shawnese cleveland class of 2021

Class of 2021: Shawnese Cleveland

Sport and entertainment management major sets sights on Las Vegas

Shawnese Cleveland graduates in May with a degree in sport and entertainment management. She plans to begin her career working with a gaming company in Las Vegas.

You’re originally from Savannah, Georgia. What made you choose the University of South Carolina?
I moved to Columbia when I was 16. I went to Brookland-Cayce High School, which is right across the bridge. I didn’t know much about Carolina at all, but then a lot of my friends were obsessed with it, so I visited and thought it was really cool. It felt like all of the things I’d always wanted — a big school with a lot going in athletics.

So, no other Gamecocks in your family?

No! I’m actually the first person in my family to go to college. My parents are really proud. They want me to go on and do big things.

And you majored in sport and entertainment management.

When I started, I was political science. I wanted to be a lawyer. I didn’t know what kind of law I wanted to do, maybe criminal law, but I also thought I would like to do something in government. But I ended up working on a campaign during the governor’s race, and it wasn’t what I hoped it would be. One day you’re going all out, and the next day it’s just kind of over. I realized I didn’t want to be in a career where it felt like I wasn’t reaching my full potential.

One big thing we did was bring back Hip Hop Wednesday outside. That was such a staple event at this university, and we didn’t know how to make that happen safely, but we pulled it off.

Shawnese Cleveland, sport and entertainment management major

So, what was the appeal of the new major?

One day I went to a women’s basketball game and I was as interested in watching the people working the game as I was in watching the actual game! I switched majors a couple weeks later, and I ended up loving it.

You also did an internship at the student union, right?

That was this fall. With the pandemic, and everything being shut down, it was hard to find one. I thought I had one locked up with the ESPN Wide World of Sports, working their basketball tournaments, but those got canceled, so by August I was really scrambling. But I interviewed for a part-time job at Russell House, and when I told them I was looking for an internship for my 295 class they created the event services and operations internship for me. They’re now making it a permanent position, which is really cool.  

It was really different, learning the ins and outs at a university building during Covid. We were one of the first big schools to actually bring life back to our building. One big thing we did was bring back Hip Hop Wednesday outside. That was such a staple event at this university, and we didn’t know how to make that happen safely, but we pulled it off. I learned so much doing that, and it was just great to see students on Greene Street again having a good time.

And in the spring semester?
I’m a Gamecock Entertainment intern. Gamecock Entertainment is responsible for bringing free events to Carolina students on and off campus. This role and my position at the student union are what really made it clear for me that event management was for me. 

Do you have a job lined up after graduation?
Yes! It’s with Penn National Gaming, which is a casino and resort company. I’ll be working in events and marketing at their resort in Las Vegas. I’ll work concerts, get to learn casino floor — it’s also a sports marketing position because the hotel is official partners with the Raiders, so I should get a foot in every part of the industry. Hopefully that will help me decide which area I want to work in.

You’re still exploring which area of the industry you want to focus on, but if you had to decide today, what would you pick?

I think I really want to do venues. That way I don’t have to choose. With venues management you get to do a little bit of everything, you meet so many people — and you get to be home at the end of the day.

If you were to meet someone else considering the same major, what would your pitch be?

It’s a great major, especially at Carolina, because you have so many chances to get experiences with a safety net around you. Another thing is that in sport and entertainment, your job is really to help people create happy memories — that’s something I really love about it.

What’s your own happiest memory from your time in college?

That’s a hard one. One of them is definitely the women’s basketball team beating UConn last year. That was really cool. I loved that game.

Last question. Do you see yourself ever circling back to Plan A and going to law school?

It’s so funny. I switched majors after my sophomore year, and then this fall I bought so many LSAT books. I started thinking, ‘Do I want to go on to law school?’ As of right now, I’d say ‘No,’ but the thought gets in my head sometimes. I tell myself I don’t have to decide that right now, though. Law school is always going to be there, and if I change my mind, I know I could do it.

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