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2017 Alumni May 2017

George Killebrew ’85: Helping SMU students break into the big time

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By Bindu Varghese
SMU

Connor Kolodziej ’19 was so excited about his winter break externship that he was up by 5:30 a.m. so he would be early to the office of George Killebrew ’85, executive vice president with the Dallas Mavericks.

Kolodziej didn’t know what to expect going in. He just knew a chance to work in a sports organization was something he’d always dreamed about. Dallas’ five professional sports teams had attracted the Atlanta, Georgia, resident and lifelong sports lover to SMU, where he is majoring in applied physiology and sport management in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. So it made perfect sense to pursue a one-day opportunity to get an inside look at the business operations of a legendary team.

SMU sophomore Connor Kolodziej ’19 and SMU alumnus George Killebrew ’85 at American Airlines Center. Kolodziej job-shadowed Killebrew, executive vice president with the Dallas Mavericks, and his staff during a winter break externship that “exceeded my expectations.”

Little did he know then that it would land him a three-month summer internship with the team.

SMU’s Hegi Family Career Development Center connected Kolodziej with Killebrew, who’d received his BBA from the Cox School of Business. “When I found out George was with the Mavericks, I was very excited,” says Kolodziej. “The day exceeded my expectations. I understood the daily operations. Everyone was friendly and happy, and that really encouraged me about my future.”

“It’s actually a simple thing,” says Killebrew, who is also a member of the SMU Alumni Board. “Anytime someone comes in, whether it’s for a summerlong internship or a day’s externship, we want to make sure they get a full flavor of the organization and the different business roles within. A lot of people see the Mavericks and think about the basketball piece of it. But we’re over in a warehouse in Deep Ellum. We’re selling tickets and sponsorships and merchandise. Connor came in and spent pretty much the whole day with us. My whole staff took time with him. So everybody had 30 or 45 minutes with him. We’re always trying to help out – especially someone who wants to get into sports.”

Kolodziej values how the externship helped with his longer-term career aspirations. “I got to make new connections and meet new people who didn’t go to SMU. It also helped me see new aspects – so it broadened my horizon about where I’d like to go in the future.”

He parlayed his winter externship into a summer internship by “staying in contact with George and everyone else I talked to during my winter externship. You never know what is out there unless you ask.” In assisting the Mavs’ corporate sponsorship team this summer with promotions and programs, Kolodziej hopes to gain deeper insights into sports organizations and continue to “learn as much as possible.”

Killebrew, who grew up in Hawaii, credits his SMU education and SMU connections to getting him where he is now. “I was a bit sheltered growing up on an island. When I got to SMU, I met people from all different walks of life, all 50 states and a lot of foreign countries. That really helped prepare me for the real world.”

After graduation, Killebrew worked in the SMU Alumni association for two years, then “I got a job in the Athletics department at SMU. So I was working for the Mustang Club, which opened the door to get me here to the Mavericks – because the people at SMU were helping me take the next steps.”

Killebrew encourages others to take advantage of SMU alumni connections. “There are so many resources, in the city of Dallas and within the SMU alumni community, that you can pretty much accomplish anything you want, regardless of your field. Alumni are willing to help. They just need to be asked.”

Kolodziej appreciates how SMU is helping him pursue the career of his dreams and emphatically recommends the externship experience to other SMU students. “I loved the whole day. I learned so much. SMU has a great connection with alumni, and George pushed home the importance of networking and meeting new people, especially as a student in college. And the most important thing I learned is to find a good place not just to work, but also to enjoy what you do.”

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Categories
Alumni

SMU Needs Your Time, Talent And Energy. Volunteer Today!

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Alumni, parents and friends of SMU have extraordinary opportunities to shape the life of the University as volunteers. Whether it’s sharing professional expertise, hosting a gathering for area Mustangs or encouraging prospective students to enroll, SMU volunteers not only energize connections across campus but also extend the University’s legacy of success. Here are some ways to become involved no matter where you live.

SeRVe (Student Recruitment Volunteers)

SeRVe volunteers assist with the University’s recruitment efforts in their local areas. These alumni volunteers represent SMU at local college fairs, correspond with prospective and admitted students, and attend events for prospective and admitted students. In 2015-16, 85 alumni covered 71 college fairs in 60 cities, 21 states and three countries. Nearly 200 of these Student Recruitment Volunteers also contacted 1,528 admitted students and encouraged them to enroll at SMU.

Dana Cassell ’03 of Raleigh, North Carolina and Ali Morgan ’92 of White Plains, New York enjoy sharing their perspectives on the Hilltop with prospective students in their regions.

Dana “fell in love with advertising” at SMU, earning a bachelor’s degree in the field from Meadows School of the Arts. She credits professors who taught her “how to solve business problems and challenges through creativity and strategic thinking” with helping her achieve success as the owner 37 South Consulting, a brand strategy and digital marketing firm. She represented her alma mater at the Raleigh National College Fair in Raleigh in March.

No matter where they live, alumni can support SMU as volunteers.
Whether they host a gathering for area Mustangs or share insights and information with prospective students, alumni volunteers serve as the SMU’s ambassadors around the globe.

“I spoke about the benefits of going to a private university, the diversity of degree programs offered, the study abroad opportunities and the value of being located in a city like Dallas,” she explains. “The families and I talked about how the depth of the collegiate experience at SMU strengthens character, expands horizons and delivers an incredible education.

“Most of the representatives from other universities were staff and not necessarily alumni,” she adds. “It was such an authentic platform for me to be able to talk from my own personal experience and share my SMU story.”

Ali also found his career passion at SMU, a fact he’s anxious to share with future Mustangs. He grew up in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, where he was an athlete, scholar and actor. A teacher encouraged him to consider SMU – Ali’s paternal grandparents and other family members lived in Dallas – so he made an audition tape and was accepted as a theatre major. He plunged into campus life and was active in Multicultural Student Affairs and a host of other student activities. He also continued to sharpen his skills on the intramural fields.

In the theatre department, the more classes he took, the more enamored he became of teaching.

“There wasn’t a formal theatre education program, but I was able to piece one together,” he says. “I ended up student teaching at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where I directed a piece. It was a really awesome experience.”

Today all the interests he honed as an undergraduate converge in his position at Rye Country Day School, an independent K-12 school in Rye, New York, about an hour away from New York City. He serves as as the director of diversity and inclusion, teaches drama and coaches middle-school tennis.

When he makes calls to prospective students from New York and Connecticut, Ali is quick to point out that he discovered “the best of both worlds – theatre and education” at SMU.

SMU Connection

SMU Connection volunteers have the opportunity to provide career mentorship or advice for alumni or students and to participate in a job-shadowing externship program over winter break and in May. In 2015-16, more than 100 students were matched with alumni for externships.

Tricia Linderman ’91, executive vice president of recruiting and corporate communications at Texas Capital Bank, shared her time and expertise with psychology major Lauren Gonzalez ’16 as a volunteer with the SMU Connection externship program over winter break. An externship can help students discover job options they may not have considered, Tricia says.

“Initially, Lauren thought about going to law school, but had recently decided to pursue a role in human resources. I told her that employment law is a fascinating area where she could combine both her passions.”

For consultant Matt Samler ’04, who hosted business major Taylor Press ’18, the volunteer experience allowed him “to give back to SMU in a more personal way and help a student in the process.” Matt serves as vice president of site selection and location economics for JLL, a commercial real estate services and investment management firm. He believes the externship program is “a great way for students to expand their professional network, which will help lead to employment opportunities when they graduate.”

Spending a day on the job can be revelatory as students consider career possibilities, says Sandy Speegle Nobles ’75, director of education at the Momentous Institute, which provides educational and therapeutic services for children and families. She was shadowed by psychology and sociology major Melissa Kraft ’19.

“Knowing how we are building and repairing social and emotional health in children growing up in poverty was a good fit for what she is passionate about studying at SMU,” Sandy says. “She was able to walk away with an understanding of what we do at the intersection of education and mental health.”

Chapter Leadership and Activities

With active SMU Chapters across the globe, there are plenty of ways to connect with Mustangs in your city. Chapter leaders commit to planning and hosting at least two events per year with the support of the SMU Office of Alumni Engagement.

Laurie-Leigh Nix White ’07, senior vice president with BVA Group, a nationally recognized litigation, valuation and financial advisory firm, has served as chair of the Houston chapter since 2011.

“SMU gave me the connections I needed to land a great job, and when I moved to help start the firm’s Houston office, getting involved with the alumni chapter helped me build out a network. I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity to meet and get to know so many great people.”

Megan ’06 and Karl Dunkelman ’05 joined the Orlando, Florida chapter when they relocated from Dallas. Megan, a public relations consultant who has worked with professional golfer Annika Sörenstam and other high-profile clients, hails from the Orlando area. Karl is a senior digital producer and production manager for Lightmaker, a global digital agency that develops websites and apps. They’ve served as chapter co-chairs since 2012.

“We loved our time at school and felt a really strong connection to SMU,” Karl says. “When we moved to Orlando, we wanted to get involved in the community and meet more people who shared that passion.”

The Mustang bond is strong, regardless of class year, he says. “Some of our older alumni aren’t able to make it back to Dallas very often, so we enjoy letting them know what’s new, and it’s interesting to hear their stories. It’s mind-blowing how much has changed and how SMU just gets better and better.”

CONNECT with SMU

Update Your Information connect@smu.edu

Attend Events smu.edu/attend

Find A Chapter Near You smu.edu/chapters

Volunteer smu.edu/involved