O Heroes Finds a Change-Maker in the Oregon MBA
Matt Geschke is a classmate of mine in the Oregon MBA program and he is helping to change the world using the power of sport. As the Graduate Teaching Fellow of O Heroes, a registered non-profit organization inside of the university’s athletic department, Matt is using his experience as a change-maker to grow a pilot program that has the attention of many in the collegiate athletics community. It’s been interesting to me to see the approach Matt is taking to the job because I spent 7 years working inside of the University of Central Florida Athletic Association and I witnessed the influence student-athletes can have in a community if they get involved.
I took some time to ask Matt, a former NCAA basketball player and team captain at Johns Hopkins University, more about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it so that we all can understand more of the positive things our school helps student-athletes to do when they aren’t competing for championships.
Matt, what would you say O Heroes is about?
O Heroes provides an opportunity for student-athletes to serve their community in various ways from helping in the 4J school district to working with Special Olympians. O Heroes is a collective effort by the student-athletes and athletic department to be active members of the Eugene/Springfield community.
How can O Heroes do good in the world?
The impact that sports, especially athletes have on society is very powerful. We are seeing it right now with the excitement around the football team. If we can harness that influence in a positive way and use it to develop both the student-athletes and the community then you have something that is very compelling.
How did you get involved?
I have always been a believer in using sport for social change and was lucky to have an opportunity to travel to South Africa to work for an organization called PeacePlayers International. PPI uses basketball to educate children and their communities on social issues like HIV and AIDS. I was able to see the power of sport first hand. When I arrived in Eugene for school, I wanted to continue this work and O Heroes was a natural fit. My hope would be for every college and university to have an O Heroes type program.
How are you approaching your role as the GTF for O Heroes?
My job is to develop programming that is impactful for both the student-athletes and community, that is important to the student-athletes, and will work within their busy schedules. I would like to bring up the importance of community service for student-athletes to where it is part of their athletic and academic work.
What do these athletes accomplish when they participate?
I think the experience is two-fold. They receive the satisfaction of working with the community and positively impacting others lives as well as a realization of their position as a student-athlete for the UofO and how they can use that to help others. My goal is that student-athletes will develop a social conscious through O Heroes and will continue to participate in community service well beyond their years at the UofO.
How can these athletes make a difference in ways the typical student can’t?
Yes, because of their position as athletes gives them a different level of excitement when they show up to a school or hospital. In the short term it is exciting, but the key is to develop a way to ensure there is a long-term impact on both the community and student-athlete as well.
What is a common misperception on why they participate?
People think that they do so it because they have too or that it helps with marketing the program. Additionally, people see community service as a punishment for bad behavior and this is not the case.
Would it be fair to say that this introduces some athletes to a sense of community that they might not have experienced before?
Absolutely, at first the student-athletes are a little tentative, but once they realize the impact they can have and how much fun this can be, they are all asking to do more events. It is especially important for freshmen who are new to the Eugene community. It offers them a chance to interact with people and organizations that they will see over their next 4-5 years.
What are your hopes for growing O Heroes? What will that take?
The new athletic director, Rob Mullens, uses the term “communiversity” and O Heroes is a tremendous platform to be an active participant in the community. This past term O Heroes participated in 21 events with over 750 hours of community service by the student-athletes. In order to continue to grow this, we need committed student-athletes, coaches and staff to engage in the events. We are working on ways to increase our funding so we can do events that have a deeper impact on both the student-athletes and the community. We need to educate the community about O Heroes and what it is doing. Finally, we will look at ways of expanding outside of the Eugene/Springfield community to areas where there are Ducks fans in need.
How are you trying to get the buy in from coaches, administrators, and ultimately the players?
This is our challenge, given the busy schedules of all those involved, we look for events that are already developed and we can plug-in the student-athletes. For example, we were able to partner with the Special Olympics during one of their bowling practices. We had 26 student-athletes with the 50+ Special Olympians. It was a fantastic day. Additionally, we need to make sure the first time student-athletes participate in a O Heroes event they have fun, they tell their teammates and we get them to continue to return. This year the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has developed its own O Heroes committee that will help with events and participation. That has been a great addition.
How is the MBA helping you approach your role as the GTF of O Heroes?
I use what I learn in school on a daily basis. Whether it is building a marketing plan to increase brand awareness or developing a strategic plan for the next 2-3 years, I am constantly using the skills from the classroom. Given my lack of business background before arriving in Eugene, it is very satisfying to see the obtained knowledge paying off immediately.
Are you applying lessons and theories from your graduate studies when designing O Heroes strategies?
You can use them all, from SWOT to Porter and everything in between. The MBA helps you to think critically and problem solve at a lot quicker pace then ever before.
At the end of the day, what is it about for you?
Nelson Mandela said, “Sport has the ability to change the world like little else can.” This is my mantra and O Heroes can be a huge part of that change in Eugene as well as all over Oregon.
To find out more about O Heroes or to get involved, click here to visit the official website. Images courtesy of GoDucks.com