Orion Grad Kayci Woodley Takes Fast Lane To Career With NCAA

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Orion Grad Kayci Woodley Takes Fast Lane To Career With NCAA

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Kayci Woodley is a 2008 graduate of Orion High School. She attended Iowa State University and was one of 19 individuals to receive a prestigious postgraduate internship at the NCAA national offices in Indianapolis, Indiana upon graduating from ISU. After completing her internship, she shifted gears, literally and figuratively, by taking a position with sports marketing firm, GRand Solutions. After nine months at GRand, she returned to the NCAA full-time and is getting her first taste of March Madness as an NCAA employee.

Q: What has March Madness been like working at the NCAA? Are you allowed to cheer for Iowa State?
A: There is definitely a different vibe in the air during March Madness. It's an exciting time for everyone at the national office. We have internal events for both the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments and staff members are encouraged to wear school colors and cheer on their favorite team. Our conflict-of-interest policies we have in place would prevent me from making any professional decisions related to ISU, but office culture encourages us to be sports fans at the same time.

Q: What was your high school experience like?
: My high school experience revolved almost entirely around interscholastic athletics. As a three-sport athlete at Orion, I was always in season. I jumped from cross-country/volleyball into basketball and then into soccer. My high school was made up of about 300 students, so with that small environment came a natural closeness. The teammates I ran cross-country with were the same teammates I saw on the soccer field, and ultimately called my closest friends.

If I had to pick a specific game I remember most, it would be winning the regional championship in overtime my sophomore year (2006-2007) in basketball. We had no seniors, two juniors and eight sophomores, four of which swapped time between JV and varsity that year. No one thought we stood a chance to beat Sherrard for the title, but we never gave up and pulled off the win!

The things I remember most, though, are the long bus rides for soccer and the pre-game locker room dance we had for basketball. We always found a way to have fun, especially the soccer team. One season we only won two games, but it was still one of the best seasons ever because of the friends I became close with. High school really is the purest form of sport. Everyone is out there to have fun and that’s what we did. You sweat together, you bleed together, you feel pain together, and then you laugh together and become lifetime friends; at least for me that’s what interscholastic athletics was about.

Q: For many student-athlete, the thought of being able to continue working in athletics is very desirable. What were you involved in during college that help set your career course?
: Once I graduated from high school I knew I wanted, well, needed to continue to fulfill my passion for sports. The summer before my freshman year at Iowa State University I applied to write for the Iowa State Daily student newspaper. I got the position and ended up moving to campus before classes began to get started at the paper. I was the only female writer on the sports desk and got to cover the nationally-ranked Cyclone women’s basketball and volleyball teams. In my second year with the Iowa State Daily I became the assistant sports editor and had the opportunity to help others become better storytellers. My time with the student newspaper really was the foundation of my career. As a Journalism Major, working at the paper was an invaluable experience. My junior year I made the switch from the reporting side to public relations, working for the Iowa State athletics communications office. I spent the first year writing feature stories for Cyclones.com and correspondent pieces for the Big 12 Conference. By my senior year, I was the primary media relations contact for Iowa State’s most visible Olympic sport - wrestling. I was responsible for writing press releases, handling media availability and updating the website. I had the opportunity to travel with the team to every road dual and tournament, including the NCAA tournament. The experience I gained as the Cyclones’ primary contact allowed me to reach my post-graduation goal; which was an internship with the NCAA.

I was also a member of the Iowa State Club Soccer team for four years and took on many leadership roles during that time, including President my senior year. As President, I was responsible for team tryouts, managing practices, setting the season schedule and organizing transportation for road games. Once again, I found myself calling my teammates my friends and taking advantage of the opportunity to compete. I also participated in a variety of intramurals: dodgeball, volleyball, basketball, softball and flag football.

Q: You have been at the NCAA in two capacities, first as an intern and now as an assistant director. What are some of the most common misconceptions about the NCAA?
: One of the most common misconceptions about the NCAA is that we make the rules. The rules are made by the membership, for the membership. Our governance structure allows school administrators and athletic conferences to introduce rules and vote on proposals presented by their peers. Many people might not be aware of this, but the NCAA is actually a non-profit organization, and more than 90 percent of revenue is returned to member schools. The Association can be viewed in a negative light at times because the NCAA does enforce the rules that were put in place, but I would like people to view the NCAA as an organization that has student-athlete well-being as a top priority. The decisions the NCAA makes are in the best interest of student-athletes.

Q: You also spent time working with GRand Solutions, what was your role there and some of the highlights of the job?
: GRand Solutions is a sports marketing firm in Speedway, Indiana, just outside of Indianapolis and right across from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My role as a public relations coordinator there was similar to my role with the Iowa State wrestling team. I traveled to various races across the country and in Canada, writing stories, maintaining websites and updating fans on social media. GRand is primarily motorsports-based, so many of its clients are in the racing industry. During my time with GRand the staff size was only six – quite an adjustment from the 500 NCAA employees – but it was a good experience. The GRand team is unparalleled in the industry and I will always be grateful for my time there. With such a small group, it really felt like a family and we were always bouncing ideas off each other and being collaborative in every way possible.

Q: Your new job centers around social media. What is that role like on a day to day basis and where do you see social media going in the future?
: I just started my new role at the NCAA as Assistant Director of Social Media Strategy. Working within the communications group, my efforts include managing various outreach efforts and assisting in issues-oriented social media efforts. My goal is to implement strategies on our social media platforms that align with Association values and beliefs. Our social media team communicates and educates NCAA membership and national office stakeholders on issues surrounding social media.

The communications group produces Champion magazine, a quarterly publication, and we also post stories to our NCAA.org website. We want as many eyes as possible on these incredible student-athlete stories and social media is a great way to reach large, targeted audiences. Our social media strategy plays a large role in our overall communications strategy. In addition to promoting our in-house content, I spend a lot of time researching stories schools, conferences or other affiliates have produced. With more than 1,200 schools, conferences and affiliate organizations there is an endless amount of stories to be told and I get the pleasure of hunting those down and sharing them with others. Our student-athletes do some pretty amazing things and I help spread the word!
In the future I see social media becoming even more prevalent than it is now. My advice to anyone interestec in social media is to never stop being a student. The one constant in this field is change, and you have to be willing to adapt and continue to learn.

Q: What advice would you give to current high school students?
: If you are passionate about something, go for it! I have always been obsessed with sports, and competition in general, so that makes my job feel a lot more like fun and a lot less like work. The other piece of advice I would give is to network as much as possible. If you know of someone who holds a position you might like to have someday, don’t hesitate to reach out to them and pick their brain about their career path and how they got there. That’s something I did at Iowa State and while I was an NCAA intern. I have probably sat down with 50 different people by now and asked them about their career path, how they got there and why they wanted to work in their particular field of interest. After many years of doing this, I have yet to be turned down! So don’t be afraid to reach out to people and introduce yourself. Chances are they will be happy to grab a cup of coffee or have lunch and help you in any way they can.

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