Business Students ‘Rub Shoulders’ with Industry Leaders from Eagles, Phillies, Hershey, and More
Donya Moore is only a freshman, but already she’s met nearly a dozen professionals leading the sport and event management industries in the Philadelphia region and beyond.
These connections, as well as a supportive Widener alumnus and the guidance of her faculty adviser, helped Moore land a summer leadership internship at The Hershey Company – a promising step toward a future career in events management.
“I knew that coming to Widener would mean opportunities to meet speakers working in the industry,” Moore said. “And, I know that when the time comes, I will be able to turn to them to help find a job.”
Faculty in Widener’s School of Business Administration are known for facilitating connections with industry experts to help students gain insider knowledge and secure in-demand internships and jobs. This is the secret to success for students like Moore, especially since the launch of Widener’s sport and event management undergraduate major last fall.
From freshman year forward, students in the program get to rub shoulders with leaders in Philadelphia’s thriving sports and event markets. They benefit tremendously from our central location and long-standing connections to area sports complexes, championship-winning teams, and event venues. — Professor Brian Larson, director of the program
Take, for instance, this past spring when an astounding lineup of speakers met with students in sport and event management courses, a speaker series, and panel discussions. They shared behind-the-scenes knowledge on a range of topics from legal affairs to financial operations to business strategy.
The roster included:
• Rob MacPherson, director of Partnership Sales and Corporate Marketing at the Philadelphia Phillies
• Cynthia Weiss, vice president of NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Greg McDonald, vice president of financial operations for the Philadelphia Eagles
• Merrill Reese, Eagles broadcaster and owner of 1490 WCBC AM
• Tim Salier, vice president of Business Development for the San Antonio Spurs.
One panel discussion also featured four alumni who work at the Wells Fargo Center and Lincoln Financial Field, while another course-based talk featured general managers from country clubs and event venues.
Many courses in the program are even taught by Sport Management Advisory Board members or adjunct faculty working in the field, such as Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Comcast Spectacor Bob Schwartz and Vice President of Marketing at the Eagles Brian Papson.
Papson said he loves interacting with Widener students – whether he is bringing the sport industry to life in the classroom, providing guidance and advice, or keeping an eye out for internship and job openings.
“The sport and event management program helps set the stage for students to know what is required and expected in the industry,” he said. “It gives students an advantage and a head start through networking opportunities with professors in the classroom and guest speakers.”
Matt Blankenstein, who completed both a bachelor’s degree and MBA at Widener while serving as an assistant football coach, has repeatedly seen how these insider connections open doors along his career path and helped him get a job at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.
“The opportunity to network with industry professionals is honestly one of the biggest things I took away from Widener,” he said.
Blankenstein has a vast and deep network of industry-leading supporters that he can turn to for advice, references, and even jobs.
For example, Papson taught one of Blankenstein’s undergraduate courses and brought in his colleagues from the Eagles, including McDonald, to speak to the class. Both McDonald and Papson kept in touch with Blankenstein and helped him secure various staff positions with the Philadelphia football team.
“I’ve always enjoyed making those connections and sharing my passion to hopefully spark that in other people,” Papson said. “Everyone’s journey is unique. All I can share is my journey and each of my contacts’ journeys.”
Blankenstein recently completed his MBA in Business Process Innovation and got a full-time job at the XL Center – once again with help from a Widener ally.
“I would attribute that to Bob Schwartz,” Blankenstein said. “He’s been a big advocate for me as I achieve my goal. He helps connect the dots for me.”
Growing a Network
For students like Blankenstein, these connections are formed early during their Widener tenure and follow them long after graduation.
Students majoring, minoring, or concentrating on the sport management or event management tracks tap into the School of Business Administration’s Executives in Residence program and the Sport Management Advisory Board. They also take advantage of the Student Sports Network, an active club that hosts speakers and networking events and visits professional sports stadiums.
As a sport and event management major, Moore’s freshman year at Widener was marked by numerous networking opportunities, including one in which Tyler Virgilio, manager of the Premium Suites for Aramark Services at Lincoln Financial Field, spoke to her introductory event management class.
“He learned each of our names and led a conversation about how we can conduct ourselves on internships and how to get the most out of Widener,” Moore said. “Those opportunities are why I came to Widener.”
As Moore looked for a summer internship, her faculty adviser, Professor Jeff Lolli, connected her with Widener alumnus Emmanuel Rupert, who works at Hershey. That’s how she learned about and secured a spot in Hershey’s Leadership Development Internship Program.
Rising senior Allison Kovacs, a management major with a sport management concentration and business analytics minor, said meeting industry leaders has been a hallmark of her Widener education.
“I feel like having small class sizes makes it easy for the industry professionals to talk to us and really build a connection with each of us,” Kovacs said. “One hundred percent, these connections will help me with future jobs and have already helped me learn how to build and keep a network.”
Kovacs’ networking web started growing freshman year when she interviewed an alum and marketing director at the Philadelphia Union for a class project. By the following semester, Kovacs was regularly meeting and learning from industry-shaping professionals in the field. These initial connections gave her the confidence to pursue three internships.
First, she learned through the Student Sports Network about a game-day merchandise internship with the Eagles.
“It was the first job I had in the sports world directly,” Kovacs said. “The best part was the electric feeling on game day and getting that experience of interacting with customers and fans.”
From there, she landed an internship at HEADstrong Foundation, which offers financial, residential, and emotional support to families affected by cancer. She worked on a women’s lacrosse campaign to raise money for the nonprofit.
This summer, Kovacs is interning in the front office of the Trenton Thunder minor league baseball team. It’s a position she says is in line with her future dream job.
“I want to work in baseball and be someone high up in the front office like the general manager,” she said. “It’s a super big goal, but my passion and connections made at Widener are driving me.”
“It doesn’t even feel like work because I love this so much,” she added.