Thursday, February 2, 2017
dan matheson portrait
Dan Matheson

Following the recent Chicago Cubs World Series championship, I suspect there was a spike in the number of college students aspiring to become the next Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ brilliant president of baseball operations. While hoping to follow in Epstein’s footsteps may seem unrealistic, the University of Iowa’s Sport and Recreation Management program is in the business of helping students achieve exactly that sort of dream. Our program is only a piece of the Iowa endeavor to give students both the theoretical and practical experience they need to excel in their fields, but I’d like to share some of our unique challenges and accomplishments and show you how we do our part to make sure Hawkeyes succeed.

Thanks to unique experiential learning opportunities and early and consistent faculty engagement, the SRM program is putting Iowa students in the best possible position to excel in an industry where employers regularly receive hundreds of applications for a single job opening. Here’s what sets UI grads apart: During our practicum courses, students work on sport marketing, event management, sales, and communications projects for major sport organizations like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Iowa athletics department, the John Deere Classic PGA tournament, and the Iowa Speedway. Students perform the same type of market research that the pros do, complete it under realistic deadlines, and formally present their projects to organization executives. Many of these organizations have implemented ideas recommended by Iowa students during the practicums, and, thanks to their hard work, our students have attained jobs and internships with the organizations they’ve worked with. As one student put it when reflecting on his course, “You can’t match this experience in a classroom or online. The level of professionalism we have to maintain during the practicum brings everyone’s work level up a notch.”

Some of my favorite SRM activities, though, are our sport business field trips. Last week, 53 students and I loaded on a bus and traveled to Milwaukee, where we met with executives from the Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Brewers, and Milwaukee Admirals. In two days, Iowa students toured four facilities and spent time with with 24 sport business executives, including the Bucks’ chief marketing officer, V.P. of business development and strategy, and director of basketball analytics, as well as the Brewers’ V.P. of ticket services. In previous semesters, we’ve visited NCAA headquarters, and met with the Kansas City Chiefs, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Twins, and many others. Trips like these help students identify possible career paths, connect with mentors, learn about internship and job opportunities, and bring real-world experiences back to campus to apply to their studies. A few years ago, following a field trip to Indianapolis, two of our students secured internships with USA Track and Field, and one of them eventually turned that internship into a full-time job.

Thanks to initiatives by SRM faculty members Patrick (Packy) Moran, Clint Huntrods, and Anna Jensen, Iowa students are becoming particularly successful in sports sales, which is a common starting point for those wishing to enter the industry. Packy and Clint developed a sports sales course that has become one of our most popular, and they, along with Anna, have established a new tradition of taking several seniors to the Mount Union Sports Sales Workshop and Job Fair. Following attendance at last year’s fair, one of our students was flown around the country by several professional teams before accepting an offer from the Miami Dolphins, where he now works on the Business Development team. Sports sales executives now regularly contact our faculty throughout the year seeking applicants from Iowa.

The programs outlined above are some of the higher-profile examples of creative ways our SRM faculty and curriculum supports student success, but equally as important in the process is the entire faculty’s daily advising and mentoring of students on campus. Like their colleagues across campus, the SRM faculty spends countless hours visiting with students to learn where they want to go and helping them map out strategies to get there. Thanks to many years of sport and recreation industry experience, our faculty members are uniquely qualified to help students navigate this challenging profession, and when we do not have an answer for a student, we know someone in the industry to connect them with for additional advice.

Students come to us with big dreams. And, like our peers in every one of Iowa’s departments, the SRM faculty embraces the challenge of bringing those dreams to life. As program alumnus Andrew Quillin, Iowa Cubs stadium operations manager, recently stated in our newsletter, “The UISRM program and faculty completely changed and shaped my academic career at the University of Iowa.”

We’re just one part of the story of student success at Iowa, and we’re proud to be on your team.