Alisha Reynaldo took an unconventional approach to get her job with the Atlanta Hawks.

The scene was the annual Portland Trail Blazers career fair, and the panel of speakers Reynaldo and other job seekers had been listening to had just finished. There was a mad rush to the booths where potential employers—from organizations like the Portland Timbers and Adidas—were waiting.

Only no one was hiring. The lines at the booths quickly grew to 20 people deep, Reynaldo observed, but none of the attendees were hearing what they wanted to.

As their frustration grew, Reynaldo found another route: she targeted one of the speakers on the panel.

“I said, ‘You know what? I’m very interested in a position. Right now I have a background in sports, communication and business. I think I would be wonderful with your organization,’” she says. “He gave me an interview on the spot.”

“When it was over he told me, ‘I’m going to be your agent. You will work in the NBA. I will find a team that will hire you.”

He had the power to do that, too. The man who decided to champion Reynaldo’s quest to work for a sports organization is the director of sales for the NBA, the WNBA and the D League.

Now, Reynaldo, who is set to graduate with a degree in speech communication and a minor in business and entrepreneurship, is making plans to move to Atlanta—to work at what Reynaldo calls her “dream job.”

The position, Group Sales Executive, will have Reynaldo combining her passions for interpersonal communication, sports and business. She’ll be working with groups like corporations, schools and nonprofits to sell packages that let them do more than just go to an NBA game and leave. Reynaldo will be selling box suites in Philips Arena, for example. She’ll also be selling what she calls “experiences,” for Hawks fans.

“If it’s a band group from a school, they can come and be the halftime show during a game,” Reynaldo says. “Or if they want to meet the players, we can do a meet and greet after the game.”

Cool Confidence

The opportunity Reynaldo created for herself came not just from her ability to be cool on the spot. It came from years of hard work and carefully tending to the leadership opportunities that came her way.

When Reynaldo worked for United Way in Salem, she was in charge of what is called “Days of Caring,” for which she signed up local groups and businesses to volunteer on different community projects.

“I was 19, everybody on my committee was at least 30 or older, and they were all very established in their careers. And I was the one leading that committee,” she says. “Everybody was really kind, and acted like I could do it. It showed me that I could be a leader.”

When she got to Oregon State, after getting an associate’s degree and working for several years in leadership roles in community organizations and in hospitality, Reynaldo found a mentor in speech communication professor Judy Bowker.

“Judy Bowker has been a huge support for me. She has basically told me that I can do anything I want to do and has set me up to help make a difference in the communities I am a part of” Reynaldo says. “She’s very involved with things that the media doesn’t put into focus that should be. She has passed that onto her students, and I take that to heart.”

This past year, Reynaldo also found the Adelante Leadership Program. A product of Oregon State’s new Center for Latino/Latina Studies, the program invites students to participate who are looking to increase their leadership skills and involvement in Oregon State programs.

The idea is help students become well versed in teamwork, social engagement, multicultural awareness and communication skills—all with the intent of making them better leaders in the workplace and the community.

“Basically what it’s doing is setting us up for the real world, not only working with others at Oregon State, but how to be leaders and how to be professional after we move on,” she says.

Each week, a different speaker comes to talk with the group, which ranges in age from 18 to 40. One of her favorites was Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson, whose anecdote about keeping calm in a situation that could have been perceived as offensive has stayed with Reynaldo.

“Rather than thinking, ‘Oh, they’re offending me,’ or, ‘They’re trying to judge me,’ Haroldson’s advice is to take a step back, because they might not be trying to do that,” Reynaldo says. “Instead you can say, ‘That’s an interesting question,’ or, ‘That’s an interesting statement,’ and ask them to elaborate on it.”

Origin Story 

Reynaldo’s passion for community engagement is matched by her passion for athletics. As a gymnast growing up in Roseburg, Ore., she had the opportunity to be trained by a former assistant coach of Bela Karolyi. She dedicated her life to gymnastics training with high hopes of making the US Olympic gymnastics team, until a back injury sidelined her gymnastics career.

“That was very devastating to me, because that was my dream,” she says. “The only two sports I couldn’t do were gymnastics and football.”

With her family’s support, Reynaldo switched to volleyball, track and basketball, all three of which she competed in through high school.

Now, she has taken a leadership role in sports in her Salem community, coaching not only her daughter’s sports teams, but also volleyball through the Boys & Girls Club, and basketball in the competitive AAU league.

“I enjoy being a leader,” she says. “And I enjoy mentoring, especially kids who want to learn and want to be out there.”

During her academic career at Oregon State, Reynaldo has also taken every opportunity she can to pursue the business side of sports as well. “I tailored my degree so that anytime I got a chance to study sports or gear any of my papers toward sports organizations, that’s what I’d do,” Reynaldo says.

But Reynaldo hasn’t just pursued opportunities. She’s created them. It’s a pattern that’s likely to be repeated over and over again in Atlanta.