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West Coaster Brings Running Career to Nation’s Capital

By Jackie Sauter

Sean Graham

Sean Graham, MBA '11

In model Oregonian fashion, Sean Graham, MBA '11, used to be a professional runner for Nike.

As a track athlete—just like company founder Philip Knight—Graham made frequent 100-mile trips from the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, just outside Portland. He often headed into the mountainous Forest Park for a run, or took in concerts at the variety of venues around the city.

Graham was training full-time with the Oregon Track Club, but a severe injury just prior to the trials held in Eugene made him unable to achieve his ultimate goal: a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic track and field team.

It was at that point that graduate school came calling, and when it did, he decided the East Coast was where it needed to happen.

Since Graham completed his undergraduate degree at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, "I had family and college friends in the area, and was eager for the chance to get back in touch with them," he explained.

"When it came time to look at business schools, I was drawn back to the East Coast; I immediately thought of my alma mater, but I had the feeling of 'been there, done that' and was looking for a new challenge in a new environment."

He was also looking for a school that would allow him the flexibility to continue his running career. Graham's close friend and teammate Sean O'Brien was an American alumnus and suggested he look into the school.

"Kogod offered everything that I was looking for in an MBA program: small class sizes, very experienced professors in a variety of fields—especially marketing, my area of interest," Graham said. "And all in a city that is one of the most influential in the world."

And, of course, he kept running. Graham became the assistant coach for AU's men's and women's Division I cross country and track teams and continued his own training, in hopes of getting back to elite competition.

Beyond athletics, he secured an internship in consulting, where he worked with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security. After graduation, he was offered a full-time position with the firm, where he's now managing the projects he began while in school.

He's still complementing work with pleasure: "I was able to negotiate a flexible work schedule—thanks to Professor Mislin's negotiations class." The flexibility allows him to serve as assistant coach of men's track and cross country at George Mason University, which is located near his new job in Northern Virginia.

Unfortunately, the onetime Olympic hopeful was forced to move his athletic ambitions to the "back burner"—but that made him prioritize business school, he said. 

"I felt the opportunities that I may be exposed to at Kogod far surpassed the other schools I was looking at, and I was right."