Kait and some guy that Penn State football fans might recognize.

Ever since I can remember, Penn State football Saturdays have been a staple of my life. Heck, we even crowded around the television to watch the Nittany Lions take on Miami at my mom’s wedding reception. When it came time to pick a college, it was a no brainer. Pitt and Delaware just could not offer Beaver Stadium or Joe Paterno—Penn State was my number one.

I did not get football tickets my freshman year due to such high demand, but that only fueled my fire to be a part of “The Greatest Show in College Football” more. I sent an e-mail and placed a call to almost every single name I could find under the athletics directory on the football website. I was a naïve freshman who looked past the 42,000 other students at University Park’s campus and instead of thinking “Why would they ever hire me?”—I thought, “Why wouldn’t they hire me? I have four years to become a pro.” At the time I felt desperate, but looking back I see dedication.

Almost two weeks went by before I heard anything and I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed. I finally received a call back from Mr. Fran Ganter, the Associate Athletic Director for Football Administration, and I felt like I was walking on air as he told me to stop by the office. I met with Fran that afternoon and he asked me to begin coming in during the afternoon hours to help him out and see how the office was run. Oh, and I would not be getting paid or receiving credit. It didn’t matter to me—I left the office with a huge sense of accomplishment.

As far as Penn State football is concerned, I have never had a more enriching experience. I have worked there for free, for credit, and for money, but I’d trade all of that in for the amount of knowledge I have gained. Since that first day with Mr. Ganter, I have had the chance to work with many individuals in the football program, each giving me something new to add to my skill set.

As junior year loomed over my head, I knew I needed to really think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Immediately, I recognized I wanted to work in an environment similar to what I had been used to at the Mildred and Louis Lasch Football Building. Unfortunately for me, I did not realize that cold-calling professional football teams and major sports networks was not as easy (or welcomed) as it had been for me at Penn State.

I had never felt opposition to females in sports jobs like I did when I began the job hunt. I applied to any job I could find, and, believe me, I’ve heard everything from “You don’t exactly have the qualifications we’re seeking” to “Well, the last girl that did this job was awful”. Needless to say, I was pretty adamant about proving everyone wrong.

Fall semester 2010 I was sitting in a public relations class listening to a Penn State alumni, Rob Boulware, talk about his job experiences and I was finding myself zoning out until he mentioned one small detail: his job with the Pittsburgh Steelers. My interest was piqued—I needed to talk with this guy one-on-one. I copied down his e-mail address and sent him an e-mail as soon as I got back to my apartment after class. I wasn’t even expecting a reply; this was the CEO of Ground Communication at FedEx, after all. I was in disbelief when I got not only a reply, but an invitation on LinkedIn and a phone number to talk about career paths!

Through a series of conversations and e-mail exchanges, Rob was able to point me in the right direction—a Penn State alumni who worked for the NFL. I had hit the networking jackpot. Take that, misogynists!

Like my initial phone call with Mr. Ganter, I was nervous as I dialed Mr. Mike Signora’s phone number. There is definitely a sense of community amongst Penn Staters and I felt it right away. I was at ease as we casually chatted about football, graduation, and Penn State. I knew I had a trip to New York City coming up and Mr. Signora invited me to stop by his office. An invitation just to stop by the NFL office in NYC?! Deep breaths, Kait. I’m not sure what I even replied to that, but it must have been yes, because the next thing I knew I was walking down Park Avenue en route to a meeting.

I had zero expectations for this meeting—I was more or less thrilled I was even allowed to step foot in the building. It was the peak of all my hard work through college and I wanted to soak in every moment. For all inquiring minds, the building and offices are beautiful—everything I would have pictured in my head and more.

Like our phone conversation, Mr. Signora and I talked like old friends. He told me exactly how he got into the business and gave me tips for doing the same. I left the NFL offices that day with a feeling of pride and sense of triumph. Oh, and a 10 day public relations volunteer position at Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, Texas. I wanted to write every sports firm and company I had talked to a letter that simply said, “I did it.”

And you can too. Keep the following things in mind and you, too, will be well on your way to following your dreams.

1. “Do what you love, the money will come”—Something I heard around my house A LOT growing up (thanks, Mom!), but it’s true. Work for free, take advantage of receiving credit for internships, and most importantly, always remember that you’re not going to start out as CEO.

2. Network. I am lucky that Penn State offers an amazing networking system and huge alumni association, but that’s not just at Penn State. Use your resources while they are available to you. In a career like sports, it’s who you know and how they can help you. I am eternally grateful to the entire College of Communications staff, Penn State Football staff, Mr. Rob Boulware, and Mr. Mike Signora.

3. Update your resume as often as possible. Did you volunteer at your local soup kitchen? Intern as a groundskeeper at a hotel? Put it on there! Employers love to see well-rounded individuals, so get involved.

4. Don’t get discouraged and stay passionate. If I stopped looking for opportunities after my first “no”, my aspirations would not reach very far. Don’t be afraid to fight for what you want. This is YOUR life.

5. Do your research. Know what you’re talking about when you call companies and know what they’re expecting or looking for in a prospective employee. An employer will be impressed if you know their company’s goals or that they won the Consumer Agency of the Decade award in 2010.

Kait Sawyer is a senior majoring in public relations at Penn State University. She will update USA TODAY College readers on her Super Bowl experience soon. In the meantime, check out her blog and Twitter feed.

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