ACPE alumna, Sarah McDonald, completed a Bachelor of Health and Movement (Sport) in 2016 and then went onto complete the Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Administration in 2018 with ACPE. Having been an active student who made the most of the services available to her on campus, Sarah is always looking to continually learn and develop in a professional setting. Sarah is a perfect example of how ACPE students can maximise the services available to them, to best prepare for the career journey that lies ahead! Having gained experience with multiple organisations both as a student and as an ACPE alumna, Sarah displays her passion and commitment to the sporting sector on a daily basis. Currently working with the GWS Giants as the Membership Operations Executive, we were lucky to touch base with Sarah as part of our ‘ACPE Alumni Game Changer’ series.
- What is your name and what year did you graduate? What did you study at ACPE?
Sarah McDonald, I studied a Bachelor of Health and Movement (Sport) and graduated in 2016. I also went back and studied in 2017 with Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Administration, which I completed at the end of 2018 and graduated in 2019
- Why did you choose to study with ACPE?
Ever since I was younger, I have always participated in many sports, athletics being my main sport, running at a state and national level. I just knew I wanted to have a career in sport, I attended a career expo day in my early years of high school and saw ACPE, I knew straight away that was the place for me. It was all about sport and mixing with others who were passionate about sport and wanting a career in sport just like you. I never ever looked at another educational opportunity after that day. I was determined to go to ACPE as it was everything I was looking for when it came to study and finding a career in sport.
- What are some of your standout memories from your time at ACPE?
I loved the social life of ACPE, if there was a social event, I was always there! This really made ACPE experience more enjoyable getting to know people from other courses and forming friendships. University Games both Eastern (NSW) and Australian were such a standout as well. It was great to get to know more and more people and spend the whole week together. Again, you form new friendships and get to know a lot of the people who attend ACPE, it’s something that is special as a lot of other universities are quite big, while ACPE is small. I had a lot of success at university games in my Oz tag team, 1x 2nd place in 2014, 3rd in 2015 Wagga, 3rd in 2016 Wollongong. I also was team Captain for ACPE at the Australian University Games in Perth 2016 and Captain ACPE Oz tag team in 2017.
- Looking back at your time as a student, how did ACPE help you get to where you are today?
For me it was the extra services that ACPE provides you. In your first year having extra support on your English and Maths is helpful after going from a High School standard to a higher Education standard. I also think having teachers who knew your strengths and weaknesses definitely helped, always giving me ways to improve on skills or knowledge that I was struggling with. I also think the ACPE Careers team is very important as I gained my first internships through them. This set me up for gaining more internships and casual positions before I landed my first fulltime role in 2017 with the NRL Fan Relationship Management Department.
- What were your main focusses as an ACPE student? How did you balance your social commitments such as university games with professional commitments such as internships?
For me I juggle a lot at times, trying to work when I could, play sport, hang out with friends as well as study and attend classes. For me, I believed in having a schedule that you need to stick by every week and keeping the same pattern throughout the semester. If I had a class on Monday with breaks in between I would be straight into the Library starting an assignment and getting an idea of what I needed to do. I would then create a draft and give it to my teachers showing them what path of the assignment I was going down, getting their feedback on what areas I should be improving on to be able to get the best mark possible. I always tried to put internships first during the semesters, especially with all the holiday breaks we get while you are studying. During the holiday breaks I always worked my casual jobs, so I could go down to 1-2 shifts a week and focus on my study and internships during each semester. I always used my training at the gym or preparation for university games and sport as my breaks away from the books. This really helped me clear the mind and then allowed me to come back to the books with a clear head. I would recommend putting together a monthly calendar with everything you need to lock in e.g. study, classes, work, internships and then look at spaces you are available for social events. Don’t leave assignments or exam studies to the last minute, it’s a lesson you will learn quickly!
- What has your career looked like since leaving ACPE?
In March 2017 I successfully landed a fulltime role at the NRL working in the Fan Relationship and Engagement department. Here, I was providing services in Membership & Group Tickets Sales with Fan Experience packages representing the Rabbitohs. At the end of August 2017, we got the news that we will be moving our roles into club land, so I was successful in a gaining new role at the Rabbitohs as the Membership Sales Executive. February 2018, I shared my time between membership and corporate assisting with major accounts, looking after minor accounts, dressing the change room and stadium with corporate signage. In June 2018, a new position with more responsibility was given to me in the membership department, Membership Operations, Sales and Events Executive. Early March 2019, I got a phone call from my old boss from my first job in the NRL, talking about a possible opportunity at the GIANTS AFL Club. By the end of March 2019, I entered the door of GIANTS HQ and landed a Membership and Ticketing Executive role! I now have more of a focus in the operational sides of the departments which I am really enjoying. I am looking forward to growing my career further at the GIANTS.
- What advice would you have for any ACPE students reading this and wanting to break into the sports industry?
Experience is key, a piece paper is great but getting an internship and a foot in the door is even better. I got my first fulltime job because of how well I did in my internship. An internship is a way for you to understand the industry in a whole different light, it gets you to realise what you actually want to do and where you want to go. A lot of sporting clubs and industries will look for experienced individuals who know how things work and how systems work. Most clubs will look at their interns for positions, so when you go into an internship act like it’s your full time job, put the time and effort in because people are always watching you and seeing if you can fit into position within in there department.
- Where does Sarah McDonald want to be in her career in 10 years’ time?
I would love to see myself in a Head of Consumer role. However, I would love to be a COO or CEO one day, maybe I will even be the first female CEO of the GIANTS!
- What have you learnt through working in sport through COVID19?
Working through a pandemic is very challenging, due to a lot of things being out of your control and not knowing what the future will look like for yourself, your sporting code or your club. The AFL put a halt on the 2020 season back at the end of March and for me I got the heartbreaking news of being stood down over a small period until the fate of the season was decided. Mid May the AFL recommenced games which allowed me to return when required, however as crowds started attending games again, I was able to gain work and be apart of the skeleton staff. We are still not back in the office so the few days a week that I work are from home. It is very different working from home than from being in the office with a all your co-workers who you chat to, laugh with and spend a lot of your time with. It has been 5 months since I last walked in the doors of GIANTS HQ, it will 100% be a very bizarre feeling walking back in there once we get back to an almost normal life. For me the most important part I have learnt during this pandemic is when you work in sport is such a special experience, not many people in Australia get to do what you get to do, it’s such a rewarding career path. I have also learnt how privileged I am to work in such an amazing club like the GIANTS. It’s going to be a hard road to follow to get to the other side of this pandemic, but I am so determined and passionate to do everything I can to get things back on track and get back to the level the clubs once was pre COVID-19.