PSES Speaker Series highlights Elon alumni and their career paths
Elon University’s Premier Sport & Event Society brought together professionals from various aspects of the communications, event planning and sports industries on April 7 to share their insight and advice.
The career advice was refreshingly honest during the April 7 Speaker Series event hosted by the Elon University Premier Sport & Event Society. During the student-run organization’s informal talk and Q&A panel, Elon alumni James “JB” Bryant ’10, Sean Owens ’99 and Lauren Burgeson O’Shea ’10, as well as Brandon Neff, discussed their professional insights and their personal experiences.
Among the topics of discussion in McKinnon Hall were the alumni’s respective career paths, advice for future professionals, and how Elon University impacted their own growth. At times, the conversation was pointed, a benefit for the approximately 20 students in attendance.
While elaborating on his time at Elon, Owens rattled off the multitude of events and activities – on campus and otherwise – that he was involved with as an undergraduate. Always interested in sports, he volunteered or interned with the then-Burlington Indians, Durham Bulls and Charlotte Knights. He even participated with the unsuccessful campaign to relocate the Minnesota Twins or Montreal Expos to the Piedmont region. Although there is no MLB team in Greensboro, Owens’ efforts nonetheless paid off and he received a full-time job offer with the Knights five months before he graduated.
Today, after employment stops with NASCAR and the live music industry, he’s back with the Knights, serving as the organization’s director of ticket sales and hospitality.
“You don’t wait until after you graduate and then say, ‘I’ve got my degree, where is my job?’” said the 21-year veteran of the sports and entertainment industry. Owens urged students to not just network but get to know others as best they can.
“You have all heard, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’” he said. “Take it one step further, and get to know people and have them get to know you.”
Bryant, a retention sales specialist for the New York Yankees, echoed Owens’ sentiments, recalling his own journey to the Bronx Bombers. Prior to working in New York, Bryant was an account executive for Sporting Kansas City, a Major League Soccer club. The position was a longtime goal for the England native and soccer fan.
Out of the blue, however, a personal contact cold-called him about a job opportunity with the Yankees’ ticket sales staff. After accepting the job, Bryant was promoted less than a year later to his current position, responsible for generating revenue from the team's largest clients.
O'Shea and Neff also shared details of their professional journeys, including their greatest successes and most difficult challenges. A senior account manager at Centrifuge Media, Inc., an event and production agency in Morrisville, O’Shea discussed the benefits of working for a small company, as well as the joys – and drawbacks– of traveling extensively for work.
An assistant commissioner of championships at the Atlantic Coast Conference, Neff confessed that working in a Division I athletic conference was always his dream destination, dating back to his own undergraduate days at Iowa State University.
After stops with the Southern Conference and Duke University’s Athletic Department, Neff now oversees the regular season and championship management for six ACC sports. He also assists with the ACC Football and Men’s Basketball Championships.
“If you learn anything from me tonight, it’s that attending events like this and networking with folks already in the business … is a huge deal.” Neff said. “If you aren’t following up with email to all of us on the panel, getting our business cards, if you don’t do that tonight, you’re doing it wrong. This is an easy networking opportunity for you.”
Neff is married to Karen Donovan Neff, assistant director of academic support for athletics at Elon.