Every two years, the world comes together through the Olympic Games. Athletes from all walks of life showcase their talents to the world while inspiring millions on the biggest stage in sports.
In the United States, people wear their red, white and blue with a little more pride than an average day. They are glued to their TVs at all hours of the day, waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite sport or the up-and-coming superstar they keep seeing on social media.
But what most fans don’t see are those working behind the scenes – the people that make Team USA what it is and help get those American athletes onto the podium in Pyeongchang, Tokyo or wherever the world is focused on that year.
These people make up the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). And at the center of the USOC is the United States Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
For six days and five nights in May, this was home to 12 graduate (four online strategic communication and innovation and eight mass communication) students from Texas Tech. They immersed themselves in the Team USA experience by staying at the USOTC and learning from the team behind the team.
As part of the study away Maymester class, the College of Media & Communication students heard from USOC officials across various departments, including communications, marketing and strategy and business consulting.
While learning from members of Team USA, students also participated in a case study challenge – working in groups to develop a strategic communication plan the USOTC could roll out to ensure tourists kept the destination in mind with the opening of the United States Olympic Museum (USOM) approaching.
At the end of the trip, each group presented their plans to a panel that included USOM CEO Chris Liedel and members of the marketing and communication and strategy and business consulting teams. But it was more of a pitch than a presentation – a time to showcase all they had learned in the short week and the skills they could bring to the table in a room full of potential employers.
Texas Tech graduate students and assistant professor of practice Jody Roginson participated in the Team USA Experience in Colorado Springs, Colorado in May.
Getting to Colorado Springs
The process of participating in the Team USA experience began long before students heard about the class.
Jody Roginson, assistant professor of practice in the College of Media & Communication, first had the idea of getting students involved with the USOC through Bob Condron, a Tech alumnus and former USOC director of media services, she said. When he came to Lubbock in 2017 for the CoMC National Advisory Board meeting, they went to dinner with other members of the graduate faculty and spent the evening talking about their various roles in sports throughout the years.
“(Associate Dean of Graduate Studies) Dr. (Coy) Callison has been asking me to look for an opportunity like this and ever since 2017, we’ve been talking about this would be the perfect place to go first,” Roginson said.
After that, Condron put Roginson in contact with Cole McKeel, the manager of the sport business development department with the USOC. The original plan was to build a media relations class with Condron and spend time visiting his home in Colorado Springs and touring the USOTC, Roginson said.
When she first started talking with McKeel, she learned that he and his staff are in charge of the Team USA Experience and everything it entails. Roginson jumped on board and they spent the fall working together to get administrative approval for Tech to be the next university included in the program.
The class ended up as a three credit hour study-away trip, with time spent completing activities and projects online before and after the group’s time in Colorado Springs.
“It’s easier to study abroad in many colleges because they have the infrastructure for that than it is to study away,” Roginson said. “But once I figured out, ‘Oh my gosh, we can get all these speakers and do an actual case study and present to real people,’ my job was easier with our worldwide learning people and all the people at Tech.”
As the spring semester approached, McKeel passed Roginson along to Cecelia Bolin, a coordinator in the sport business development department. Bolin said her role in the Team USA Experience is to build the itinerary, including all the speakers students hear from throughout the week.
While there are some sessions every group participates in while in Colorado Springs, such as USOC 101 and development, Bolin said the rest are based on what each group’s discipline is and what will help them with their case study. Building the list of speakers starts by prioritizing who she, and potentially the professor, feels the students need to hear from. Those get scheduled first then the rest fill in the gaps.
Cecelia (Cece) Bolin, sport business development coordinator, speaks to Texas Tech students to start the Team USA Experience.
The hardest part of making these trips and classes happen is all the favors she has to ask for, Bolin said. In the month of May alone, seven schools participated in the Team USA Experience. That meant she was asking some people to come and talk once, if not multiple times, each week.
Bolin is also instrumental in working with the professor to plan the case study challenge. When she and Roginson started talking through what the challenge might be for the Tech group, Roginson said she trusted her completely to handle everything and get it all worked out.
“I’m so glad I did that because if you look at the sheets of all of our speakers, I’m not sure I would’ve appreciated the anti-doping guy. I would’ve appreciated the words alumni relations,” Roginson said. “But can you imagine if we hadn’t done the Air Force tour? Or even heard from what ended up actually being more a direct of ops position. So that was great.”
Where Olympic Dreams are Made
The trip started on a high note with the group getting a VIP tour of the USOTC. The rest of the week was filled educational sessions, group meals, networking, explorations around town and work for the case study. Highlights for many included a trip to the Broadmoor, a tour of the Air Force Academy’s athletic facilities, visiting the USOC headquarters and a tour of the Olympic Archives.
As Roginson and Kristi Gilmore, assistant professor of practice and director of the online strategic communication & innovation program, were planning their part of the trip, they initially thought of making the evenings workshops rather than free time, Roginson said.
They thought this would help ensure groups were on the right track and provide more insight and direct feedback. They ended up leaving the evenings free for students to work together or go do other things they felt would be beneficial for them and their project.
She wanted the students to give it their all without her interference, she said, and didn’t want to intrude too much.
“It was clear that most of you really appreciated the trip to the Broadmoor or the time you had to just be you and talk about ideas,” Roginson said.
Snow covered the USOTC Monday night through Tuesday morning.
The first full day of the trip, the group from Texas got a full spring in the Rockies experience. The rain that had fallen throughout the day turned into snow that quickly covered ground. The weather canceled the group’s trip to Garden of the Gods and made for a cold – and sometimes wet – week, but it didn’t damper their spirits.
“Honestly, I don’t feel cheated,” Roginson said. “When you look at all the things we heard about and talked about and got to tour, it’s like no one else is gonna get to tour the archives the way that we did.”
A surfboard with Team USA athletes signatures sits in the United States Olympic Archive.
Texas Tech Pride
When groups come to the USOTC, Bolin said she will see if the professor or anyone knows about alumni that work with the USOC and try to include them in the schedule. When it came to Tech, those connections were easy to find.
Roginson knew she wanted Condron to be included at some point in the trip, she said, and talked to McNeel and Bolin about adding him to the schedule. He helped spark the idea of taking a class to the USOTC and she said they both wanted the students to spend time hearing his stories and soaking up his knowledge.
However, Condron was supposed to leave early in the week for Pebble Beach to work with USA Golf, Roginson said. He ended up having wrist surgery which kept him in Colorado Springs and allowed him to be part of Tech’s trip.
Bob Condron takes a picture with Curry Wilson during his visit with Texas Tech students during their trip to Colorado Springs.
As the week went on, the connections back to Tech continued to grow. On Tuesday the group toured the archives at headquarters downtown. The guide was an intern in the archive department named Sarah, a Tech graduate student working at the Museum of Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
“The high point for me as just a person who loves the Olympics was clearly the archives tour,” Roginson said. “And that it was a Tech graduate student from the museum was just another stroke of luck that just made me feel so proud of my institution.”
Sarah, a Texas Tech graduate student and intern at the United States Olympic Archive, gave Tech students a tour of the archives.
Later that afternoon, the group video chatted with Brian Gordon, USOC senior vice president of marketing and media. He ended up on the schedule because Bolin knew it was his alma mater and sent him an email with Texas Tech in the subject line as she was finalizing plans for the week. She said he responded right away and agreed to do it.
“Apparently when Brian saw that Texas Tech was coming, he just signed up and said, ‘I want to do this,’” Roginson said. “I don’t think he does those all that often.”
He spent an hour talking with students about his experience in Lubbock, within CoMC and his career. He shared what helped him in his professional endeavors, starting with getting involved at Tech. He also asked them where they wanted to end up and offered advice on how to get there, including leaning on other Tech alumni.
“Tech is up there, well represented. Some of that is because of Bob and Brian, and some of that is just because we have great alumni who want to go out and do things,” Roginson said.
Tech is up there, well represented. Some of that is because of Bob (Condron) and Brian (Gordon), and some of that is just because we have great alumni who want to go out and do things.
A True Team USA Experience
It’s hard to describe the trip and everything it entailed concisely. There are the obvious phrases – once in a lifetime, eye opening, life changing, powerful and everything in between – but those don’t necessarily capture it all.
The week was all of those things and then some. It was something everyone involved will carry with them forever – holding an Olympic torch, talking with department leads and senior vice presidents, presenting to a CEO and being a part of Team USA.
Texas Tech and CoMC granted students the opportunity to build a network and get hands-on experience out of the classroom from the people who work at the highest level.
“Because I’m your instructor of record and you see me all the time, it isn’t as meaningful as when you hear them from a Bob Condron or a Brian Gordon or a Sarah who’s touring us through the archives,” Roginson said.
Those of us on the trip know these chances don’t come around often. Roginson said it best:
“Personally, I think all education should feel like this.”
Texas Tech students got to see the collection of Olympic medals and torches at the United States Olympic Archive during their tour.
When asked what advice he would give to other graduate students, especially those in the online program, contemplating going on the trip in the future, Anthony Riojas said not to let fear or stress keep you from jumping in.
“It was somewhat intimidating to register for this type of course as an online student. I didn’t know anyone who was participating and I hadn’t met a single Texas Tech professor in person. The experience at the USOTC is something that can never be replicated,” Riojas said. “Partaking in this course was amazing not only for the experience of working with the USOC, but also this course created a feeling of connectedness to Texas Tech and pride in being a Red Raider.”
Those sentiments hold true for any student – those on campus, just starting graduate school or non-sports fans. This experience can’t be replicated in a classroom and it’s something not many get to be a part of. If students have the opportunity to go in any capacity in the future, they should jump at the chance.
Overall, the trip was filled with hard work, stress and knowledge that will last a lifetime – a true Team USA experience.
© 2019 TTU Team USA Experience group