RCW: Maddie Irelan redefines 'Film Crew'

Before coming to the University of Kansas senior rower Maddie Irelan dreamt about her ideal college experience and how she could pursue all of her goals and aspirations in one place.
Irelan has always been the type of person who wanted to be more than just a student and more than just an athlete. Beginning in high school, Irelan got involved in many organizations that she knew she could have an impact on. When she stepped foot on KU’s campus in the fall of 2013, she recognized those same opportunities were available, just at a heightened level.
Irelan had a unique opportunity to row for her high school in Dublin, Ohio. Rowing started as a fun extracurricular activity for Irelan, but she quickly realized her potential to continue with the sport in college.
“I rowed all four years of high school and absolutely fell in love with it. I think my sophomore or junior year someone told me that this is something you can do in college, which wasn’t even on my radar when I started,” said Irelan.
At Dublin Jerome High School, in Dublin Ohio, Irelan was also fortunate enough to take classes in broadcast journalism, sparking her passion of visual storytelling.
“I went to a really great high school,” Irelan said. “I think they did a really great job of helping us find what we wanted to do (in the future). Starting my sophomore year, I was taking broadcast video classes and got to do the announcements – we had TV announcements every single morning. I knew that this was definitely what I wanted to do.”
It was important for the Ohio native to find a college that had both a great rowing program and a standout journalism school. This proved to be more of a challenge than Irelan expected, as the list of schools across the country that met these criteria were very limited.
“When I came to Kansas I knew this is where I had to be,” Irelan said. “When I came on my official visit and met the girls on the rowing team, I could just tell these were my people. From then on I knew I was going to KU.”
Entering the university as a freshman, Irelan wasted no time finding out how she could get involved on campus and jumpstart her future.
Before classes started, Irelan attended UnionFest – a welcome event put on by the Kansas Union and Student Union Activities. Irelan was one of the first students to stop by the Media Crossroads table and show an interest in journalism. Media Crossroads Director, Cal Butcher, told Irelan he was starting a new show called “Good Morning KU” and would need volunteers to kick start the project.
“Maddie was on the show from the very beginning, and now we have done over 400 shows,” Butcher said. “She probably worked on it for the first two years – she was a regular. She actually started volunteering for student media before she was involved in anything else. Since then, she’s stayed involved, she’s produced another show with a (fellow) student and she’s been highly involved in our student media news programs. From day one that Maddie stepped foot on campus, she caught my eye and she’s just such a wonderful person. She works very hard.”
 In addition to “Good Morning KU,” Irelan looked to make an impact in athletics and be a voice for all the student-athletes at Kansas. With her peers in mind, Irelan decided to get involved in KU Athletics’ Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
“I’ve always wanted to be more than just the student and just the athlete. If somebody gets to have an influence over our experience here, I want to be one of those people,” Irelan said. “When I come into something I think, ‘How can I make this better for myself, my current teammates and the people who will come on the team behind me?’ That was a lot of my driving force on SAAC.”
Through SAAC, Irelan realized right away that there were so many opportunities for student-athletes just within the athletic department. Irelan wanted to ensure that opportunities like career-building events didn’t go unnoticed, because she saw how beneficial they could be for her community of KU student-athletes.
“A big part of it is being a voice for the athletes, back to coaches and the administration and the greater school,” Irelan said. “Showing people that we are more than the jersey that we wear — I think that’s crucial.”
After being a part of SAAC for three years, Irelan voiced her eagerness to become president of the organization. Her peers agreed that she was the best candidate to lead the group, so, they voted her to be this year’s president. Irelan spoke highly of this year’s SAAC Executive Board. She also credited the entire student-athlete community for the great year they’ve had thus far.
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“Our executive group has been extremely involved in every process, which in years past we have struggled to get people who want to be a part of it. Everyone is super like-minded and we’ve been really successful with the things that we’ve done this year,” Irelan said. “I think that’s a testament to the athletic department we have here ­– the people who help us and also the student-athletes for wanting to move beyond just the ‘athlete’ portion of being in KU Athletics.”
This year, Irelan and the SAAC Executive Board decided to try something new leading up to the annual JayRock event. According to the SAAC page of KUAthletics.com, JayRock is an annual variety show hosted by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. The show serves as a fundraiser for various non-profit organizations in the community. The event is entirely student-run, providing the student-athletes an opportunity to display the three pillars of Jayhawk SAAC: leadership, camaraderie, and service. This year’s goal was to raise money for Children’s Mercy Hospital. To do so, each of KU’s 18 varsity sports was given a designated bin to be used for penny wars. Athletes were instructed to place pennies in bins to count positively towards a team’s point total and other coins or dollar bills in bins they wanted to see points subtracted from. This style of fundraiser encouraged each team to be competitive, while still having fun and raising money for a good cause. After a week penny wars, the student-athletes collectively raised over $3,000.
“I was so proud of not only the SAAC, but the entire student-athlete population,” said Irelan. “I think that truly is proof of how strong we can be if we all work together toward one goal. That’s something that really drives me. We’re all separate teams and we all have different seasons and different coaches, but we, as different teams, can come together and work toward one goal. It can be really powerful.”
This year’s SAAC advisor, Carrah Trimble, has been a mentor for Irelan since her freshman year. Trimble has proudly watched Irelan grow as a person, a student-athlete and a leader of this university.
“She is definitely a selfless leader. She’s never been one to attach to the title of it. She would be my go-to person for anything and (it is) the same with the university administrators,” Trimble said. “If they wanted to hear about the student-athlete voice, she would be the communicator. She handles it very humbly and wants to make sure she’s doing the right thing for all the student athletes – it’s not just about her. It’s not about her and her claim as president or anything like that. She’s done a great job of empowering others to participate in SAAC and be involved. It’s not the ‘Maddie Irelan Show,’ which I think says a lot about her character and capabilities as a leader.”
In addition to Trimble’s mentorship, Irelan is thankful for all the people in KU’s athletic department who have had a hand in helping propel her to the person she is today.
“I think that is something that is so, so special about KU Athletics — they want us to be successful and they’re going to do everything that they have in their power to get us there,” said Irelan. “When I think about it, there are so many people who have helped me along the way, from coaches to academic advisors to even tutors that have been so influential.”
Outside of SAAC and her busy rowing schedule, Irelan found the time to intern with a variety of different media companies to solidify what career path she wanted to take with her journalism degree. While she knew she wanted to work with video, she wanted to narrow her focus with these hands-on experiences.
Last summer Irelan experienced the opportunity of a lifetime, traveling to London for an eight-week study abroad internship program. She worked for a video production company that specialized in videos for musicians and different social campaigns.
“I got to be really involved in their processes and that showed me that video production is more of what I want to do,” Irelan said. “I’m very task-oriented, so I like when there’s a start and a finish, very much like when you’re making a video. I don’t necessarily feel like sharing the news is what I want to do, but I like the creative process that goes into making a video – deciding what type of music will make the audience feel a certain way. Through that, I’ve really decided that video production is the path I want to take.”
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Butcher believes that Irelan has the necessary characteristics to succeed in the video production field.
“It’s important to have the ability to recognize a story and then to be able to retell it. You must have an eye for something that’s interesting and I think Maddie does (have) that,” Butcher said. “It’s also about empathy. To be a good storyteller and to make video, you should have empathy for your subjects and people. She does that. She recognizes the good in people, is very good at supporting people and making people around her better. She then uses that to further her story or whatever it is she’s going to do.”
As this chapter of Irelan’s life will quickly come to a close, she is relishing every moment as a Jayhawk rower. She knows this is her last chance to give it her all because come May, rowing will no longer be a part of her weekly routine.
“Rowing is such a big part of my life, the sport itself has given me so many things. My sister is also a rower, we started this sport together in high school. That brought us a lot closer,” Irelan said. “I think my mentality throughout this season is that rowing has given me so many things (that) I want to give rowing everything that I have. That means putting it on the line for my teammates every single day, coming to practice with a good attitude and moving past any hiccups we might have along the way. I think that my team does a really great job of doing that already, but I think when you’re a senior it all sets in – this is your last chance.”
Between SAAC, rowing practice and competition, student senate, internships and classes, Irelan has always had a full schedule. She is looking forward to going back home to Ohio after graduation to enjoy some down time with her family before jumping right into a job. Regardless what she ultimately chooses to do, those who know Irelan firmly believe that she will continue to shine.
 “She’s one of those students who we know is going to be successful and we will probably hear of her again,” Butcher said. “Not only is that good for her, but it’s good for us. She’s the type of person who will always include KU Athletics and KU as she talks about how she got to where she is.”
Trimble completely agreed with Butcher’s assessment of Ireland. As she explains it, “She’s just a true All-American girl. I really think the sky is the limit for her.”
For now, Irelan will focus most of her time and effort on rowing. Once she graduates, one thing is for sure: she will always remember her time at the University of Kansas as some of the best days of her life.
“I think I really want to close this chapter (of my life). It’s hard to even look past my last race right now or graduation, but that time will come,” Irelan said. “I think it’s taking everything that I’ve learned here, and all the ways that I have grown, and using it in some way. I don’t know what that way is yet. I don’t know exactly what job I’ll have, or even want, but I want to move forward in a way that pays tribute to everything that I did here at KU.”