Growing up on the Qualla Boundary in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Natalie Welch did not imagine herself completely across the country running a sports business program at a private college in Oregon. But that is exactly where she is today.
Welch is an Assistant Professor of Business at Linfield and a key player in the school’s growing Sport Management program, which began in 2012 and will expand to include a Master’s Leadership Program in Fall 2021. She teaches Sport Management courses, advises undergraduates, coordinates student internships, and plans for the future of the Sport Management program at Linfield.
In addition to her teaching duties, Welch recently became the Faculty Athletics Representative, and the first woman to hold the position. Welch is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She has done extensive research on Native American athletes and Cherokee stickball, and hosts a podcast that features Native American athletes. She is also working to build relationships with the local Native community to promote Native athletes and Native issues on campus and in the greater community.
Welch shared her background and answered a few questions for SBRnet.
Q. Tell us about your educational background and your career before you came to Linfield.
I earned my bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in Sport Management before obtaining two master’s degrees in Business Administration and Sport Business at the University of Central Florida. I loved the big college experience and decided I wanted to pursue the business of sports, not the science.
After earning my master’s degrees, I interned as an event manager at the Disney/ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando. From there, I headed west to work with Nike’s Native American initiative, Nike N7, and later their advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy where I bought media and eventually became a producer.
Q. Then you went back to University of Tennessee?
Yes, I got my doctorate in 2019 before joining the Linfield faculty late that year.
Q. Update us on everything going on at Linfield?
We’ve been open for in-person learning since August 2020. We’re lucky that we’re small, able to test, and keep a relatively safe “bubble” Sport Management is a relatively new program. It started as a minor in 2012. Our first major graduated in 2019. It’s an interdisciplinary program that includes economics, journalism and health and human performance. We have 35 declared majors this year and will be offering a Masters Leadership Program that will start in Fall 2921. We’re a tight community, total enrollment of about 1600 students.
Q. What is your teaching philosophy?
I try and ground it in my experiences and provide the students with real world examples of what the sports industry is like. There are so many opportunities in sports. You can work at Nike and be an accountant or a product designer. We have an alum who started a sports turf company. It’s all about finding a niche that fits your interest and talents. Overall, we’re focused on professional development. We teach how organizations work and focus on practical matters like how to write a resume and a cover letter. We’re not for sports fans, we’re for students who work in the business of sports.
Q. You’ve also pulled in some of your graduates who work in the field to help teach. How does that work?
When we started a sports analytics class, we found an alumnus who works at Draft Kings. He co-teaches the class with me. I focus on the classroom aspects, and grades and assignments and he touches upon the real-world applications of analytics in business. The class has been a big success and will be part of our Master’s program going forward.