Getting a chance to work alongside the school’s football team can be an exciting opportunity for college students, but for sophomore Risa Slepikas, her job is much different than the rest.
Landing an internship with USF Athletics her freshman year, Slepikas’ job focuses on managing South Florida’s mascot, Rocky the Bull.
As his manager, her tasks consist of running and tracking the analytics of Rocky’s social media page while also supervising him at events.
Now having worked with USF Athletics for over a year, Slepikas said she has gained some life-long skills as a manager and has worked next to some of the biggest names in the sports industry, like Tampa Bay Lightning’s in-game host Greg Wolf.
These opportunities can be rare to find in other internships, according to USF Athletics marketing coordinator Shalyce Caban. Caban said networks like these are important for the success of her pupils in their post-graduation plans.
“In this internship program we allow you to step into roles that not many, if any, other places allow you to,” Caban said. “I allow them to really step into the [real] world so that way when they make it to that next step, they are successful.”
With this working in her favor, Slepikas said she has already noticed what the diverse program has to offer her despite only being in her second year.
“The benefits [are] for sure the amount of connections,” Slepikas said. “Everyone in that office has their own group of connections and it’s just amazing to see different people connect through different things. I might not ever work in baseball, but I have all these baseball connections because my coworker worked in baseball.”
In her internship, Slepikas gets first-hand experience of how media production works in the sports industry, as well as full access to all the amenities a regular employee would receive.
“I’ve learned a lot about different platforms on how the audio is run for a stadium,” Slepikas said. “I also learned a lot about script writing and reading scripts. They don’t touch much on this in class. It’s quite useful when looking at things.”
She said this expertise will be handy for her after her time at South Florida. Majoring in integrated public relations and advertising, Slepikas said she plans to work in the entertainment field as a professional career in the future.
Holding a full-time position with USF Athletics’ marketing team has opened the doors for getting an inside scoop of what working with a production team may look like.
“I honestly got exposed to sports when I got this internship,” Slepikas said. “I didn’t realize there was so much there. I’ve always been a sports fan so honestly, I see myself working in social media and marketing in some kind of entertainment realm.”
The production team is small, only consisting of Caban, Slepikas and a handful of other interns. Therefore, game time can be busy when trying to get Rocky everywhere he needs to be.
“I teach my interns to run a full basketball game with just me there or support and they have been able to do that successfully,” Caban said. “In sports like football, they play a huge role in ensuring Student Tailgate, Bulls Bay and In-Game activations run successfully.”
With all the hands-on knowledge she has gained in a short amount of time, Slepikas already had her foot in the door when knowing how to run an effective social media page.
She went on to win district, state and national titles prior to her time as Rocky’s manager, giving her a good foundation of what was expected in this position.
“All throughout high school I was engaged in social media campaigning, [which] gave me a good understanding of the basics and how to start from nothing,” Slepikas said. “I wanted to keep that going with a platform that has more attention.”
Caban said Slepikas’ eye for keeping up with social media trends is what sets her apart from the rest.
“[Slepikas] keeps up with the social media trends to be able to make sure Rocky always has new stuff out,” Caban said. “Any social media ideas she has she always brings to me so that way we can get her what she needs to make whatever idea she has a hit. She really does go above and beyond and really is that go-to person for Rocky.”
Despite already knowing the basics of running a social media campaign, Slepikas said she has faced her own set of hardships when trying to balance her work and social life.
Given how demanding the internship can be, working on the clock year-round means having to miss out on some family time during the holidays.
“Being with family for most holidays, I have to separate myself for about an hour a day to make sure I am covering all bases for Rocky,” Slepikas said.
“After the day goes on a little bit, I am pretty much constantly on my phone every few hours making sure that he’s properly engaging. That’s probably my hardest [challenge] is that holidays aren’t really a day off for me, it’s a busy day.”
Slepikas said the hard work has paid off as she has received gratitude from the Bulls community while also sharing some funny moments with Rocky, such as getting invited to 21st birthday parties and the fair.
They have each shared their handful of special moments together, according to Slepikas.
“One of my favorite [memories with Rocky] is when we went to the spring dance for spirit week,” Slepikas said. “It was a super, super cool event. He gave me a corsage because it didn’t fit around his wrist. [We] just danced the night away. It was honestly like a dream setting. He was engaging in things you wouldn’t normally see as a mascot.”
Slepikas has a few years left at USF, so her time working with Rocky is far from over.
Caban says she’s proud of the growth Slepikas has made in only two years alone, and is excited to see what she has in store for the seasons to come.
“Working with [Slepikas] has been nothing short of amazing,” Caban said.
“When I first met [Slepikas], we were both interns and she has always been that one person that will go above and beyond. And now that I’m her boss, nothing has changed. She’s still shining and pushing to be the best. She’s that one person any of us can go to because we know we can count on her.”
Before leaving South Florida, Slepikas plans to continue expanding the engagement between Rocky and the Bulls community. Her goal is to remind students that Rocky is one of them.
“I want to leave the impact that Rocky is here for the students, he’s not just here for the sports. He’s here to stay and wants the best for everyone,” Slepikas said.