UW's Olson, McKinnell Women in Sport Panelists
Hannah Olson (in red) currently serves a dual role as Program Administrator at the University of Washington and head softball coach at Newport High School.
Hannah Olson (in red) currently serves a dual role as Program Administrator at the University of Washington and head softball coach at Newport High School.

Monday, May 12, 2014
by Evan O'Kelly, Media Relations Assistant

Twelfth in a series

Previous Panelist Profiles
Lynda Goodrich, WWU (Jan. 24)
Kimberly Ford, NCAA (Jan. 31)
Chelsea Herman, Seattle University (Feb. 14)
Erin O'Connell, SPU (Feb. 28)
Katie Simons, SMU (March 20)
Tammy Dunn, SCSC (March 28)
Ariko Iso, OSU (April 4)
Cori Metzgar-Deacon, WOU (April 11)
Julie Mitchell, WBB Referee (April 18)
Diane Flick, WWU (April 25)
Kim Wenger, NWC (May 2)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Each following distinctive paths towards the administrative side of collegiate athletics, Hannah Olson and Angie McKinnell have found a home at the University of Washington.

McKinnell is a learning specialist who uses her battle against lung cancer to inspire and motivate the students she works with every day. Olson is a program administrator at UW and a high school softball coach.

The two are good friends and work together regularly, and will each serve as panelists this week at the Women in Sports Career Seminar presented by the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. 

A common passion for athletics and service is shared between McKinnell and Olson, and it is those characteristics that the two agree have been deeply influential in crafting their respective careers. 

Growing up in Bend, Ore., McKinnell began playing competitive volleyball in the seventh grade on year round club teams. McKinnell’s early interest in volleyball along with influence from her family is what first piqued her interest towards athletics.

“My dad worked a lot but on Sundays he’d watch football,” McKinnell remembered. “At first I realized that if I faked liking to watch football that I could get his attention, but then I continued watching and fell in love with the game.”

As McKinnell progressed through high school and prepared for post-secondary education, the idea of a career in athletics remained a relatively abstract concept.

“I knew I wanted to be a business major in college, but I didn’t realize that I could work in athletics until I got to Oregon State,” McKinnell said. “So often people think that you can either be a coach or an athlete but that’s all you can do in sports. When I started working in the athletics office at OSU that’s where I learned the behind the scenes side of college sports.” 

As McKinnell was realizing a new perspective regarding athletics, Olson was pursuing her dream of playing collegiate softball.

“I was recruited to play softball at the University of Virginia,” Olson said. “I couldn’t have asked to have a better experience there, as I loved the school and everything about the softball program.”

By her senior year, Olson had been voted team MVP and was an all-Atlantic Coast Conference first baseman.

Unlike McKinnell, Olson ventured far from her Issaquah, Wash., roots to pursue her undergraduate degree, but a return to the Pacific Northwest seemed only natural when it came time to get her master’s.

“I got my master’s degree at UW, through the program that I currently work for now,” Olson said. “I earned that degree in 2007, and have been working on my Ph.D in education.”

McKinnell’s athletic career was cut short due to persistent injuries, as she is now on the better side of 14 major knee surgeries. An opportunity to help out in the football office at OSU provided McKinnell with a refreshing perspective regarding athletics, as she took on an administrative assistant role while completing her undergraduate degree.

“I started out doing mailings and answering phone calls in the football office, and I slowly became more deeply involved,” McKinnell said. “Eventually I got a job as an assistant director of marketing in the athletics office. I really enjoyed what I was doing there and the creativity that was involved, but I also felt like I wanted to try something different.”

McKinnell decided to venture out and put her skills into play in a role working directly with college students. At San Jose State, she was a student service coordinator, which led to her introduction to the life skills program.

“I got to be the tournament manager for the 2007 NCAA men’s basketball west regional tournament, and that was a great accomplishment,” said McKinnell.

When Texas Tech came calling, McKinnell took advantage of a chance to work at a much bigger school. The stint in the South lasted just one year however, as McKinnell had a life-altering experience when her lungs collapsed.

“Health has always been the biggest challenge for me, and I have had two different kinds of cancer,” McKinnell said. “I was originally diagnosed at Oregon State, and I got really bad lung cancer when I was at Texas Tech.” 

Despite McKinnell’s early success as an emerging leader in her field, her deteriorating health posed a major roadblock in her career path. Eventually however, the change of perspective it brought on ended up redefining her goals and aspirations.

“It made me realize that I am here for a purpose, and a big part of that is to work with people,” McKinnell commented on the impact cancer has had on her. “It has brought out a vulnerable side of me, but at the same time has helped me develop my relationships in that aspect. It puts your life into a very real perspective.” 

While Olson did not endure the relentless battle with cancer, she too developed her own change in perspective regarding the world of athletics.

“I had the opportunity to play in a semi-pro league in Holland for a season,” Olson said. “I ended up doing a lot of traveling and I coached one of the youth national teams. It was a great experience.”

Normalizing herself to the American culture of sport growing up, Olson discovered a newfound understanding of athletics through observing the youth play in Europe.

“It was interesting because it almost felt like the Pacific Northwest of Europe, and it was very similar to my home,” Olson said. “Over there teams operate out of a club system, where each neighborhood offers a variety of different sports. It actually looks similar to adult recreation here, as people grow up and get an affinity and dedication to their neighborhood teams.”

Working and playing with teammates in Holland helped Olson understand the ways in which sport universally fits in as a character trait across the globe.

“Over there (sport) didn’t create any one person’s identity, and that was refreshing to see after coming from a Division I environment,” Olson said. “Athletics was a critical and important part of their lives, but it didn’t define who they were and what they did. It was a nice holistic approach to athletics and participation, and I have pulled that into the work and research I do and coaching as well.”

While Olson has found her own and applied her life experiences to her current role as a high school softball head coach and program administrator at UW, she explained that uncertainty proved to be a major challenge she faced early on in her career search.

“Initially, I had multiple interests and I wasn’t exactly sure which direction I wanted to go within athletics,” said Olson. “I enjoyed the external aspect in terms of running events, production and marketing, but part of me really missed the student services piece. It was hard giving up the collegiate coaching route, but in hindsight that was a positive decision for me.”

McKinnell experienced a similar sense of uncertainty when beginning her career, but has noticed significant changes particularly within women’s roles in athletics.

“At first I didn’t really want to be on the student services side, but now I feel like women are being respected more and are breaking down barriers at a faster rate,” McKinnell said. “When I was originally working in the football office there weren’t really any females in that role, and I knew that I had to step out of the box and work my way up a little bit. I felt at the time like I wouldn’t be respected other than being a secretary, but now that is changing and we are starting to see that women can work in all different areas.”

Through the impossibly difficult task of battling cancer, McKinnell has found the most joy in her current position working with students on an everyday basis.

“When you have a breakthrough moment and get (students) to believe that they can be just as successful in the academic world as they are in athletics, that is really rewarding,” McKinnell said. “I am in a position where I get to know these kids just as much if not more than their coaches, and I get to see them grow as individuals towards their careers.” 

Olson concurs that the most significant sense of accomplishment arises out of the work she is able to do for her students.

“For me the biggest thing has been developing a curriculum here for a master’s program for collegiate coaches,” Olson said. “There hasn’t really been anything like that, and when the first class enters orientation at the end of June, it is going to be a great time.”

Both Olson and McKinnell hope that their individual perspectives and experiences will help inspire attendees at the Women in Sports Career Seminar, occurring Saturday, May 17, at the Washington Convention and Trade Center in Seattle.

“My general advice is just to work hard and get your foot in the door any way that you can,” McKinnell said regarding pursuing a career in sports. “Athletics is a small world, and as soon as you are able to network and build relationships, you’ll be able to continue to succeed and find motivations everywhere.”

“I always tell people they can’t be afraid to take risks and chances,” Olson said. “You have to be fearless, and connect yourself to people that will be your ally and the champion in your corner.” 

For Olson, one such person is her older sister who has conveyed an inspirational message for as long as she can remember. 

“She always told me that you can get great opportunities from sports, so keep trying and working hard, and good things will happen,” said Olson.

That very positive mindset has fueled both Olson’s and McKinnell’s perseverance and growth, and is a testament towards each of their successful careers.

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