SMBA 20 Valedictorian Shares Graduate School Journey

July 1, 2020

At the end of May, the SDSU Sports MBA program within the Fowler College of Business held its virtual graduation celebration for the Class of 2020. Congratulations to the future sports business professionals in the graduating class! 

During the virtual celebration, Jenn Gerdes (SMBA ‘20) was honored for earning the title of the Class of 2020 SMBA Valedictorian. Recently, the SDSU Fowler News Team interviewed her about her graduate school journey and why she chose to enroll in SDSU's Sports MBA program.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from and where did you get your undergrad degree? 

I grew up in a small rural town in Northern California. Wanting to experience something very different from that, I chose to move across the country to New York for college. I attended NYU, where I studied sociology and had a very transformative experience studying there.  

Q: After completing your bachelor’s degree, you worked in the Middle East, what influenced you to move there, and what were some of the highlights of that experience?

I leaped at the chance to move to Abu Dhabi directly after college because of the opportunity and adventure ahead. NYU Abu Dhabi was about to welcome its first class of students from around the world to attend NYU’s first international four-year degree-granting campus and I was offered a position to help shape the student experience. What started as a one-year commitment lasted six; the opportunity to learn something new every day was just too great to pass up and I loved being a part of a start-up. 

Professionally, the highlight of my time there was leading a team that created and executed a week-long celebration for students and their families that accompanied graduation. Personally, the ability to travel the world and the incredible group of friends I made while living there have left a life-long impact on me.   

Q: What made you choose the SDSU Sports MBA program?

After working in international higher education for eight years, I was ready for my next career adventure in a new field. Once I decided I wanted to pursue a career in sports business, I started researching graduate programs and quickly found the SDSU Sports MBA program to be the most compelling. Two of the major reasons, in addition to the strong ranking of the program, were the networking opportunities and the flexibility that the MBA degree would afford me in the future. 

At the time, I knew very few people working in sports and knew that would need to change if I wanted to pursue my dream career. Through the SMBA program, I've connected with alumni across the country, volunteered at countless events in Southern California, and attended conferences and symposiums, all of which have greatly enhanced my network.

In terms of the MBA, while I’m currently focused on pursuing a career in sports business, I’m always looking for the next challenge. If in 10 years I want to switch careers again, I don't want to feel like I have to get another graduate degree to do that. Having the solid business foundation of an MBA degree will serve me well wherever life takes me. 

Q: Were there other programs you were considering? If so, what made the SDSU Sports MBA program stand out among the rest? 

Yes, I considered a number of top-ranked programs. As part of the application process, I had the opportunity to meet with our program director, Scott Minto, and it was during our conversation that I realized how important the small cohort experience would be to my growth. The small cohort meant that at SDSU’s Sports MBA, I would not be just a student ID number; I would be a part of a small group of students, faculty, and administrators who would be personally invested in my success. Now on the other side of things, I can confidently say that has been my experience in the program.

Q: Do you have a favorite memory from your time within the Sports MBA program? 

I know I’m not alone in saying that our international case study trip to the Dominican Republic was a highlight of the program for me. During the trip, we visited a number of MLB academies, the league offices, volunteered with community organizations, and even spent a day with Sandy Alderson. Personally, I was really impressed by all of the preparation we did leading up to the experience and how my time there served to deepen my understanding of the role and impact baseball has on the Dominican Republic from a multitude of perspectives. 

Q: What was your favorite class and/or favorite professor and why? 

I honestly do not have a favorite because what I really enjoyed about the curriculum was just how much I was able to learn across so many different areas of business in a short period of time. Whether it was finance, marketing, accounting, organizational behavior, or business intelligence, I walked away from each class with a new understanding and a broader skill set. 

Q: The Sports MBA Program is known for its industry guest speakers. Was there one or more that really stood out to you? 

Definitely. There were so many incredible professionals that gave us their time and valuable insights. It’s really hard for me to narrow it down, but two were especially impactful for me:

  • Shana Gritsavage Ferguson (SMBA ‘07), Chief Commercial Officer at USA Swimming, spent two days with us to teach a special seminar on integrated marketing, but she also took the time to meet with me one and one during her visit. I took a lot away from that conversation, especially about having the confidence to believe in yourself as a woman looking to work in sports. 
  • Lisa Jenkins (SMBA ‘06), Vice President, Account Leadership at CSM Sport & Entertainment, also spent two days with our class to help us develop our job search, networking, interviewing, and negotiating skills. I have used a number of the strategies she shared with us throughout my job search and found them incredibly helpful.

Q: The Sports MBA program is also known for its robust network of alumni. How have program alumni helped guide you or impacted your career?

I was really surprised at just how generous alumni have been with their time. They have so much going on in their careers and lives and yet so many have been willing to help me with my journey. They’re provided pivotal advice like “focus on the job function you want over the specific sport or organization you hope to work for,” they have introduced me to colleagues in their network, and recommended me during the interview process at their company and with colleagues at other companies. Having now been through the program, the alumni network stands out to me as one of the biggest strengths of the program.

Q: You were able to volunteer for several local sports events while in the program. Did you have a favorite event? If so, why did it stand out? 

I was able to be a part of so many great events that it’s hard to just pick one, so I’ll pick two! 

  • Mexico Men’s National Team Match vs. Chile: I was able to shadow the Partnership Marketing team for two days, including during the match. It was great to see everything that went into servicing the partnerships on the tour.
  • Steve Nash Foundation Charity Shield in Los Angeles: We had the opportunity to work with the Foundation’s Executive Director in the leadup to and during the event and she was exemplary of the type of leader I hope to be one day.

Q: You held a unique position and served as a Graduate Assistant for the program while in the program. Are there some frequently asked questions you’ve encountered for prospective students that you’d like to share with others? 

I think my favorite question to answer is, “What can I be doing now (i.e. in the months leading up to the application) to make my application stand out?” My answer is always to start learning as much as you can about the business side of the sports industry: listen to sports business podcasts, start following sports business Twitter, take advantage of all of the free webinars that are out there right now, and start conducting informational interviews with folks in the industry. Your effort now will not only improve your application by showing your commitment to the industry, but it will help you make the most of your time in the program should you be accepted.

Q: Any advice you would have for current and/or future Sports MBA students about making the most of their time here?

I really believe that the more you put into the program, the more you will get out of it. Certainly, this is the case with coursework, but it’s for everything outside of class. The more time, energy, and commitment you put into networking, volunteering, preparing for guest speakers, and taking on consulting projects, the closer you will get to your ultimate goal of working in sports.

About the SDSU Sports MBA Program:

The SDSU Sports MBA program is an intensive, accelerated MBA degree focused on the dynamic business of international sports. The program provides its graduates a thorough understanding of the skills crucial for professionals to succeed, while building a broad network of relationships in the sports-rich landscape of Southern California. Visit to learn more, request information or apply to the Sports MBA program. 

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