‘Getting a step ahead’: Elon students savor opportunities in Charlotte

Twelve students are enrolled in the new Elon in Charlotte Regional Center this fall, participating in the university’s sport management immersive semester and gaining real-world experience with the Atlantic Coast Conference, NASCAR, Fox Sports and other Charlotte-based organizations.

A female student sits at a wall of monitors in the ACC Game Day Operations Center.
Celsey McMahon ’25, a sports management and journalism double major, walks through her responsibilities as a game day operations intern for the Atlantic Coast Conference. During league football telecasts, she works in the Game Day Operations Center – located in the Bank of America Tower – assisting with video reviews and charting plays, penalties and timeouts. McMahon is one of 12 Elon students conducting internships in Charlotte this fall, and one of four students interning with the ACC.

The first day of Teddy Morgan’s internship with NASCAR coincided with the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day.

As the sport management major, and newest member of the organization’s emailing marketing team, traversed the Charlotte Convention Center, he accompanied his new colleagues as they set up photo shoots, interviews and media availability for the biggest names in stock car racing. The magnitude of the moment wasn’t lost on the Elon junior, an avid sports fan.

“My first day couldn’t have been any better,” the sport management major said. “And to be five feet away from Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, that was definitely a surreal moment to have on your first day.”

A white male student stands outside his cubicle in NASCAR's Charlotte office.
Teddy Morgan ’25, an email marketing intern this fall for NASCAR, stands near his desk in the organization’s corporate offices in Uptown Charlotte. “I think my skills, passions and interests fit well with NASCAR,” the sport management major said recently. “I’m really interested in marketing, partnerships and sales, and I’ve had an opportunity to learn a lot already.”

The opportunity for such real-world experiences was what convinced Morgan to participate in the Elon in Charlotte Regional Center this fall, where he is one of 12 students enrolled in the an inaugural The Sport Experience cohort, a sport management immersive semester in the city.

While Morgan supports NASCAR’s online marketing efforts, his classmates are gaining work experience with the Atlantic Coast Conference, Fox Sports, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Charlotte Independence/Charlotte Checkers, and Yes I Can Basketball, among other Charlotte-based companies.

The university formally celebrated the opening of its newest regional center in Charlotte’s South End with a Sept. 19 press conference, highlighted by the institution’s plans to offer the Elon Law Flex Program in the Queen City. The welcome event concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Associate Dean and Professor Tony Weaver and featuring a trio of Charlotte-based alumni. Among the panelists was Shelby McKay ’13 of the Atlantic Coast Conference, who is supported this fall by her intern Sarah Dawkins ’25, one of the Elon students currently living and studying in Charlotte.

A Raleigh native, Dawkins has relished the opportunity to see Charlotte up close as she considers her potential career paths.

“Being from North Carolina, I appreciate having the chance to get experience in Charlotte because I’d love to stay in the state after college,” the economics and sport management double major said. “This is an opportunity to get my foot in the door here, see what life after college would look like, while still having the comfort of working with professors I already know, and taking classes with other Elon students. Those are real benefits.”

Four students stand before a desk and sign with the ACC logo.
As the Atlantic Coast Conference settles into its new offices in Charlotte, four Elon students have joined the conference’s workforce this fall to conduct internships. Pictured (from left) are Noah Farber ’25, Anthony Bamford ’25, Sarah Dawkins ’25 and Celsey McMahon’25.

Opportunities everywhere

There is little wonder why Elon and its students are drawn to Charlotte – opportunities abound. This is especially true for students interested in the business, marketing and sport industries. The Queen City and its surrounding area host 220 days of live sporting events every year, with NFL, NBA and MLS franchises calling the city home, as well as the headquarters for NASCAR and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“When you look at the robust offerings of sports and events that take place in Charlotte, it is the ideal place to study for students majoring in sport management, communications, business, exercise science, and so many of our other academic offerings,” said Weaver, who recruited students and industry partners for the fall semester. “Our ultimate goal is to put our students in position to succeed, and Charlotte provides us endless opportunities to immerse our students in their chosen fields.”

As part of her internship responsibilities, Dawkins spends her weekends in the ACC’s Game Day Operations Center and her week days focused on supporting the conference’s student-athlete and institutional programs.

Weaver added, “This is a market our students want to be in, and we are meeting that need through internships, in-person classes taught by our Elon faculty, and access to countless alumni already working and thriving in the city.”

A few weeks into the semester, Dawkins said she has already benefitted from the access to alumni. As an intern with the Atlantic Coast Conference, she has a dual role working with both student-athlete programs and football game day operations. In the former, she reports to McKay, the conference’s associate commissioner for student-athlete and institutional programs/DEI. Through this student-alumni collaboration, Dawkins has gained a better sense of the student-athlete experience, how the conference supports student-athlete programming and initiatives, and the NCAA’s rules and regulations.

Dawkins, who has conducted undergraduate research at Elon, has appreciated McKay’s willingness to lean into her strengths of gathering and analyzing data. This has allowed Dawkins to delve into the “numbers,” which she enjoys, building spreadsheets and examining economic data from different schools and sports. It is a perfect meld of her academic pursuits.

“Her goal has been to help me get into what I like to do,” Dawkins said of McKay. “And she has helped me a lot already with goal setting and making objectives every week to focus on. We have made a plan for my internship and how we can learn from each other.”

Dawkins said she draws optimism for her future from the fact that she shares several similarities with McKay. Both studied at Elon, conducted internships with the ACC, and collaborated with the same research mentor, Weaver.

“Honestly, I really admire Shelby, and I hope that in a way I can continue to follow in her footsteps,” Dawkins said.

Two individuals stand in front a glass office window.
Shelby McKay’13 (left), associate commissioner of student-athlete and institutional programs/DEI with the ACC, and Tony Weaver, associate dean in the School of Communications, have a long relationship dating back to McKay’s days as an undergraduate and student researcher on campus. During a Sept. 21 tour of the ACC’s new Charlotte offices, they stopped to chat outside of McKay’s office.

Checking all the boxes

Admittedly, Anthony Bamford ’25, a media analytics major, didn’t envision studying beyond Elon’s main campus. But once the Royersford, Pennsylvania, native began considering Charlotte, it started to check off a lot of boxes. The city was a location he was interested in, with ample sports organizations, a community of young professionals, and plenty to see and do.

“Elon has such a wonderful study abroad program, but I wasn’t sure studying abroad was right for me. Charlotte, on the other hand, was very appealing,” he said. “It was the perfect mix for me. I get the study-away experience, but I also get to maintain a connection to Elon as well.”

A white male student sits at a computer work station.
Bamford sits at his desk on the 12th floor of the Bank of America Tower.

That mix includes a jam-packed schedule where Bamford interns with the Atlantic Coast Conference, supporting the football department and game-day operations team three days a week, with two days of classes on Tuesday and Wednesday. The sport management cohort shares the same academic schedule, taking Event Management with Associate Professor Cara Lucia, Sport and Media with Associate Professor Vic Costello, and College Athletic Administration with Assistant Professor Khirey Walker. All three classes are taught in person, in three-plus-hour blocks.

Bamford called it a major plus that he continues to study under Elon professors despite being nearly two hours from away Haggard and Williamson avenues.

A male student walks down a hallway with a poster of Bubba Wallace on the wall.
Sport management major Pablo Gasser-Hidalgo ’25, who is originally from Madrid, Spain, walks down a hallway in NASCAR’s Uptown Charlotte offices. The Elon junior is one of two Elon students interning this fall for the largest auto racing organization in the United States.

“I really liked knowing that our classes down here were going to be taught be Elon professors,” he said. “I have loved every professor I have had the chance to work with in the School of Communications and the Sport Management Department. Being able to keep and maintain those relationships with Elon was a big pull for me.”

As part of their internships, Bamford and Dawkins work in the ACC’s replay room during conference football matchups, monitoring footage and replay reviews, charting penalties and plays, and tracking media timeouts.

“I explain the role this way, when the NFL broadcasts say, ‘We’re going to New York for the replay,’ since we are the ACC, they are going to us in Charlotte,” he said.

For Morgan, his internship with NASCAR and time in Charlotte have led him right where he wants to be – preparing for what’s after Elon.

“Being in Charlotte was something I wanted to do because I liked the balance of taking classes and having an internship at the same time,” he said. “Plus, I liked the idea of getting a step ahead of those I will be competing with as we apply for positions and start our careers. I feel like being in Charlotte now is giving me that a leg up.”

Two students sit at a table in a contemporary Charlotte office space.
While working on Sept. 21 in Charlotte, McMahon and Farber brainstorm ideas for a current project.

‘Part of the real world’

Just as Elon is new to Charlotte, so too is the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The conference hosted a late August ceremony to celebrate its official move to the city and its new headquarters in the Bank of America Tower at Legacy Union. The 33-story facility in Uptown Charlotte overlooks nearby Bank of America Stadium and houses executives from nine Fortune 500 employers, including Lowe’s Home Improvement, Duke Energy and Truist.

A few days after the ACC planted its conference flag in the city, Dawkins and Bamford attended their internship orientation at the downtown skyscraper.

“In that moment, walking into the building, I remember thinking, ‘Wow. This is an incredible place to have a first internship,’” Dawkins said. “It is an exciting place to work, and it makes you feel like you are a part of the real world. It doesn’t feel like college anymore.”