’s Eye Photography)

In his very first game for the Tritons, in February 2021, Sowa scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Lewis.

“We had a free kick, and the keeper came out and punched it away, and the ball somehow fell to me at the top of the box,” Sowa said. “Everything happened so quickly. The box was packed with players. I just kind of chipped it over the keeper. That was an unbelievable feeling. Big celebration.”

A hamstring injury derailed his junior season a few weeks later, but Sowa finished his UMSL career strong, leading the Tritons in assists (5) as a seniorhis “golden goal” in overtime against a then-undefeated Lewis team that year still stands out as a favorite moment – and in both goals (6) and assists (4) as a graduate student as he played out an extra year of eligibility awarded because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sowa served as team captain for his final two seasons with the Tritons – a role that was invaluable in helping to improve his natural leadership and communication skills – and he made the Academic All-Great Lakes Valley Conference teams both his junior and senior seasons.

Sowa’s May will have similar themes to that first UMSL goal – everything happening at once, big celebration, unbelievable feeling. He’s set to receive his Master of Business Administration, with an emphasis in supply chain, wrapping up a busy few months. Not only is he finishing his challenging schoolwork load – big presentations and important papers – but he’s working 20 hours a week at his internship at Hogan, a St. Louis trucking and logistics company, and working 20 hours a week as the graduate assistant for UMSL’s DBA program.

One wouldn’t know it by looking at him, though. Just like he collected himself and chipped the ball over the keeper for his first UMSL goal – requiring a deft, panic-free touch amid the chaos on the pitch – Sowa is calmly handling the demands of his closing stretch at UMSL.

“It’s going to be hard to see Leo leave but we’re proud of him getting his degrees, getting his master’s done,” said Francesca Ferrari, the administrative director of the DBA program and the director of graduate business programs. “We cannot wait to see what he’s going to accomplish.”

And just like he was key to the soccer club Sowa, 25, has been invaluable in his role as a graduate assistant the past two years.

“Because he’s a current student, we ask him, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’” Ferrari said. “And because he feels like part of the office, he’s open to share his ideas. He’s a quick learner. Very quick, and also very kind, polite, and just eager to learn. So I think those key skills are going to serve him well in life.”

And the big celebration, that’s right around the corner.

“My family’s going to come,” Sowa said, “and that’s going to be a very emotional thing.”

They weren’t able to make it from Berlin to St. Louis to celebrate his undergraduate degree – he finished that in December 2022 – but part of that equation was knowing he was moving directly into the MBA program, so there would be another opportunity to visit campus.

“That’s been one of my biggest motivations,” Sowa said. “I’m like, ‘OK, I’m gonna get my master’s. In the last one-and-a-half years, whenever I’m like, ‘I’m stressed out, I don’t know if I can do it,’ I’d picture what’s going to happen and remember, ‘It’s going to be worth it. My family’s going to come, they’re going to see me graduate and I’m going to have a good weekend with them.’ ”

Sowa’s mom and her husband are coming, as is his older brother, Steven, who has carved out five days to watch his kid brother graduate. With two children under 10, a full-time job and marriage, that’s a sacrifice Sowa very much appreciates, traveling to the other side of the world.

“He’s never been to the U.S. before,” Sowa said. “After the graduation, we’re going to go to Chicago for a few days. I was very happy he’s able to make it. He’s the most important person in my life. Growing up, he was always my role model, my older brother. I was always looking up to him. And I still am. That’s going to be really good.”

This final semester, as graduation approaches, Sowa has made it a point to soak in the last few days, weeks and months of an UMSL experience he’ll never forget.

“It’s a weird feeling because I’ve been in school like my whole life, right?” Sowa said with a smile. “I’m trying to embrace the moment these the last couple of weeks, to be with my peers, and my co-workers.”

Next on the itinerary, Sowa is flying to Peru to start a two-month backpacking trip across South America – he’ll visit the iconic Machu Picchu early on, then follow adventure through Bolivia and Chile, then up to Columbia, maybe even into Costa Rica. Then, it’s back home to Germany, hopefully with a job in hand, and onto a new phase in his life.

One couldn’t blame him if he takes a look at his phone while on his South American journey, just in case something pops up.

Ryan Fagan

Ryan Fagan