Former Chicago Bulls Coach Phil Jackson led the Bulls to six NBA championships running the triangle offense in the 1990s, and now the Northern Illinois University Sport Management Program is doing the same with similar results.
However, NIU’s version of the triangle offense involves connecting students and academic programs to the world through teaching, research and engagement supported by staff. NIU Sport Management faculty and students recently joined alumni working in the sports and entertainment world for an advisory board meeting at the United Center in Chicago to discuss the direction of the program, its curriculum and internship opportunities in addition to networking over a pizza lunch.
“Through regular contact with our alumni and employers within the sports industry, we are able to ensure that our program is preparing our students for careers in sport,” says Rod Caughron, director of NIU’s Sport Management program. “Being located so close to Chicago and having alumni employed in key positions with the Blackhawks, Cubs and White Sox—in addition to several area minor league and college sports entities—gives our students a competitive advantage. Employers know that NIU Sport Management graduates have the skills and work ethic they need to be successful in their careers.”
NIU College of Business alumna Marie Sutera, who graduated in 1997 with a management degree and emphasis in human resources, is senior executive director of Human Resources with the Chicago Blackhawks. She says the Blackhawks look to hire people with applicable work experience and/or internships, citing that the more work experience recent graduates can pull from helps them in a variety of situations.
“We look for people with a good, strong work ethic, can balance multiple projects at a time, good problem solver on the spot, and has a great personality to work with a variety of different employees and customers,” says Sutera, who has been with the Blackhawks for nearly seven years. “On our current Blackhawks staff, we have a number of NIU Sport Management Program graduates, and our experience with these graduates has definitely been positive. NIU Sport Management Program’s graduates have a solid amount of real life work experience which automatically helps them jump in when hired at the Blackhawks.”
One of Sutera’s hires, Dan Rozenblat graduated from NIU’s undergraduate Sport Management program. He joined the Blackhawks organization in July, 2008, after an internship at the Chicago Wolves in 1999 led to a nine-year stint with the minor league hockey team. He is currently the senior director of Ticket Sales and Service.
“The individual attention and guidance I received from Dr. Caughron during my four years at NIU were instrumental to my success,” Rozenblat explains. “He provided real world advice that prepared me for the everyday challenges of the work place.”
T.R. Johnson, who earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing from NIU in 2006 and master’s degree in sport management in 2008, is in his seventh season with the Blackhawks and first as the team’s manager of Customer Service.
“The experiences I had and the people I met at NIU and through the Sport Management program have played a very important role in helping me get to where I’m at today,” Johnson explains. “The biggest benefit of the sport management program was the diverse background of the students and faculty. Everyone involved came from a different background, which provided a depth to the program that was invaluable.”
Former NIU football player Evans Adonis is an account executive for Premier Sales with the Chicago Cubs. He got the job after staying at NIU to complete his master’s degree in sport management.
“The NIU Sports Management taught me how to write thoughtful proposals, work long hours to get acclimated to the sports environment and be a better team member. As players do on their playing surfaces, we in our offices constantly work in teams to help achieve one common goal,” Adonis says.
“I had quite a few teachers that had so much practical work experience, and it was great to learn from them how the theories would apply in the work environment,” Sutera says of her experience as an NIU student.
The Sport Management graduate program was initiated in 1986 and was approved as a Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed) with a specialization in Sport Management by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) in April, 1991. The initial program has undergone several changes since its inception, with each new phase improving the overall quality of the program, under the initial direction of Keith Lambrecht and now Caughron. The IBHE approved NIU to offer a Master of Science (M.S.) in Sport Management beginning fall, 2001.
“NIU Sport Management continues to evolve based on the workforce needs of the industry,” says Caughron, noting that a number of alumni hold influential positions in sport organizations worldwide. “As the alumni network continues to grow across the region, nation and even internationally, the master’s program gets better, and student opportunity increases. I think our program—in terms of the curriculum and the access to NIU’s world-class business program—is the best in the country, and as our alumni network grows, the program will continue to improve.”
Caughron went on to say that the program has been enhanced by the addition of excellent faculty like Steve Howell. In addition to being one of the few institutions in the nation to offer a M.S. degree in sport management, the program’s relationship with the NIU MBA program attracts many students to the program as they work to meet the needs of the sport industry.
Andrea Collén, who hails from Umeå, Sweden , says NIU’s proximity to Chicago is a key advantage for the program.
“NIU is close to a large city that holds many opportunities in our field. The program is also well established and has a good reputation,” says Collén, who is currently working with Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire.
In addition to participating in the meeting, the students also took advantage of the networking opportunity and chance to speak with professionals in the sports industry both during the meeting and during the pizza lunch.
“Having opportunities to sit in and experience things like the meeting with the Blackhawks, being able to interact with sport professionals that were once in my position and just soaking up all the knowledge they have to share is definitely helpful and appreciated,” says graduate student Delroy Folkes, from Chicago. “Joining the NIU Sport Management Program was one the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I can’t wait to see where this road leads me.”
Jacksonville, Ill. native Quinton Yording, who completed an internship at Equinox Fitness’ Chicago Gold Coast location over the summer, believes it was most rewarding to practice the things he learned at NIU.
“I’d have to say the thing I enjoyed most about the program was my internship. While there, I got to do a lot of hands on work with clients as well as observe the operational side of the business,” Yording says. “I really enjoyed getting to practice many of the things I had learned in class such as basic management, along with marketing and promoting various events for the club.”
“Volunteer and intern early and often – you can never have enough real life experiences,” Adonis advises students. “Be a great teammate. You can achieve this by leading group projects, asking the right questions in the classroom, even if it challenges your professor and fellow classmates, and always be willing to lend a helping hand.”
“The most important thing you can do now is to get involved. Whether it be as a volunteer, an intern, or a graduate assistant; it is important to gain as much experience as possible to help differentiate yourself from other recent graduates when you enter the job market,” Johnson adds.
Rozenblat offers his own success triangle: “Love what you do. Be great at what you do. Relationships matter.”