For many college students, the thought of graduation may be bittersweet. On the one hand, one may look forward to stepping into the real world and enjoying long-awaited freedom, but there also might be that creeping fear about where one may end up. Seniors may hope they’ll get a job that they enjoy, pays well and advances their career goals.
To abate this fear, many college students try to get the best possible internships, work placements and fellowships to ensure a successful future. Many students may also start at the bottom of the career ladder post-graduation and work their way up to better, more advantageous jobs. But alumna Taylor Salyers (’20), who studied sports and recreation management, didn’t bother with lower-level internships in the sports world. She went straight to the top: Super Bowl LV.
Salyers attributes her experience serving as a guide and crowd engagement worker at the 2021 Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida, to social media.
“I was scrolling on Instagram, clicking through stories like always, and one of my professors, professor Alyssa Bosley, put up an ad for the opportunity on her story,” Salyers said. “So I just messaged her because I was like, ‘Who wouldn’t want to work at the Super Bowl, right?’”
Bosley said her post had exactly the effect she’d been hoping for: connecting star students to great opportunities in the sports industry.
“I use my social media as a way to continue conversations with students outside of the classroom … even more so now that I’m teaching online classes,” Bosley said. “I frequently post different sport business-related opportunities for my students as a way to engage with them.”
From there, Bosley connected Salyers to the international sports business organization Living Sport, which was offering the Super Bowl work experience to recent college graduates.
Salyers said she was unsure if she was going to apply to the program at first.
“I saw it and was like, ‘No, it’s kind of too expensive, like, I’m not going to do this,’” Salyers said. “But I ended up just going back to it and thought the worst thing that can happen is I apply and get told ‘No.’ And then [if] nothing happens, I just move on.”
Luckily for Salyers, however, she didn’t need to move on after she was connected with a JMU and Living Sport alumna who mentored her through the interview process. With that alumna’s help, Salyers was selected out of hundreds of applicants to take part in the competitive work experience trip.
Although Salyers said she was shocked she was chosen, Bosley said she was a shoo-in for the opportunity.
“Taylor is an outstanding student and person,” Bosley said. “I try to engage with my students [online], and Taylor is someone who was engaging back. I’ve never met Taylor face-to-face, but I feel like I have a good relationship with her … because she was [often] having a dialogue with me.”
Hart School professor Joshua Pate echoed similar sentiments about Salyers and the traits that made her perfect for the program.
“Taylor was an all-star in our program,” Pate said. “She was always involved in something outside of class that was moving her experience forward. Taylor made sure that she had solid experience in both sports and recreation, and it gave her some versatility to be a good candidate for working in sports.”
Salyers said the Living Sport program was everything she hoped for and more. It consisted of a 10-day business intensive in Tampa, Florida, that included networking events, mentorship presentations and a chance to work fan-experience events in the days leading up to the game.
“I worked [fan experience] at Julian B. Lane,” Salyers said. “I [helped] with the obstacle course and … I was also at the museum where you could see every single Super Bowl ring that they’ve ever had … and the Tom Brady locker.”
Salyers said one of the most educational parts of the experience was being one of only a few of the 40 participants chosen to work the VIP reception for the Super Bowl sponsors. Although there were exclusive concerts by Dan and Shay and CeeLo Green at the reception, Salyers said it was actually the clean-up side of the event she enjoyed the most.
“A bunch of us broke down the venue, and I’ve never done anything like that before,” Salyers said. “I [studied] sport and recreation management because, yes, I’m interested in sports, but it really is the management side that I want to focus on. So that was really cool.”
After the VIP reception, there was only one part left: working the actual Super Bowl.
Salyers said that on the night of the game, the Living Sport participants were stationed around the stadium, directing people to their seats and helping people get “pumped for the game.”
“The energy was just crazy and out of control,” Salyers said. “Everybody was screaming, yelling … and they were so excited to be there. It was a lot because I’ve never worked a major sporting event before.”
Salyers said she was stationed in the nosebleeds and, although being in the stadium was cool, it wasn’t the typical Super Bowl experience one would imagine.
“I wasn’t, like, just watching the game the whole time,” Salyers said. “I was mainly helping fans get to the point in which they could watch the game.”
Pate said many students are surprised when they come into the sports and recreation management program and find they’re not just going to be watching sports games all the time.
“One of the things that we stress [in the Hart School] is that we are working while everyone else is having fun,” Pate said. “We are working while recreation and leisure and sport are taking place.”
Pate said Salyers didn’t fall into this trap and instead had a great outlook on what her experience at the game would be.
“Taylor understood that working the Super Bowl [was] going to be such a nice piece to her resume, and that that far outweighs actually being in the stadium to watch a game,” Pate said. “Because [once] the game is over … you have some memories and good experiences, but you don’t have anything on your resume if you just sit and watch the game. The critical piece in our industry is getting that work experience, not attending games.”
Salyers cited her experiences and classes in the Hart School at JMU as some of the resources that helped her feel confident in her position and in the Living Sport program.
“Being a wellness instructor at … UREC and a student at the Hart School really helped prepare me for this,” Salyers said. “They gave me a level of confidence with networking, taking charge … and other general people skills.”
Bosley said professors at the Hart School try their best to help students learn all the real-life skills they’ll need for their future jobs.
“The Hart School is always trying to give our students the tools and the experiences to put them in the best position possible to succeed once they graduate,” Bosley said. “They’re going beyond just learning from a textbook or sitting in a classroom.”
Despite the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, which continues to have a widespread effect on the live sports industry, Salyers said it hasn’t — and won’t — stop her from pursuing her career goals.
“[COVID-19] hasn’t really had an impact on my future plans and goals because I just want to be in a position where I can make an impact on someone,” Salyers said. “Whether that’s employees that I manage, or students with disabilities or anybody, I just want to make an impact on them, and I think sports has the unique ability to do that.”
Contact Alexandra Dauchess at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.