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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • Michelle Knight stands in front of Colonial Life Arena, Columbia's premiere sport and entertainment venue, on a beautiful sunny day.

23 years in the Coliseum: Longtime UofSC employee Michelle Knight earns master’s degree while working full-time

By Allen Wallace,
Posted on December 6, 2019

The Carolina Coliseum has been part of Michelle Knight’s life since childhood. She camped outside the box office as a teen, waiting in line to buy tickets to see Springsteen. She walked across the stage to claim her high school diploma. In 1996, she accepted a job as a receptionist there, a moment that would shape her academic and career future and connect her to the iconic campus building for decades to come. In December 2019, she will complete her master’s degree in sport and entertainment management, wrapping up 22 years of classes in the Coliseum and two degrees from the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management.

"I wanted to show my kids how important a college degree is,” Knight says. “I couldn't encourage them to go to college when neither of us [she and her husband, who retired after years in the military] had a degree.”

Money and time were tight for a mom of two working full-time, but as a South Carolina employee she learned she was able to take tuition-free classes. Knight chipped away at her academic dreams one class per semester for 18 years. Her children grew up watching their mother work hard in both her job and her coursework, setting an example that led them both to college and on to successful careers (with one going into education).

Knight is now an executive assistant and office manager at Colonia Life Arena, the successor to the Coliseum as the home of South Carolina basketball and as Columbia’s largest concert venue. She and her CLA coworkers also continue to manage the Coliseum and smaller events still held there. The job has helped shape her life in many ways, but none more important than the moment in orientation back in 1996 when she learned about the university’s education benefits.

In 2014, with her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies complete and her kids off at college themselves, Knight thought her school days were done. However, CLA General Manager Sid Kenyon, who has been Knight’s boss since 1996, encouraged her to keep going.

"I had learned a lot about the industry, so the sport and entertainment management program just made sense,” she says. "I could focus on something I enjoyed, and I knew the professors and liked everyone there from having been in the building for so long.”

Most of her fellow students were younger than her children (now 28 and 30), but Knight turned that into an advantage.

"Not many of my classmates had the practical experience I had working in venue management for the past 23 years,” she said. "They learned from me, but I learned from them too, about technology and things that were new to me but second nature to them. They were very respectful and hardworking."

Knight also found as a student that the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management’s sterling reputation and consistent ranking as one of the world’s best programs of its kind are well-deserved.

[The Sport and Entertainment Management Department is] first class because of the first-class faculty and staff they've put together. I can't imagine you could get this kind of exposure anyplace else.

— Michelle Knight, December 2019 master's graduate, Sport and Entertainment Management

"It's first class because of the first-class faculty and staff they've put together. I can't imagine you could get this kind of exposure anyplace else.” she says. “It’s the mixture of the faculty, their years of both research and practical experience. There's not another Danny Morrison at another college. People who are president of an NFL team aren't usually looking to go back to work, nor are people who were the CEO of an NBA team or who ran the Charlotte Coliseum, but we have people who did those things. Paul Graham managed Hootie and the Blowfish, and now he's teaching here. The ability of Dr. Regan and Dr. Brown to reach out to these people and the respect they've earned, the mutual respect, is what brings them here. They convey their commitment to the program to industry leaders, and that's what gets them to come."

Another member of that faculty is Knight’s longtime boss, Kenyon, who teaches classes as an adjunct professor and has been a mentor and cheerleader for her along the way.

"I've worked here 23 years now between the two buildings, and Sid has been my director the whole time,” Knight says. “He's been very encouraging, and when I walked across the stage for my undergrad he was standing right there. I know he'll be there again when I do that in December.”

Knight says that kind of personal commitment to students is the rule, not the exception, in the department.

“Every faculty and staff member is so approachable and helpful,” she says. “Professor Koesters can call just about any place a student is interviewing and he knows somebody. He knows somebody at the Braves, somebody at the PGA. He always encourages students to keep going as they try for the best jobs.”

Knight does not plan on job hunting now that her master’s degree is complete (and, like her bachelor’s, completed without paying any tuition). She’s very happy working at CLA and enjoying being a grandmother of two. The degree was not a stepping stone: it was a goal in itself.

"Everything I've learned, all the projects I did and all the group projects I trudged through, has served me well. Everything that was required of me made me grow professionally and personally and made me a better person,” she says, then with a laugh adds a final note. "I don't regret any of it except statistics."

Learn more about the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management.

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