by Hannah Black

In partnership with multiple professional sport organizations and others in the industry, the University of West Georgia College of Education (COE) developed the Sport Management Externship Program (SMEP) to give students the opportunity to gain in-field experience at various major sporting events. The program is housed in the Department of Sport Management, Wellness and Physical Education.

A UWG student works at Mercedes-Benz StadiumThe externship program allows UWG students to further develop their understanding of customer service, retail management and sport consumer behavior theory. Students staff retail locations throughout the Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Atlanta United FC and Atlanta Falcons games. They have additional opportunities to be involved with mega sporting events such as the 2018 MLS Cup championship games, Super Bowl LIII, the 2019 PGA Tournament and multiple Talladega Superspeedway hosted races.

The externship program is run by Sport Management Assistant Professor Dr. Jennifer Pecoraro.

Pecoraro explained that the Sport Management Externship Program was created with the intent to expose students to professional development opportunities in the field with something that could be adjustable and fit their schedule. Students sign up for the events they would like to work, giving them flexibility with their hours.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” said Pecoraro. “We have some students who just do one event for their practicum course or to diversify their portfolio, but we also have students working every single game.”

Externships are more open in terms of scheduling because there is a partnership between multiple organizations, rather than an individual working one-on-one with a company. COE simplifies the process for students by dealing with contracts, paperwork and scheduling.

In addition to gaining valuable industry experience, students in the program may earn a merit-based stipend for their participation each semester.

A UWG student working at Mercedes-Benz stadiumStudents are given a stipend based off of their participation and leadership roles. With eight games in the summer and even more in the fall when the Atlanta United FC and Atlanta Falcons’ seasons overlap, there are plenty of chances for the students to earn a paycheck.

However, Pecoraro believes some of the greatest benefits of SMEP are the skills the students gain from participating. They develop base-level skills that any retail or customer service job would teach, but they also learn how to network in a professional environment.

“It is more than just a paycheck,” said Pecoraro. “The students who go into this are gaining lifelong skills that are transferable to other jobs they may seek in the industry. I think that’s one of the most important things because sport management is such a broad field.”

SMEP has an upward mobility design. Participants are given the chance to become a student administrative assistant, lead or intern to gain experience in program development. Such roles are responsible for providing information to student participants, arranging carpool transportation, running gameday operations and overall creating an enjoyable and safe experience for students in the program.

Students in leadership roles work diligently outside of the gameday operations as well. They often hold meetings and come together on how to enhance the program and get more people involved. Student Lead Alex Gilstrap said this position gave him insight into the behind the scenes aspects of the sport world.

“I think this experience has given me the platform to learn more about the sport industry, especially with facilities and events,” said Gilstrap. “You get to see all of the moving parts within the stadium and what it takes to create a memorable experience for the fans.”

Recently elected as Sport Management Society president, Gilstrap plans to use his experience as a student lead to improve the club.

A group of UWG students outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium“I want to make it bigger and better than ever,” said Gilstrap. “Between being a student lead and participating in the externship program, I can hopefully use those platforms to create a great organization.”

Although the externship program is geared toward those studying sport management, any UWG student can get involved regardless of their area of study. Student Lead Kim Olivo, a biology major, has been a part of the program from the very beginning.

“Although the externship is very different from my major, it is still preparing me for a career in the medical field after I graduate,” said Olivo. “It gives us experience with leadership, communication and customer service, which can be useful skills in any job.”

Olivo and Gilstrap both agree that UWG supplies excellent resources for students to gain experience.

“I am ecstatic with what has been provided for me at UWG,” said Gilstrap. “I have been given the opportunity to grow as a leader and a professional in the sport industry. If you take full advantage of what is offered, the school will get you where you want to be with your future career goals.”

Posted on September 27, 2019