Last Updated on August 14, 2022
Interview with Dr. Obadiah J.K. Simmons, Jr.
Sports Degrees Online had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Obadiah J.K. Simmons, Jr. of Grambling State University. In this interview, Dr. Simmons provides insights about factors to consider when choosing a degree program and how young people can begin to set themselves up for success in the sports industry. He also discusses the historical importance of HBCUs, and why these programs offer a unique educational experience for students of color.
Dr. Obadiah J.K. Simmons has been at Grambling State University (GSU) in various capacities in excess of forty years. He is currently serving as the Interim Executive Director of the Office of Graduate Studies, and is also the Director for the Department of Kinesiology, Sport & Leisure Studies (KSLS).
Dr. Simmons, you have had a career in both academia and education leadership. In recent years, you have also served as the Interim Athletic Director for Grambling State University. That is impressive.
Yes, that is correct. I’ve had the good fortune to have worked at Grambling State University (GSU) in various capacities in excess of forty (40) years. I am currently serving as Interim Executive Director of the Office of Graduate Studies and Department Head/Director for the Department of Kinesiology, Sport & Leisure Studies (KSLS). This was preceded by a short stint as Interim Dean of the College of Educational and Graduate Studies in addition to my current role as Department Head/Director.
For young people hoping to follow in your footsteps into sport leadership, what are some of the core values or habits that they should start cultivating to be successful in their careers?
You should be passionate about something you enjoy doing, be flexible about volunteering your time in becoming involved with something, understand that “change” will occur with … or without you, share your successes with others by helping them to succeed, and learn as much as you can about whatever it is that you’re engaged in. These are just some of the values or habits that surface in reviewing my career to this point.
Dr. Simmons, as a long time Director of Kinesiology, Sport, and Leisure Studies at Grambling State University, I’m sure you know what separates good programs from average programs. For the students out there who are trying to choose which program to attend at the bachelor or master’s level, what are some of the most important factors to consider?
A student should examine an institution’s and/or program’s history, role, scope and mission. Identify and read about a program’s graduates; see what they’re saying or have said about a particular degree program. It is also important for students to know whether or not a degree program is accredited, certified or have achieved some other form of licensure over time. There should be some sort of uniqueness about a given program; what sets this particular program apart from others. Look at the background and experiences of faculty/staff affiliated with the program. All of these items are important when students are attempting to select a particular degree program.
Professor, you have had the chance to study at all kinds of universities. Can you talk a bit about the strengths of studying Sport and Leisure Studies at an HBCU like Grambling State, particularly for people of color?
Students should first understand the history and development of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) throughout this nation. The importance of all undergraduate and graduate degree programs provided at HBCUs cannot be underestimated. To be in a positive environment is an immediate plus for HBCUs. In short, HBCUs provides a nurturing environment that is often unavailable at a PWI. It’s important that students of color are surrounded, taught, inspired and motivated by people that look like them and willing to share real life experiences with them.
In terms of the current state of affairs in the leisure and sport industry, timing could not be better. While there has been a continuing struggle for people of color to ascend into positions of upper management, there are glimmers of hope now in motion indicating that barriers are being removed opening doors once determined to be off-limits to minority candidates. As a strength, it is vital for programs particularly in sport and leisure studies at HBCUs to remain abreast to the current state of affairs in the industry; to remain relevant.
Everybody knows that starting a career in the sports industry can be challenging since many positions are so competitive. What advice do you have for students who are trying to prepare themselves for the professional world?
It is important for students to demonstrate their value and worth to a prospective employer. What is it that a student can bring to a company or an organization. How can a student “add value” to a given company or organization? As such, a student will need to: have command of the English language; can communicate with multiple audiences; be technologically savvy; be flexible and adapt to change; be dependable; and, can do more than one thing.
Companies and organizations are still in the business of making a profit and will invest in those who they believe can help them achieve success…irrespective of their color. If students can remember that people are “always watching you” and that if you’re good, you will be noticed regardless of where you’re from.