RCW: The Intern
For college students, internships can act as a gateway into a career. They help students find what they do and don’t want to pursue as a career choice. For some, managing classes and an internship can be daunting. For Sydney Umeri, a senior forward on the University of Kansas women’s basketball team, working as a media intern has never truly come to her as a burden, regardless of how stressful it has been, where the job has taken her or how difficult it has been to fit into her academic and athletic schedule.
“I’ve always been a firm believer of making time for what is important to you and these are all things that I love,” said Umeri. “Yeah, it’s work, but I genuinely care about media and the internships I’ve been a part of. I think it’s just me being passionate about it and trying to fit it in my schedule. It’s a lot of fun for me. As long as it’s fun, I take the time for it.”
Umeri grew up in Acworth, Georgia, and initially went to the University of Virginia (UVA) in 2013 to pursue both her basketball career as well as a degree in media studies. After graduating from UVA in the spring of 2016, Umeri transferred to Kansas to strive for a graduate degree in journalism with a digital focus, as well as play her fourth and final collegiate season of eligibility with the Jayhawks. During her three years at Virginia, she thrived on the court, in the classroom and in the workplace, as she landed internships with “Cavalier Minute,” ESPN’s “Around the Horn” and Nike.
Her first internship was with “Cavalier Minute,” a segment series that aired on a local radio station at the University of Virginia. For this job, she would research and interview a different student-athlete every week and report human interest stories pertaining to what they were doing.
“It was a lot of fun,” added Umeri. “I met a lot of great student-athletes, and it was great because it was all for my school.”
Although Umeri put forth a tremendous amount of effort into her work with “Cavalier Minute,” it was during her sophomore year at Virginia when she happened to stumble upon an internship that would change her life.
“It’s kind of interesting how I got that internship,” Umeri explained. “I was a media studies major at Virginia and they oftentimes will send out emails about opportunities to all of their majors. So I was sitting in one of my media studies classes, toward the back, and it was later on in the semester. We were in full swing so I was trying to get through this lecture. Then I get this email that said ‘Around the Horn opportunity’.”
“Around the Horn” is a talk show on ESPN that features sports panelists such as Woody Paige, Bob Ryan and Frank Isola among others. During the program, the panelists debate current events in the sporting world. The show first aired in 2002 and has been a highly-regarded talk show that airs daily on ESPN.
Immediately, Umeri knew this was an opportunity that she just couldn’t pass up. The only issue was that the application deadline was a day after she opened the email. When she got home that day, she instantly opened up the application, believing that it would be rather lengthy due to the national publicity that the show receives. To her surprise, the application only asked for her résumé and for her to answer two questions: If you were a beat writer, who would you want to write for? And who should have won the 2016 NBA MVP award?
“I ended up saying Steph Curry for MVP and that I wanted to be a beat writer for the Atlanta Hawks,” the Georgia-native said. “From there, I got an interview, and I was surprised because that’s a very competitive internship. But I felt like I was lucky.”
To Josh Bard, one of the producers of “Around the Horn” as well as the head of the internship program, Umeri’s application was like striking gold.
“She was one of the most overwhelming candidates in terms of her application that I’ve ever seen,” Bard stated. “It blew me away that she could do so many things at once. In terms of going to school and all the time she has committed to the basketball team and writing for her blogs and writing for other blogs, I couldn’t believe that she could actually do all of those things. I felt like I had to hear how she was doing it. So we did the interview and sure enough she had answers for everything. Not that we were doubting her, just as a person who has gone through college in the last 16 years, I was shocked at how well she utilized time and how much she could do.”
With Umeri’s glowing first impression in the application and interview process, she received the internship. The position required her to spend the summer of 2015 in Washington, D.C., where the show was filmed. Umeri, a young adult with a passion for traveling that matches her passion for sports, knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore the city. Even though she was excited to discover what D.C., had to offer, it proved to be more daunting than she expected.
“At the time it was a tough transition,” Umeri explained. “That was my first time in a big city by myself. I didn’t have any transportation of my own, so I became familiar with the subways or walking.”
The lack of personal transportation was a change, but never quite proved to be a problem- until she went to the grocery store.
“There was a store down the street from me, and I never realized how fortunate you are to have a car because you can get however much (food) you want. But when you don’t have a car, you have to carry your groceries. That never really hit me until I walked out and was carrying like 10 pounds of groceries two or three blocks down the road.”
Despite the new lifestyle adaptations that Umeri had to make, she thrived living in the nation’s capital. During her free time, she visited various landmarks, museums and monuments. In fact, she kept so busy that Umeri said,”You never really get bored” when you live in a place like Washington, D.C.
Her success living in a new city carried into the workplace too. As an intern for “Around the Horn,” she mainly helped with the production of the show. In the morning, Umeri would pitch ideas of topics to be covered in that day’s segment. After the topics of debate were agreed upon by the production team, Umeri and the other interns would start gathering footage from the ESPN servers and matching the clips with the script that show host Tony Reali would send them. After filming the show in the late afternoon, the production staff would get together once more to edit, and the show would air at 5 p.m.
“It was great having her in for her perspective as a college athlete,” Bard said. “A lot of times we’ll do stories on college kids, and these are young kids. And for the most part our panelists are twice their age, potentially three times their age, and when they went to school it was different. But it was really helpful to have the perspective of not just a college student, but one who is an athlete and can shed light.”
Umeri’s insight and perspective was impeccable in the office, but her personality might have been valued even more so. With a constant smile on her face and an upbeat energy to match, it made the workplace a better place to be.
“We love our job, we enjoy our job, but when you come in every day, it sometimes isn’t easy to keep the positivity every day,” Bard stated. “She came in every day and was ready to go. I think she pushed us to be more excited for the things we were doing.”
After her summer in D.C., Umeri returned back to Charlottesville for her junior year at Virginia. During the year, Umeri happened upon yet another internship that she couldn’t pass up. This time, it was with the brand that sponsored the Cavaliers’ athletics program, Nike.
According to Umeri, Nike has a quota of student interns it wants to reach every summer. In order to reach that quota, the company promotes its internship program to all athletic programs of schools that have contracts with Nike. A large number of Virginia student-athletes applied for various positions, but Umeri was asked back for three different interviews before receiving news that she had been offered a position.
To most people trying to make a career in the sports industry, taking an opportunity with Nike would be a no-brainer. In Umeri’s case, she was already mulling her decision about another internship she had on the table with yet another mammoth organization: the NBA.
“I just couldn’t really say no to Nike,” Umeri said. “They had so many great benefits to offer. As a student-athlete, I was training for my last season as a basketball player, so I thought Nike would be a great move just because of all of the resources they have. I would be at the world headquarters, there are classes to take to stay up with your fitness, and there are Nike trainers there, so I just thought it was an overall good decision for me.”
In June of 2016, Umeri packed her bags and was off to Portland, Oregon, home of the Nike Headquarters. Once again, she would head to a new city with nothing but her luggage and infectious personality. She described her initial thoughts of Portland as “eye-opening.” As a person who has lived in Georgia, Virginia and Washington D.C., but had never been to the Pacific Northwest, Portland was a completely new environment. With a beach, city and mountains all in the same general area, Umeri was constantly astonished with the jaw-dropping northwestern natural scenery. Not only did the city of Portland leave a lasting impression on Umeri, but the work environment at Nike did too.
“It really is like a college campus, it was huge,” Umeri said of the Nike Headquarters. “I got to meet so many great people. We had a great internship group. (Collectively) We were less than a tenth of a percent I think that got the internship, and they were such great people. The interns got really close, we did a lot together. Whether it was work, going to workouts together, hanging out in the city together or just being at the world headquarters, (it) was a great experience.”
Though the headquarters seemed massive, Umeri’s outgoing personality led her to connect with a familiar face in an unfamiliar setting.
“I found one person wearing Virginia gear and I asked, ‘Wait, who are you?'” Umeri said. “He ended up being a manager for the men’s (basketball) team, and I had seen him so many times but I never really knew him. It was really funny. That was really cool to get to know him, especially since we were so close to each other but never really knew each other throughout the year.”
In terms of work, Umeri’s role with Nike was different than it was with “Around the Horn.” With Nike, she worked more with promotions and communications as opposed to videography. The very first project she worked on at Nike was the launch of the KD 9 shoe in Austin, Texas. The KD 9 is the newest shoe in the Kevin Durant line at Nike. With a tremendous amount of global anticipation for the release of the next hit Nike basketball shoe, the launch of it was no simple task. She also worked on the production of the “Nike FlyEase: The Story Continues” video as well as various soccer cleat launches. Though it was more of a communications focus as opposed to a digital media focus, Umeri’s time with Nike was one that she will always value.
Once her internship with Nike had commenced, Umeri packed her bags and was off to Lawrence, Kansas for her first year at KU. Being at a new school, on a new basketball team and in a new environment would be enough on their plate for most people, but Umeri still managed to hold an internship with The Huddle Network during the fall semester of 2016. The Huddle Network is a network where former college football players talk about the games within their conference.
With this internship, Umeri was back working with production and the editing of film. There were different podcasts for each conference, but Umeri covered the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 all this season. The internship will end in early January, when the 2016 college football season concludes.
As far as her future goes, Bard thinks that Umeri does not need to worry at all about finding work, no matter what career path she chooses to pursue.
“The sky is completely the limit for her,” Bard said. “I think she will end up being the determining factor, which is a nice thing. In sports, we always talk about determining your own fate. And I think it’s just going to come down to what she wants to do. If she wants to write, I think there will be plenty of opportunities to write. If she wants to be on TV, I can guarantee that there will be places for her to fit in immediately. If she’s more into the marketing and business stuff, I can’t imagine what would trip her up. Ever. I don’t see a door ever being closed for her.”
As Bard mentioned, the future for Umeri is extraordinarily bright, as she already has another new internship lined up for the spring semester with a media outlet called Chatcast Media. Following graduation, Umeri has a firm grasp on what she wants to do, but is not limiting herself to anything at this point in time.
“My ideal job would probably be to be a freelance writer, videographer and photographer,” Umeri stated. “I currently have my own blog, it’s called ‘Sydney Sundays,’ and I’m working on a new version of that blog that will be sydneyumeri.com. I like to post content that is unique to me. As a student-athlete who is about to be a retired student-athlete, I think there is a lot of information there that I might have, or that other former student-athletes might have, that will be helpful. So that’s kind of the content that I would want to create, whether it’s video or writing. Then photography is just a passion of mine. I would love to launch my own blog and have it work toward a full-time job.”
Though she is looking ahead to the future, Umeri has nothing but positive thoughts when it comes to reflecting on the past. Her internships taught her how to carry herself in both the workplace and in other aspects of life. When asked about how her internship experiences have changed her, she mentioned how they have made her more independent, while giving her the incredible opportunity to see parts of the country that she had never been to before.
These internships have turned Umeri’s résumé into a gem for hiring managers. Regardless of what she will be doing in the future, it is safe to say that Umeri will be doing it with a smile on her face and a positive outlook that will radiate throughout the workplace.