Kent State Students Gain Valuable Experience Via the NFL Draft
While all eyes were on the stage to meet the NFL stars of the future, scores of current and former Kent State students were nearby during the league’s recent draft, which was held in Cleveland April 29 - May 1, 2021.
In all, more than 200 students, alumni, faculty and staff were given an opportunity to play a myriad of roles throughout draft weekend in both paid and volunteer capacities. They were divided into groups ranging from eight to 75 and were given responsibilities ranging from security and event services to managing the highly coveted VIP area for fully vaccinated guests.
The opportunity to collaborate with the National Football League, Cleveland Sports Commission, Pro Football Hall of Fame and industry security leader, Landmark, was one the faculty and support staff could simply not pass up.
Dr. Mark Lyberger, a faculty member within the sport administration program, anchored the effort in tandem with Alicia Stier, SPAD secretary and other Kent State support staff, as well as a group of SPAD GA’s.
“This was a true cross collaborative project, with students, faculty and staff working together to support in a diverse number of areas,” Lyberger said. “We feel extremely proud to have been able to fill any and all requests that came from our partners for the weekend’s festivities. This is a unique and rare opportunity to acquire valued experience aligned with a significant event.”
Participating students were quick to point out that they were not just representing themselves, but the university and NFL. In fact, Lyberger initiated the slogan “KSU proud, NFL proud” and disseminated it to volunteers as a reminder of the nature and stature of their engagement.
“When we learned from Dr. Lyberger about the opportunities for student learning through volunteering with the NFL Draft, we recognized immediately the alignment with our Flashternship program,” described Executive Director of Career Exploration and Development, Kristin Williams. “The program was designed as an enhancement to our Career Exploration and Development model to allow students to gain early career exposure. During the experiences, students are able to follow and observe professionals, learn from and ask questions from professionals, participate in company activities, meet key employees, engage with clients/customers, and learn what these organizations seek when hiring college graduates.”
“We went up to Cleveland with not just our own names, but the name of Kent State on our backs,” shared second-year sport administration graduate student Austin Kowalski. “We knew we were working to represent our university in the best possible way.”
“I have to admit that if it wasn’t for Kent State, I would not have had an opportunity to attend and volunteer at the NFL Draft,” noted Angeliki Demetriade, a graduate student majoring in sport administration. “Dr. Lyberger and Alicia Stier did a great job at informing and gathering students for the draft, and helped with all the necessary paperwork and credentials.”
Many students noted this was a unique experience, and not one to be taken for granted.
“It was special seeing how passionate people were about this event, both fans and employees,” said Delainey Turner, a graduate student seeking an MBA. “It was exciting to see people enjoying themselves as it was many attendees’ first time having fun in over a year! The opportunity for everyone to come together safely was a remarkable thing to see.”
“I am very grateful for the opportunity. I always wanted to experience the draft, but to have an opportunity to work it was straight out of a fantasy book for me,” said first-year sport administration graduate student Zach Chuey.
“The NFL is trusting you in how you represent their brand, and as a student, we had a firsthand impact on fan experience,” said Rohan Paul, a graduate student seeking a dual MA in SPAD and an MBA. “Any time when students at any level get exposure to something like the NFL, one of the most valuable entities in the world, it is a great chance to see the level of detail and planning that goes into an event of this magnitude. This was the driving force of why I wanted to be involved and is ultimately what I got out of it.”
“With me being an international student born and raised in the island of Cyprus, I’ve never thought I would have the opportunity to attend and especially work for the NFL Draft,” Demetriade said. “The draft is something that you hear about all around the world, but being thousands of miles away, you never think that you will be there in person. I am very lucky and grateful to have been a part of the 2021 NFL Draft, and I will forever cherish the memories I’ve made.”
The opportunity to work close to home, on a large production associated with the city of Cleveland, appealed to many students.
“Ultimately, it was extremely rewarding to see all the hard work pay off, bringing the NFL Draft to the city of Cleveland and seeing all the fans have such a great time,” said Matthew Quammen, a graduate student seeking a dual degree in sport administration and a Master’s of Business Administration.
The experience afforded students a behind-the-scenes look at the work needed to put on a large-scale event, including the high number of individuals and entities needed to put on a national scale production.
“It was amazing to see the operations and long hours required to organize such a big event, working 13+ hours all three days. I really learned how crucial teamwork and communication is from top to bottom in order to ensure an event like this is successful,” Quammen shared.
The participants were a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff representing an array of programs. Interest was so high that it enabled KSU to fulfill a variety of position requests, requiring the recruitment to be expanded beyond SPAD. Recruitment was inclusive of business and MBA students, EHHS graduate programs, as well as a number of other programs across the university who welcomed the real world experience to prepare for life after college.
“This experience gave me the opportunity to network, meet and connect with important people that I will stay in contact with in the future,” Demetriade said. “With me being a sport administration major and seeking a career in the sport industry, I did not hesitate to introduce myself to people like the vice president of operations and facilities and the manager of HOF experiences and tourism at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
First-year sport administration graduate student Emma Rose noted, “I grew as a leader. The experience showed me what I needed to work on and helped me overcome some of my reservations of leading. It was a huge learning experience. I am typically comfortable being in the background, but now, I was on the front lines, solving problems for our contacts at the NFL.”
“I work at the Ticket Office on campus, and have been handling entry protocols during the pandemic on campus,” noted Chuey. “Now on draft weekend, I was assigned the same style of tasks at the NFL Draft Experience, so my experiences at work really prepared me for my experiences through the weekend.”
“This is the type of opportunity Kent State has given me, something I can use in my next job and moving forward,” noted Kowalski, who is slated to graduate this spring and is headed to the Monteverde Academy in Florida as an assistant athletic director.
“I had the opportunity of working with a great group of women that provided guidance on how to pursue our futures in the professional sports realm. They inspired me to realize that I, too, can eventually work for such a special organization,” Turner said.
The success of this collaboration will likely lead university leaders to seek similar opportunities in the future.
“All parties involved were highly complementary of the students, and a few even asked if we might have interest in supporting at a future Super Bowl,” said Dr. Lyberger. “It was highly rewarding to see our students gain such valuable experience, and even more exciting to hear one of our key contacts Brittany Penn, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission Event Coordinator, note that KSU was so great in helping run this once-in-a-lifetime event for our city!”
“Following their Flashternship, students reflect on what they learned and how it connects to their career aspirations and goals,” shared Williams. “Career Exploration and Development is thrilled to be able to award students who participate in Flashternships $50 to $250, depending on the length of the program.”
Students interested in a Flashternship or organizations/companies interested in hosting a job shadow can connect with Career Exploration at https://www.kent.edu/career/flashternships.