Once a member of Wittenberg’s swimming and diving team, Rachel Lee, class of 2012, found it natural to be fascinated by the Olympics. Now the business major from Hickory, N.C., has turned her goal into a reality by landing a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC).
“I have been captivated by the Olympics for as long as I can remember, so it's always been a goal of mine to be involved with non-profit sports in some capacity,” said Lee, who carries minors in economics and music and was a member of Athletes in Action, Alpha Delta Pi and the Chamber Orchestra during her time at Wittenberg.
After coaching swimming for several years, she decided to pursue her M.B.A./M.S. in sport management and earned the degree at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.
“UMass has outstanding alumni that work in all realms of sports, including at the USOC, where I had the fortune of connecting with two mentors,” Lee said. “Monthly calls, job shadowing and informational interviews with their colleagues gave me great perspective on what it takes to succeed in the Olympic movement. When it came time to apply for positions, I relied on my mentors for advice and guidance. I owe them both a huge debt of gratitude.”
Lee works with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo., the fundraising arm of the USOC. Her main duties include database management, gift activity reporting and general analytics.
“The first few months here have been incredible. While I'm still getting up to speed on all that the foundation does, my co-workers have been extremely helpful, patient and kind,” said Lee, who also handles dashboard building and games hospitality app development.
“I'm learning new things every day, and it's been fun tackling new challenges," she added. "I hope to continue growing and contributing within the ‘team behind the team.’ While my work is very much behind the scenes, it impacts Olympians and Paralympians, as well as Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. The foundation exists to support athletes and help them cover costs for training, competitions, career education, etc. There are several former Olympians that work for the USOC, so it's fun to interact with them and hear their stories.”
Lee says that the sports industry can be a “pretty tough nut to crack,” but feels like she “can adapt, survive and thrive because of the liberal arts education” she received from Wittenberg.
“I love that Wittenberg encourages students to integrate academics, athletics and social pursuits,” she said. “Dabbling in several areas at once gave me a broader view of the world and allowed me to connect themes across my coursework and experiences. Business, and sports business in particular, fascinates me because of a similar integration of disciplines. You can't launch a marketing campaign without a solid understanding of your budget. Data analysis isn't useful unless you know how to communicate the results to key decision makers. And in sports, the most successful teams appreciate how their actions affect fans psychologically and sociologically.”
Working for the USOC was certainly a dream of Lee’s, but she admits that she’s still figuring out exactly which role and position would fit best with her skills and interests.
“Career-wise, I hope to become a manager soon so that I can do some of the teaching and mentoring that I enjoyed so much as a swim coach,” she said. “If I can encourage more kids to get involved at the entry level of sports while also helping athletes at the top be competitive on the world stage, I'll be happy.”