Training for the future

Rice’s Sport Management Internship program preps students

The fact that Justin Wolin ’15 was hired by the Houston Astros as a full-time business analyst was not surprising. What was surprising was that Wolin was hired seven months before the position actually started, which is unheard of in the sports industry.

Because of the wealth of experience Wolin brought to the table, he was highly sought after by sports organizations during his senior year at Rice. The Astros recognized the competition for Wolin’s services and decided to make him an offer very early in the process.

Tom Stallings

Tom Stallings

As a student at Rice, Wolin held internships, part-time jobs and full-time jobs at the Major League Baseball headquarters, the Astros, the Washington Redskins, the Houston Rockets and the Houston Texans. He felt that combined with his education, that experience made him extremely marketable.

“The internships I was able to land, with the help of my professors, during my time at Rice allowed me to develop the skills and build my network, putting me in position to get my dream job in baseball after graduation,” Wolin said. “Being able to work in different sports and different fields gave me perspective on the type of career I wanted to pursue in the sport industry. I would not be where I am today without the support of the entire Department of Sport Management.”

Led by Tom Stallings, professor in the practice of sport management, the internship program ensures all program graduates have at least six credit hours of practical working experience, 150 hours at each internship, a digital portfolio and an impressive resume by the time they are seeking full-time employment.

Stallings and his colleagues have spent the past decade perfecting Rice’s program. .

“If we make a promise to our students that they will find jobs working in the industry when they leave with a four-year degree from our program, then we need to deliver on that,” Stallings said.

Clark Haptonstall, professor in the practice of sport management and chair of the department, agrees that the internship is a critical component of the program’s curriculum. “We have made it a priority because, as faculty, we recognize the importance of quality internships and how they make our students successful,” he said.

Among the most recent placements, four current students are interning for the 2016 Super Bowl and an additional 30 students will work the NCAA Final Four when it returns to Houston in the spring.

Ultimate matchmaker

In his office in Tudor Fieldhouse, Stallings scribbles away on a giant, wall-sized whiteboard. There are five main color-coded columns: grads in between jobs, seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. It’s a rainbow of names, opportunities and aspirations; it’s Stallings’ own complicated playbook.

Administrator Kerri Barber, who manages the day-to-day business of the department, has been on both sides of the coin. She graduated as a sport management major from Ithaca College in 2004 and is thrilled to see Rice students enjoying experiences that were not available when she was an undergrad.

“Each February, Tom attends the influential National Sports Forum for executives in the sports industry and from that one event alone he will bring back over 100 business cards from people he’s met and cultivated relationships with,” Barber said. “He works extremely hard to find students opportunities to intern that not only meet their academic requirements but also fulfill their professional ambitions.”

This is very different from the courses she completed, which rarely brought her out of the classroom, Barber said.

“I wish I had this sort of opportunity,” Barber said. “The amount of experiences they leave here with is unlike any other program I’ve seen.”

But before undergrads are unleashed into the sports industry as interns, every student in the program must complete a practicum course. The class coaches students in resume preparation, business etiquette and interview skills, Stallings said.

“My job during that practicum course is to work with students as closely as possible, providing them with a solid foundation and stepping stones to line up great opportunities so that they not only find employment after graduation, but also have a choice of function and industry that they will find fulfilling,” Stallings said.

Haptonstall, who spearheaded the creation of the internship program, credits Stallings’ efforts connecting to executives in the sports industry, including a six-week summer trip.

“Tom spends about 15 percent of the year on the road making the connections with people in the industry who are able to offer our students valuable internships and jobs,” Haptonstall said. “He is very strategic in his travels to reach as many people as he can in the geographic areas where our students live and also in the industries that they are pursuing.”

Practical experience

Tennis player Lindsey Hodge, a Duncan college sophomore, chose Rice because of the marriage between outstanding academics and athletics programs. “I chose the sport management program because I want to go into the business industry, and when I met with Professor Stallings on my official visit, I realized his dedication to his students and the program would enable me to be very successful in the future.”

Hodge has interned with the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and the BB&T Atlanta Open.

“I think these experiences give me a great foundation for working in the sport industry,” Hodge said. “I have gained experience in the events and operations side of sport management, and I believe it will open doors for me in the future.”

Duncan College sophomore Sergio Santamaria chose to attend Rice specifically for sport management and the internship opportunities after a friend who was attending Rice introduced him to the program.

“I saw Rice students getting internships with the Rockets, Astros, Dynamo and other local organizations and immediately Rice became my No. 1 choice,” Santamaria said. “I applied for early decision as a sport management major and have been completely committed to the program ever since.”

With his sights set on becoming a general manager in the NBA, Santamaria spent the 2014-15 basketball season working for the Houston Rockets as an in-game video operator. Santamaria attended about 80 percent of all the Rockets’ home games and used a system of six cameras that tracked player movement, ball movement and game events at a rate of 25 frames a second.

“As a computer science double major, I was able to analyze and hypothesize on the algorithms that make up the camera system,” he said. “I enjoyed it so much that I’ll be an in-game video operator again for the 2015-16 season.”

Classroom to boardroom

Unlike Santamaria, alumnus Jesse Tsu ’11 didn’t know what he wanted to study when he chose Rice.

“My passion had always been in sports, but working in that industry seemed too much of a distant goal,” said Tsu, now a business planner for Nike. “With the help of the Department of Sport Management, I am now not only working in the sports industry, but for one of the most recognizable brands worldwide.”

Alumnus Ryan Glassman ’13, an associate coordinator of events for the NBA, said his experience was unrivaled both at Rice and with similar programs across the country. He found that during the postgraduation job application process, potential employers often noted the importance of the diverse internship experiences he had under his belt.

“The opportunities that I partook in during my four years at Rice positioned me extremely well to pursue a career in sports,” Glassman said. “If you work hard and approach your personal development proactively, the sport management professors will go to bat for you to make sure you are given every opportunity to succeed in the sport industry.”

But for Stallings, it’s more than just making sure his students have industry success. He wants graduates to leave Rice and the Department of Sport Management with the tools and skills they need for a fulfilling, enjoyable and rewarding future.

“I tell students all the time that I don’t care what they do as long as they choose it,” Stallings said.

Call it a department mantra: “We work for our students,” Haptonstall said.

“Because 75 percent of our faculty worked in professional sports before becoming professors, we know how difficult it can be to land that first job out of college in the sport industry,” Haptonstall said. “Our internship program gives our students a huge advantage over students at other universities.”

Professional internships built through the Rice network are a critical part of the Initiative for Students, which supports educational experiences that prepare students with the skills and knowledge they will use to lead successful lives and build meaningful careers.

About Arie Passwaters

Arie Wilson Passwaters is a Web editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.