The University of Massachussets Amherst’s MBA/MS in Sport Management will celebrate its 50thanniversary edition in the 2020-21 academic year, and claims the number two spot in this year’s rankings. The programme also retained its place at the top of the Professors’ Choice category and tied first place for its alumni network, showing the esteem in which it is held by the industry and its students past and present. Associate department chair and graduate program director Steve McKelvey talks to SportBusiness about the course’s continued success.
What are your reflections on this year’s rankings?
Obviously, we’d love to be ranked number one, but we seem to go neck-and-neck every year with Ohio University, which is obviously a top-notch programme as well. Being second to them is no discredit to our programme at all. Finishing first among the Professors’ Choice is equally important, because it’s a statement of how our peers view us and what they think about the quality of our programme. To be ranked number one in that category for the past two years is something we are very proud of.
How was the past year experienced at UMass?
It’s been a huge challenge for us, as it has been for any sport management programme. We went to remote teaching right after spring break, and the benefit of that, given that our programme is going to be entirely remote this fall, is that we all got a little practice in understanding how best to deliver our graduate-level classes remotely. We still plan to have all of our graduate programme courses offered synchronously. The students will ‘go to class’ at their assigned times, and we have spent a lot of time this summer thinking about how to add value to that. We’ll continue to tap into our huge alumni network, bringing them into the classroom to engage the students in the classroom but also outside the classroom.
The pandemic has forced us to think about how we add value. One of the great examples is last spring, we hosted a series of panels with some alumni and some non-alums from across the industry. It was in part professional development, but in part it was just to help the grad students feel that they weren’t alone out there and give them some insights into what the industry practitioners were experiencing. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not something that we had thought of before the pandemic, and so we will continue those.
You also came out joint-top for your alumni network. How do you keep your alums engaged?
That’s great to hear. We know there are other programmes out there that have an extremely strong alumni network as well – any schools that have been doing this for as long as we have will have a pretty rich and broad and deep alumni network. One of the things we do is run an array of events around the year where we go to various industry conferences and have alumni gatherings, typically an alumni breakfast. We have a fundraising development team here within the Isenberg School of Management, and they put together events around the country to get alums together.
The panels that we did are another great example. When we posted out on Facebook to our alums, ‘is anybody interested in jumping on board and speaking to our current students’, we had a tremendous response, far more than we could use. Any time that we go out to our alumni, we always get very positive feedback. One of the biggest pieces where we engage our alumni is through our grad mentoring programme, which is now in its 15th year. That continues to be kind of a lynchpin of our course.
Do you feel the remote teaching you’ve been forced to adopt in the past few months is a long-term solution?
You’re not going to replace the value of the in-class, face-to-face teaching, particularly with the amount of group work, group projects, group discussion, case study work that we do. But I think it will lead to some extensions of the on-ground experience rather than replace it. Everybody, at least within the context of my grad programme, both faculty and students, can’t wait to be back in person. In the meantime, we’ll make the best of it we can, and try to think outside the box around how do we engage the students not only in the classroom but outside as well.