Southeast Missouri State University senior Melissa Stephens of Jackson, Missouri, said her dad’s guidance as a passionate NFL football fan is paying big dividends.
He used to joke that the only way he would be able to marry off his three daughters would be to teach them to watch NFL football, she says.
Fast forward a few years, and it appears his mentoring may be taking shape … just a little different than he had imagined. Now one of his daughters is not only an NFL fan but also an intern with the Baltimore Ravens as Melissa completes the final leg of her degree at Southeast.
“Seeing the work that some of my favorite players do in their communities off the field made me really curious about the individuals who work alongside the players to assist them with their outreach programs. The idea of working in a professional sports organization to give back to its fans is what led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sport management from Southeast with the hopes of one day working in the Community Relations department of a team,” Stephens said. “It was this goal along with a lot of hard work and persistence that got me to where I am today.”
She recalls sprinting home from church every Sunday as a child along with her sisters to catch the first NFL game of the day on television.
“My sisters and I became huge NFL fans from a very young age,” she said.
That tradition planted a seed that has blossomed into a passion for a career in sport management.
“As I neared my senior year, I knew it was my last chance to gain an internship in the professional realm of sports, so I began bookmarking nearly every professional team’s hiring website that you can think of,” Stephens said. “I applied for probably around 80 different jobs and internships. I found the Ravens internship online and submitted my application materials like hundreds of others. As I went through the interview process with the team, I fell in love with the Ravens and their outreach programs, which really helped me in my interviews. It was about a month-long process, but in April I got my call telling me that I was going to the Ravens.”
Now in Baltimore, Stephens is working in the Ravens’ Community Relations department. Her main responsibilities focus on responding to the needs and requests of Ravens fans in the Baltimore area. She sends fan packages with Ravens swag, care packages to fans facing adversities, and donation items to help benefit local nonprofit groups. She also helps arrange player appearances and events where Ravens players give back to the community.
“So far, I have been a part of the Days of Taste program which promotes healthy eating habits to elementary school students and the Ravens’ Rookie Roadtrip in which we took our Rookie players to serve dinner at a local homeless shelter,” she said.
As the summer progresses, her duties will turn to preparing for the upcoming NFL season, which will begin with Training Camp in July, an experience open to fans wishing to get a jumpstart on the season. During training camp, she will schedule community groups to sit in on practices and assist with media covering the camp.
When the season gets into full swing in August, players will participate in outreach initiatives across the Baltimore area.
“I will be helping to coordinate these activities, as well as taking photos and writing recaps on the events that the players participate in,” she said. “A lot of my time will also be spent working to research and organize programs like the NFL’s Community Quarterback initiative that recognizes outstanding volunteers in each team’s community and rewards them with a financial donation towards the charity of their choice.”
Working in Community Relations with the Ravens revolves around working with team players, several of whom she already has met, including Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley.
“But I think my favorite moment so far has been meeting Brandon Williams who is also a Missouri native,” she said. “He grew up in Kirksville and graduated from Missouri Southern State University, so it was really neat getting to exchange stories about some of our favorite things from back home.”
While her year-long internship is just beginning, Stephens’ biggest take away so far has been the importance of sports organizations serving as positive leaders in their communities.
“Whether it is something small like mailing an autographed item for a fundraiser, or taking players to visit local hospitals, everything the Ravens organization does can make a huge impact on our fans,” she said. “I get thank you letters in the mail every day from groups sharing how our organization helped to cheer up a loved one, or raised funds for a great cause, and that is by far one of my favorite parts of my job. I am very excited to see the ways in which our team continues to give back to the city of Baltimore before, during, and after the NFL season as my internship progresses.”
Meanwhile, she also is absorbing all she can learn from many talented staff in the Ravens organization.
“I work very closely with three amazing women in the Community Relations department, as well as some great individuals across all areas of the organization,” Stephens said. “It has been great learning from others who started in the sports industry with skills similar to mine and seeing how their knowledge and love for this field has grown throughout their careers. I am thrilled to have so many great mentors within the Ravens organization and cannot wait to soak up a lot of advice and knowledge while working with them.”
Ultimately, her overriding goal, she says, is to take away from this internship a new appreciation and love for the sports industry.
“Each experience that I have had working with different organizations has taught me new skills that are important to thriving in the world of sports and I know this internship will be no different. Through this Community Relations internship, I hope to become an innovative leader who can think critically in order to best serve the needs of the organization and community I work in to the best of my ability.”
Her collegiate career has produced a highlight reel of career-building experiences. In summer 2015, Stephens worked as an intern for the Frisco RoughRiders, a minor league baseball team in Frisco, Texas. She has been employed for four years by Southeast’s Athletics Department, has been named Sport Management Major of the Year, placed at the Phi Beta Lambda 2017 State Leadership Conference competition for her presentations in sport management and marketing and contemporary sports issues, and was the Community Service director of Phi Beta Lambda. She also has served on the Health, Human Performance, and Recreation Honors Society and the University Athletics Advisory Committee.
When her internship with the Ravens comes to end, Stephens said she’s already considered her next goal.
“I want to keep learning and growing in a Community Relations role, so that someday I will hopefully be the director of Community Relations for an organization and continue to serve others through my career,” she said.
Stephens plans to graduate from Southeast in August with a Bachelor of Science in sport management and a minor in business administration.