Ellen Schmidt-Devlin was a runner at the University of Oregon when she first ran into iconic track and field coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman in 1976 during her freshman year.
“He stepped out of the crowd to shake my hand and he said, ‘hi my name is Bill Bowerman. Would you bring together girls off the team to test the shoes?’” she recalled on the latest Talkin’ Ducks podcast. “And I said, ‘nice to meet you Mr. Bowerman, but we are not girls, we’re women.’ He thought that was pretty funny and we became very fast friends.”
After that first run-in, Bowerman became a mentor to Schmidt-Devlin, who went on to trailblaze her path at Nike where she worked for nearly three decades specializing in the sports product industry.
Over her storied career, Schmidt-Devlin held nearly a dozen positions from development manager in women’s “court” shoes to Nike Liaison office general manager in Busan, Korea and Qingdao, China.
But in 2018, Schmidt-Devlin noticed there wasn’t a college program in place that prepared students for work in the sports industry. That’s when she sought out to become the co-founder and executive director of the UO Sports Product Management Program.
“I really do think it is a culture of excellence,” Schmidt-Devlin said of her time with the game-changing sports brand. “I think that’s what I found at the University of Oregon running under Tom Heinonen. That’s what I found at Nike for 27 years, really their focus on the athlete and how we make the athlete better, and that’s what I found when I came back to the University of Oregon as well.”
Today, the former UO runner mentors students in subject areas like product development, team leadership, and strategic planning. She also teaches a course at UO called Integrative Project-Sports Product Making.
“[We’re] trying to find programs that will allow people that will be better equipped to make a difference in an industry that’s based in Oregon,” Schmidt-Devlin said. “I was telling one interviewer when we were building the program, we’re the Stanford of the sports product industry, and they said ‘no, no, Stanford is the Oregon of the IT industry.”
Hear more from Schmidt-Devlin on the Talkin' Ducks podcast as she talks to Sasha Spencer about her 27-year career at Nike and what it means to her to be a pioneer in elevating the world of women’s sports.