Shifting the Spotlight to Divya Odayappan!

By Nicola Karasik

This week, let’s meet our VP of Event Planning, Divya Odayappan!

Q: How would you describe your journey?

A: It has definitely been a pretty interesting road to get here: I started out as a biomedical engineering major, though I didn't really know what I wanted to do. From there, I had to try new organizations, classes I wouldn't normally sign up for, etc. to figure things out. I am so grateful for my past experiences and STEM classes because they have provided me a very unique perspective.

Q: How did you get into sports?

A: I remember as a little girl I was watching the Patriots win the 2004 Super Bowl, and since then I have loved watching football. My parents are also avid Red Sox fans, so I naturally started following baseball as well.

Q: Who is your role model in the sports industry?

A: Walter Payton -- a man who knew that with his unique position came the responsibility of giving back to his community. He realized that a person's purpose is much greater than fulfilling professional goals.

Q: What professional experiences have you had in college thus far?

A: In the summer of 2017 I was a public policy intern at Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group on the 21st Century Transportation Campaign in Boston. Specifically, I spearheaded a project to push the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to change its reliability metrics on its website, and I later co-authored a report showcasing my findings. The report was published in October of 2017 by the MASSPIRG Education Fund and covered by The Boston Globe and Fox 25.

In the fall of 2017, I interned part-time at the Obama Foundation in Washington, DC, where I got to work on the People Team directly with senior staff to implement and solidify a uniform hiring process for the Foundation. More importantly though, I became a champion of the Obama Foundation’s mission to empower citizens to change the world. Additionally, I fell in love with the mission - to inspire and empower people to change the world - and I, myself, was inspired by the people who were furthering that mission, including Valerie Jarrett, David Simas, and President Obama himself.

This past summer I worked on the University Relations Team at Fidelity Investments in Boston. I helped the team spearhead an employee onboarding transformation project in an effort create a uniform onboarding process for all Fidelity Associates. I gained a true appreciation for the financial services industry and am so grateful for this experience.

I am currently interning in the office of Congressman Joe Kennedy III from my district (MA-04), and have had the opportunity to develop greater insight into the legislative body of this country. These internships have been vastly different in their scopes and my duties, but I have met fantastic people who have given helped me shape my identity and future goals.

Q: If you’re pursuing a different industry besides sports, why did you join SBA?

A: I am studying international affairs and economics because of my interest in policy, but since I came to college and developed a more fundamental understanding of the world, I realized the importance of sports and recreation. The sports industry has a remarkable ability to bring all types of people together, and this unity is really important, especially right now.

Q: What is your dream job?

A: While I don't know exactly what career I want to have just yet, I do know that I want to serve marginalized populations. Whether that is by engaging in social service, trying to pass legislation, or starting for a non-profit organization - we'll have to wait and see! I hope that in the next few semesters, I can gain experience in the different fields I am interested in and figure out what the right fit for me is.

Q: What does helping marginalized people and those who don’t have privilege mean to you? How did this become your mission in life?

A: Being the child of immigrants, I have always been wary of how lucky I am to grow up here and have a lot of opportunities that most people in the world don't have. When people are struggling to make ends meet or facing daily hardships, they don't have the capacity, time, or ability to follow their dreams - and I believe that everybody should have that opportunity.

Q: What is something you wish you had known about going into the industry before college and applying to internships?

A: It's not always about my GPA or the classes I’ve taken. It’s about my values, and my ability to learn and adapt.

Q: What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

A: The realization that I have a purpose to fulfill.

Q: What is something unique that you have to offer to the industry you want to pursue?

A: I have had various professional experiences in both the public and private sector, and I have taken numerous STEM and non-STEM classes, providing me with a well-rounded perspective.

Q: What are you actively doing that will further advance you to achieving your goals?

A: I’ve made it a point to read a lot - about people and issues that have been controversial so that I can get an unbiased perspective on various global issues and form my own opinions, which will help me grow into a professional who can speak with conviction and passion.

I have read "Dreams from my Father" by President Obama, and I am reading "Dear Madame President" by Jennifer Palmieri, but I have spent an even greater time listening to podcasts. My current favorites are "How I Built This with Guy Raz" by NPR and "The Axe Files with David Axelrod" by the Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN. I especially like the Axe Files because David Axelrod masterfully interviews people across the political spectrum - from Cory Booker to Mitt Romney to Anthony Scaramucci - and is able to reveal their life stories, in a way that mainstream media could never do. This makes people whose ideas I don't agree with seem more human, in a sense, because I get to understand their background and why they have certain views. This is crucial in breaking down stereotypes and reducing polarization.

Q: Do you see sports being a part of your future career?

A: Yes, maybe not in how others picture sports playing an important role in their career. I want to engage in public service in some form, and specifically, I want to bring people of different backgrounds together, and I think sports is one of the most important unifying factors that can help defeat political divisiveness.

Q: What is one thing people should definitely know about you?

A: I really like to do things with purpose. When I feel that there is an underlying importance, I produce my best work.