Master’s alumnus lands role at UK Special Olympics
Ben Matthews, who graduated from MA Sport Development, has been on a placement with UK Special Olympics and as a result of his work with them has recently been offered the full-time role of project officer.
We caught up with Ben to find out more about this exciting role.
Where did you study before Solent University?
I am originally from Brentwood, Essex but received football (soccer) and academic scholarships to attend the University of Jamestown in North Dakota, USA. I studied there for four years and gained a bachelor’s degree in Health and Fitness Administration with Minors in Business and Marketing. Following graduation, I worked for a year before returning home.
Why did you choose to study your master's at Solent?
I chose Solent for various reasons. One reason was because I had family connections in Southampton and had always enjoyed visiting Southampton. Solent was also the most cost-efficient university that offered the master's degree I was after. Solent also had a very good reputation for its sport courses.
How did Solent and your lecturers help you with your placement with UK Special Olympics?
I previously worked as a volunteer for Special Olympics out in the USA for five years and so I wanted to work at the Special Olympics UK. I found it difficult to find the right contact to enquire to, so my course leader, Henry Dorling kindly facilitated contact with Lawrie McMenemy MBE who is the President of Special Olympics GB. From there we discussed the possibilities and I was able to gain work experience with the organisation.
How did your studies help with your career and knowledge?
I think my studies at Solent offered me a great foundation of knowledge into the sporting industry and the complexities that exist within it. My master’s degree in particular has helped me to think much more critically, and has developed my skills to take a step back from problems and situations to see things from a different viewpoint that without studying this course I may not have been able to do.
Could you tell us more about how you got your new job?
Throughout the last six months I had been completing my placement with Special Olympics Great Britain. I had only had the chance to work at the national office in London on two occasions before Covid-19 came about and lockdown was enforced. Luckily, the national office staff wanted to work with me and facilitated my placement to make sure I could still complete it virtually. I actually found that completing it virtually allowed me to take more ownership over certain projects and, due to the increased amount of team calls, it allowed me to meet more staff and really have meaningful conversations with them. I was able to dedicate more of my own time to the placement than if it had just been physically in the office. My work throughout my placement was recognised by the team and when a position became available I was invited to apply for it. Following the application and interview processes I was selected for the role. Without the placement I doubt I would have been able to gain this role.
What do you enjoy about working with the organisation?
I have always had a passion for sports and the sporting industry. Being a part of something bigger than yourself is what has always driven my motivation throughout playing sport and now wanting to get into the sports business and management industries. The Special Olympics is a global movement that is transforming the lives of those with and without disabilities through sport. I love how impactful the organisation is on the people it provides for, and how it stands for so much more than just sporting competition. The local, regional, national and international events are huge and I can't wait to experience that first hand; however for me, the movement that is the Special Olympics allows me to use my passion for sport to apply it in a more meaningful way.
What are your hopes for your work in your new role?
In my new role I hope to develop relationships and steward those relationships with corporate partners to provide them with amazing engagement opportunities with our amazing athletes. I hope to experience all different areas of the organisation and gain experience on various projects around fundraising, partnerships, network development and communications. I hope to continue to progress within the organisation as time goes on.
What is your favourite memory of being at Solent University?
In all honesty my time at Solent was fairly short due to Covid-19, however my favourite memory would probably be playing for the volleyball team. It was a sport that prior to Solent I had only ever played recreationally, and Solent offered me the chance to play in a competitive league. It was a sport I had always thought I could play competitively, and it was great to be able to do that.
What advice would you give other students hoping to work in a similar career?
My advice to other students would be to not worry or be afraid about stepping on people’s toes, or whether you are persisting too much with trying to gain a placement or a job. The CEO of Special Olympics GB said to me after gaining the role that there were a lot of people who applied for the same job who had much more experience than me, however it was down to my work ethic and hustle to get the initial placement and the work I put into the unpaid placement that put me high above the other candidates. People do business with people, so make sure you can show your true self and work ethic. If I hadn’t persisted, I wouldn’t have got the placement and therefore wouldn’t have got the job.