NAECAD Interview: Shanda Harris, Northern Kentucky University

September 26, 2022

Shanda Harris has recently been appointed as the new director of NKU (North Kentucky University) Esports. As a professor of practice in the Haile College of Business Division, she is proud to be an NKU alumnus. She earned her undergraduate degree in Sports Business from NKU and her Master of Legal Studies from Chase College of Law.

In an interview with NAECAD, Harris speaks on the status of the esports program at NKU and what it takes to lead a collegiate esports program. 

What motivated you to take the position of Esports Professor and Esports Director at NKU?

The Varsity esports program at NKU started a few years back in 2020. At the time, Harris was doing esports consulting with them and was with a different company. In August 2021, NKU contacted her because they wanted to start an esports minor but didn't have the needed expertise. They had the varsity esports program, but where they wanted to teach about esports management and minor was in the college of business.

Everything on campus came from an academic standpoint, and Harris came in and taught an eight-week course in the fall of 2021. Afterward, in January 2022, NKU showed interest in starting an esports minor. They were looking for some help in their growing varsity Program, which is how she came on board.

Harris explains that at first, she was a bit skeptical because of the description of the duties, which were a lot. Because of the vast esports industry, she felt it was too much to put on one person. It involved marketing, getting sponsorships, teaching a course, and many more responsibilities, so she had to sit back and evaluate. 

However, she got more comfortable after conversing with a few people about the position and how quickly they wanted things to advance. This was also a fantastic opportunity because Harris wanted students and parents to understand the industry. 

"There are a lot of older generations that don't quite understand the reach that esports has or the business of esports. You don't have to be a gamer in this industry because other aspects of esports relate to even traditional sports." Harris explained.

For her, the motivation was the opportunity to come in and educate students and the population of the campus community.

What would you like to accomplish during your first year as the Esports Director?

The esports program at NKU has a new partnership coming through and is currently doing a lot of work with them. However, Harris mentions that she plans to get more recognition on campus with students, faculty, and staff. She wants to get the word out and be there for her gamers and students while building the program. 

In terms of the scholarships they offer, she also wants to add more opportunities for current and future gamers.

“It is very different for me, coming from the business side and then into Academia, where things move slightly slower. I am trying to establish myself, learn Academia, how things work, and how fast things go.” 

Harris is all for experiential learning, and they have the necessary resources on campus. She wants to get their students involved and do a lot more community outreach involving high schools, charity events, or foundations. 

This is what she is looking into as well as getting more visibility for their esports minor. They want people to know that they created this program and have an esports minor at Northern Kentucky University Haile College of Business.

Can you speak to the esports curriculum you will be teaching at NKU?

Harris currently teaches Esports Management, which includes sponsorships, event management, player management, and many other different areas of esports. Within that, they're going to have event management, computer games and digital society, marketing, and a few other classes that they are looking to add or tweak specifically to esports.

She also explains that the esports program currently works with what classes are provided in the Haile College of Business. This is why they can now do marketing, revenue generation, sales, and esports management. They also have a computer games and digital society class they teach and are looking to bring more of the media aspect into it. 

It is in its early stages however, Harris mentions that they have some ideas about where they can add to that curriculum.

What advice would you give to individuals looking to lead a collegiate esports program?

“Make sure to research and have patience. If you're coming from the esports industry, you'll have to be patient with how you did things compared to how things are done in Academia.”

Harris explains further that when she was in the industry, she was able to create and make a lot of decisions for herself and her team. However, within this new position, decisions have to be approved through various departments within the university.

Regardless, she advises heads of collegiate esports programs not to be discouraged in their first year. Things are not as fast-paced as she’d like them to be, but she has support from her faculty, staff, and students. 

She says you must be patient if you get into this profession in higher education or even at the high school level. You should use all the resources available to you and network. You should also reach out to conferences and universities when trying to establish a program.. 

Harris advises not to give up as it'll get better. It may not go as fast as you want it to, but eventually, you will get to where you want or need to be.

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