Meet Keirra Tillery, a 2014 graduate of Full Sail University’s Sports Marketing & Media bachelor’s degree program. The very first on-campus graduate of the program, she now works as the Coordinator of Special Events at Special Olympics Florida.
“I grew up playing sports,” she says. “My mom was a runner, and my dad played basketball and ran track. But I’m an only child, no siblings. With sports, I had sisters, I had brothers, I had people to play with. Track was my life. I also did cross country, basketball, and volleyball.”
With her love of sports established early on, there was no doubt in her mind that she’d grow up to pursue a career in it. Figuring out exactly what kind of career, however, required a bit of trial and error.
After high school, she spent a few semesters at a traditional college in South Carolina, but decided it wasn’t for her. “It just kind of bored me,” she says. “I then got accepted into a different college in Florida, and on the drive down, I saw a billboard for Full Sail’s Sports Marketing program. I stopped by, took a tour of campus, and just fell in love with it.”
While attending Full Sail, Keirra sought volunteer opportunities within the community to apply her passion and further expand her skills. “When I first got to Florida, my only experience was in little high school jobs. So I went out and volunteered. That not only provided me the chance to give back, but it also allowed me to prove myself and network, and to add things to my resume.”
“Not having a job or an internship isn’t a good excuse for having a blank resume,” she says. “Especially for someone living in Orlando. There was always something to get involved with.”
Keirra joined Special Olympics Florida in July 2014, after holding staff positions at both Daytona Motor Speedway and the City of Orlando.
At the nonprofit, she works closely with the organizers of races like RunDisney and Ragnar Relay, helps oversee events like Special Olympics Florida’s annual Jack in the Park fundraiser, and manages the organization’s online peer-to-peer campaigns. She also sends out personalized thank-you notes in response to every gift and donation she receives.
The biggest challenge in her position, she says, is finding new fundraising opportunities. “Special Olympics is well-known, but it can be difficult to find people who actually have the passion and drive that aligns with us, and want to see our programs grow.”
The most rewarding part of her job, though, is seeing the impact that Special Olympics has on its athletes. “It’s amazing to see how much athletes grow after only, say, a year in the program. Our athletes range from people with mild intellectual disabilities to others who are unable to leave a wheelchair, and can’t do things most of us think of as simple activities – like tying our shoes or saying ‘hello.'”
“Watching our athletes get out, try new things, and refuse to quit, it’s just amazing. It’s daily motivation.”
To learn more about Special Olympics Florida and Keirra’s role in the organization, check out this exclusive interview.