For the fifth time in history, the Tampa Bay market played host to one of the world's biggest events this month. Super Bowl LV took place on Feb. 7, 2021 and several Saint Leo University students had the opportunity to volunteer for a few events leading up to the big game and on Super Bowl Sunday.

Coveted Connections for Saint Leo University Students

Saint Leo University proudly has connections to top leaders across a number of industries, including sport business and international hospitality management. The industry councils for several of the university's degree programs are comprised of leading executives in various fields.

According to Dr. Dene Williamson, an associate professor of sport business in the Tapia College of Business at Saint Leo, she and her colleagues have made an effort to engage with community sport business leaders.

"We have all sport properties in the area represented on this council," Williamson says. "The members are always eager to assist students with class projects and provide some unique industry insight. In fact, Dr. Leon Mohan's class recently worked with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a project, and the students got to sit down with some of the top executives with the Bucs organization at their headquarters."

The council also includes Saint Leo University sport business alumni Michael Farrant and Brittany Cesario.

"My colleagues and I have all worked hard to build these important relationships," Williamson says. "For us, this is one step further than simply networking. These are contacts in the field we are grateful to call friends."

In terms of the Super Bowl, the faculty members worked for over a year to ensure some students would be able to participate in various events. They partnered with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee.

"The Tampa Bay Sports Commission is such an amazing organization, and they've done great work in making it a priority to bring some major sporting events to the Tampa Bay area," Williamson explains. "The commission has been instrumental in bringing our students into the fold and connecting them with unique opportunities."

In the past, Saint Leo students have assisted at events like the NHL All-Star Game, college football national championship game, Frozen Four college hockey championship, and several major concerts.

Lisa Urban, the director of the community ambassador program for the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee, helped get the Saint Leo students registered for assisting with several events leading up to the big game.

"As a host committee, we rely on local college and university students to make events like this a success," Urban says. "The Super Bowl LV Host Committee had the pleasure of working with students from Saint Leo University. I enjoyed getting to see the students in action and providing them with unique, real-world experience. We are thankful for their participation in making Super Bowl LV the best it could be."

Saint Leo University is also the exclusive educational partner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"The Super Bowl is right up there as one of the top-grossing, single-day events in the country," Williamson says. "To have this event in Tampa and with the Buccaneers in it and our partnership with them, this has just been amazing. I couldn't have been more proud to be part of this whole experience."

Student Perspectives on Helping at the Super Bowl Events

Anthony Valentine, a 19-year-old freshman from St. Petersburg, FL, is an alumnus of Boca Ciega High School. His desire for a career in athletics led him to Saint Leo.

"I chose Saint Leo University for college because of their sport business degree program," Valentine explains. "I want to pursue a career on the business side of sports. I'd love to work in the front office for a Major League Baseball team someday."

He is a student in the BA in Sport Business program. Thanks to Dr. Williamson, he got to volunteer at Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl LV.

"I signed up and got a call back after a few days. They accepted my application."

Valentine says he got a tour of the stadium from the service level and also got to check out the locker rooms for both teams.

"It was pretty cool to see the Bucs and Chiefs locker rooms," he says. "I was also amazed at how much there was going on at 8 a.m. when I first got to the stadium and the game wasn't starting for another 10 hours."

He directed guests from a VIP event on where to enter the stadium and the fastest way to get to their seats. Based on his observations, there were significantly more Bucs fans in attendance, but Kansas City still had a nice showing of supporters.

He explains what he took away from the experience.

"I learned a lot about how much work it takes for an event like this to be put on."

Vineet Shinde, also 19, is a sophomore sport business major who came to University Campus from Sanpada, India, a suburb of Mumbai. He learned about the university at an event for American universities that was held near his hometown.

"I knew I wanted a sport business program," Shinde explains. "Saint Leo University is close to Tampa, and there are also lots of professional sports teams in Florida. Plus, I knew that they had a relationship with the Bucs and other teams in the area."

A member of the Saint Leo men's track and field team, Shinde is also part of the Sport Business Association. He recalls that there was a meeting in the fall with the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee through which he registered to assist with some events.

He initially had three shifts he worked at Tampa International Airport. He directed incoming visitors on where to find the rental car and ride-sharing pickup areas, baggage claim, and other locations.

"I saw a lot of Kansas City fans coming in," he says. "But I also saw a lot of Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and New England Patriots fans. A lot of them said they had purchased Super Bowl tickets expecting their teams to be in the big game or they wanted to see Tom Brady play. I also met a few healthcare workers from out of town."

Along with his airport duties, he worked two shifts at Raymond James Stadium on the day of the game, helping direct staff who were working the event on where to go.

"I was excited to be able to be there for such a big event," he confides. "I really liked getting a behind-the-scenes experience and seeing how everything works."

Before the game kicked off, he checked tickets and directed fans to their respective sections. He was in the stadium during the game but watched it on a TV screen.

"Couples and families got to sit together, but they had each group social distanced and they had the cardboard cut-outs in many of the rows between groups of fans."

Shinde says he enjoyed lending a hand to the fans and he was thrilled with the feedback he received.

"I really like helping people out. Plus, the event managers told me that I was doing a good job and that they really appreciated my help."

According to Shinde, cricket is the most popular sport in his home country of India, but he follows European soccer and is a big fan of Liverpool FC.

"I'd love to work for a pro soccer team or a soccer training facility," he says.

In addition to sport business students, a few students from Saint Leo University's BA in International Hospitality Management degree program got to pitch in. One such student was 19-year-old freshman Angelina Maguire. She recounts her journey to the university.

"My dad helped me research a bunch of schools with hospitality degree programs," she recalls. "I was looking for a school with smaller class sizes and a close-knit community. My parents and I fell in love with the campus."

A graduate of Williston Middle-High School, she says her advisor, Dr. Judy Holcomb, helped connect her to the opportunity. She had two shifts at the airport in which she helped direct guests. At Raymond James Stadium, she worked on the service level and directed those arriving to various areas. She got to talk with some members of the CBS Sports crew covering the game, including some former NFL players.

"I got to see them take the tarps off the field, set up lighting, and everything else that goes on," Maguire says. "It was really nice to be part of a happy and energetic environment like this, especially with COVID-19 and how it has impacted so many events."

She says she walked away with a whole new perspective.

"I had never done anything to that level of volunteering. It goes hand-in-hand with a hospitality career. It was a very insightful experience into what goes on in planning an event. I love being able to help people."

It meant so much to her to be part of such an historic event.

"My whole family was excited for me. I didn't expect to be selected. Being there on game day felt kind of surreal, and it made me feel like I had an important role in this event."

She also believes the university's partnership with the Bucs is valuable.

"It's really cool that we are partnered with the Bucs. I think that relationship helps us in so many ways."

Along with the airport and stadium, students assisted at the Super Bowl Fan Experience held along the Tampa River Walk.