TAR HEEL INTERNS AT NIKE LEARN JOB SKILLS WHILE BUILDING A CAROLINA CONNECTION.
By: PAT JAMES / Photos by: JEFFREY CAMARATI
Two years ago, when Drew Pedersen was a freshman on the North Carolina track and field team, Chris Madaffari first piqued Pedersen's interest.
Madaffari, then a senior on the cross country and track and field teams, was preparing to enter his second straight summer in the Nike Summer Internship Program, centered at the company headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. He and Pedersen often spoke about the program.
Then last fall, when Lauren Moody, a redshirt junior on the cross country and track and field teams, returned from her Nike internship, Pedersen became sold.
"I was just talking with her more and more," said Pedersen, a junior pole vaulter. "Then I just kind of developed more of an interest in (the Nike internship) after doing a lot of research on the athletic market and the athletic apparel market."
So he applied for the 2018 program. And after a competitive interview process that took place over the winter, he learned in early March that he'd be following in the footsteps of Madaffari and Moody, as well as those of several other UNC student-athletes who have interned with Nike.
Nike's contract with Carolina athletics includes two summer internship spots each year for qualified student-athletes. Aside from Madaffari and Moody, others who have recently participated in the internship are Luke Ciocca (2017, men's soccer), Ronnie Schneider (2017, men's tennis), Jarrod James (2016, football) and Mike Jacobs (2015, men's cross country and track and field).
This summer, Pedersen will be joined in Beaverton by Ryan Macri, a redshirt senior on the men's lacrosse team. Pedersen said he will be a strategic operations and technology intern, a role in which he'll focus on solving problems involving manufacturing or between different teams, among other issues.
"Working at Nike is a dream job," Pedersen said.
Most people would say the same. And that's why Pedersen said much of the interview process featured questions about what fuels his passion for Nike.
To answer those, Pedersen said he pulled from his own athletic background.
When you put on a pair of Nike shoes or Nike track spikes, you feel a sense of eliteness or you get a sense of courage for it, a little bit of power," he said. "Throughout my athletic career, when I've put on different running shoes or different spikes or different football cleats, they gave me that extra boost, that extra courage.
"I felt like if I was wearing Lance Armstrong shoes, I was going to train my hardest; it gave me that courage and that extra effort. That kind of led me to a lot of that passion of helping inspire people through their products."
In many ways, Pedersen's thinking aligns with Nike's mission statement of bringing "inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." (Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman said, "If you have a body, you are an athlete.")
Since accepting the internship, Pedersen said he's received advice from Ciocca and Moody. He's also been in contact with Madaffari, who joined Nike full-time after graduating from UNC in December 2016.
"I don't know if there's a better place to intern for a student-athlete than Nike just because of its reputation as a great employer," said Madaffari, who serves as a Nike ambassador and marketing expert in Boston in his position as an Ekin – Nike spelled backward.
"At the end of the day, if you're getting your work done and you know how to do a great job, you can train two hours a day during lunch and you can come back and get your work done. That work-life balance of being able to pursue my passions in sport and still having a great career setup was what made me want to work for Nike."
At Nike, Madaffari said employees take a lot of pride in the colleges they attended. And as an intern, he noticed how the veteran employees, a majority from West Coast schools, helped interns from their alma maters.
He said he didn't feel like much of a UNC connection existed. So he made developing one a priority when he joined Nike as a full-time employee.
"(Coordinator of Student-Athlete Career Development) Dana Gelin had helped me so much throughout the process that I realized I didn't just want UNC people to have to fall back on her," Madaffari said. "And so I kind of made that a side goal that, ‘Hey, if I do end up getting a full-time job, one of my goals is going to be to make UNC as big of a deal on this campus as Oregon, Oregon State or Stanford.'
"That was something I was just very passionate about. Once I did get the full-time offer, my next goal was, ‘How do I get more UNC kids to end up here?'"
Pedersen said he'd love to make a good enough impression that he, too, could receive a full-time offer from Nike once he graduates. But that's not his only goal.
Enrolled in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Pedersen is a business administration major with a minor in entrepreneurship. Still, like many of his fellow classmates, he's not exactly sure what he wants to do with his life after graduation.
Pedersen said he's interested in many fields, including consulting, sports, aerospace and entrepreneurship. Last summer, he was a student associate with the aerospace and defense team at LORD Corporation, a diversified technology and manufacturing company headquartered in Cary that develops adhesives, coatings, motion management devices and sensing technologies.
So as he looks forward to this summer in Beaverton, Pedersen said he's eager to learn what he'd like and dislike in a future job. And he feels prepared for whatever awaits by his time at UNC.
"I think if I went to a different school, I wouldn't have been challenged as much and I wouldn't have been pushed as much," he said. "UNC has allowed me to see what I can be and kind of pushed me toward it."
As of now, that's as yet another student-athlete who will carry the UNC banner at Nike.
"It's an honor, and I think it makes me want to work even harder to keep the reputation going, keep the partnership and the connection there for people coming behind me," Pedersen said. "So there's a lot of excitement with that, and I guess a little bit of pressure. But I think it's really cool because I'm able to reach out to Chris or Lauren or other athletes and just say, ‘Hey, I'm a UNC athlete. You were, too.'
"It's just an instant connection and an instant friendship or mentorship."This story appeared in the APRIL 2018 edition of Born & Bred
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