By: Travis Gorsch, @tgorsch3
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Karen Sickler, Event Management Associate at the University of Missouri. Karen was gracious enough to offer up her time and insight into her short, yet promising career in college athletics.
Karen earned her Bachelor’s in Sport Management from Misericordia University, where she was involved in numerous activities and clubs spanning from the Sport Management Association to the Business Professionals Association to the Library Club and Commuter Council. She credits her early success in her career to her involvement in these activities, which opened up the door to many opportunities along the way.
“I think it opens up networking opportunities and ways to get involved. Its practical experiences such as going to workshops, job shadowing, etc. It’s very important to be involved. You never know who you are going to meet up with or what opportunity you are going to be involved in. Through the Sport Management Association, I was exposed to the different career opportunities in athletics. I thought maybe I wanted to work in professional sports, but I didn’t have anything in particular in mind until I got that first internship and saw the opportunities ahead of me.”
Having to fulfill an internship in order to graduate the perfect opportunity was just around the corner, or just down the road in her case. It was an unpaid internship for course credit with the Penn State Wilkes-Barre athletic department, just ten minutes from Misericordia.
“They sent my resume the athletic director and I went to the interview and found out a couple days later, I got the internship. It was a great way to get my foot in the door and see what college athletics was all about. I got to see the different areas such as marketing and game operations.”
“An internship is great because it gets your foot in the door and you get to experience the different aspects of working in sports. My favorite part of my internship was organizing the Pink Out Game with the American Cancer Society. This gave me the necessary experience to get started in the sporting industry and I decided I wanted to continue down that career path.”
From her internship, she made a big move from Pennsylvania all the way to Texas where she joined the athletic department at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU). She was an Athletic Operations Assistant for the academic year and at the time, the opportunity could not have been better.
“I grew up in Pennsylvania my whole life. When I graduated, I was looking to do another internship or graduate assistant position. The time from the interview until I moved down there was pretty quick, maybe three weeks. It was hard leaving home, but the experience was well worth it. It was also a jump up to the Division II level. I furthered my experience at that level, as I worked again in marketing and game operations.”
“I had other interviews as well, but it’s all about timing and being patient for that right position to open up. Texas A&M International was DII and I wanted to see what DII was like. Texas was also always somewhere I wanted to live when I was growing up. You have to be able to move around and go to where the positions are open because the field is so competitive.”
“At TAMIU my game management responsibilities increased, as my supervisors relied on me to be involved with the operations of soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball. They wanted me to get experience in different areas so I even helped with sports information. I had some of that experience at Wilkes-Barre, but I got even more at TAMIU. There were more opportunities available for me to pick up and run with things on my own.”
From the Northeast to the South and then up to the Midwest. Karen’s last stop along her journey before the University of Missouri came calling was at Quincy University, where she spent almost two years as an Athletics Graduate Assistant. While at Quincy, she pursued her Master’s in Education with a concentration in leadership. Karen was well prepared and groomed for her current position at Missouri, thanks in large part to her mentors along the way who continue to offer her guidance and direction.
“I was prepared thanks to Brian Stanchak at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. He did a great job with the initial step. Brian is still a mentor for me and we still keep in contact. Two mentors from Quincy that helped tremendously were Danielle Surprenant and Rob Mallory, who is now at Kentucky Wesleyan. They helped build my skills and experience by pushing me outside my comfort zone to become a better athletic administrator. My networking advice is reach out to people and continue to build those relationships. I’ve been through a few positions now and it is important to continue to follow up with the people you worked with. You never know what the future holds and who they may be able to connect you with. Not only develop professional relationships, but maintain them.”
Karen made the jump to Division I and has been at the University of Missouri for nine months now as an Event Management Associate, overseeing Mizzou’s soccer, gymnastics and tennis competitions, while helping out with football and women’s & men’s basketball.
“It was just a timing thing, again. I had applied for the internship for the Event Management position at the beginning of April, and the original close date was at the end of May. I thought it was going to be a long wait. However, they decided to expedite the process and I went through four interviews in two weeks. I wanted to get the Division I experience and continue to build my resume.”
“I like Division I and being able to focus solely on event aspects, but Division II offers more interaction with the student athletes. When I was at Quincy, I got to know the student athletes and develop relationships with them, as I mentored them.”
“I think being at the three previous schools helped me get the experience I needed to be an effective game manager. It helped build a foundation for me to come in and run with the programs. Looking back at the GA [Graduate Assistant] position, I learned how to prioritize and look at the big picture, as often there were several things happening at once during an event. I learned how to be flexible and adaptable, which allowed me to successfully manage an athletics event. Working in athletics is not always the easiest and you have to be willing to make sacrifices. I’m four and half years into the business and still making sacrifices. However, the sacrifices are worth it, as I’m working at Mizzou in the SEC [Southeastern Conference] and I am able to go to work and enjoy what I’m doing every day.”
“You have to be willing to work hard. Don’t ever think any task is too small and always be ready to help out. I’ve been asked to cover some sports that weren’t originally assigned to me, but you have to adapt and be willing to help out. We are all here for the same reason, to support the student athletes and put on the best experience for our fans.”
“You have to maintain open communication. You have to make sure you are talking to all the people that need to be included to know what’s going on. I work with student volunteers that may be volunteering for the first time and I need to help them learn. That’s a huge part of leadership. Mentor them, while you give them more responsibility will help them learn and develop. Especially with our interns, I like to give them a task and let them complete it without micromanaging them. I like to let it be a learning experience for them.”
”I would reiterate the importance of networking. It’s so huge in the sports industry and has helped tremendously. Work as hard as you can and make sacrifices. The way you are going to succeed is through networking and sacrifices.”
We would like to wish Karen the best of luck in all of her future endeavors!
This interview is another edition of "Winning Edge Wednesday" in congruence with our partnership with the Winning Edge Leadership Academy. Every Wednesday we will be featuring the story of a woman or minority working in the sports business industry.If you know of a professional you would like featured, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.