Waleed "Wally" Al-Hamed looks back nearly a year and can't believe how far he's come.
In early 2020, as an IUPUI student and Indiana Sports Corp intern, he participated in a 24-hour Innovation Sprint hosted by the NCAA, ISC and the IUPUI Sports Innovation Institute that concepted ideas for the 2021 NCAA Final Four.
Fast forward to today: Al-Hamed has graduated and is working for the ISC as a promotions and marketing coordinator. He's responsible for running the organization's grassroots marketing initiatives and using some of those ideas from the innovation sprint to help foster excitement in the community.
Opportunities within the Sports Innovation Institute and sports management program opened the doors for Al-Hamed to make connections within the industry. He credits Sports Innovation Institute director David Pierce and lecturer Geoffre Sherman for helping him get a jump-start on a career that has him working on one of the sports world's most prestigious events within his first year after graduation.
"This is something I never thought was going to happen for me," Al-Hamed said. "I thought I was going to get into the industry slowly and then maybe five or six years down the line start working these big events. In the IUPUI sports management program, Dr. Pierce and Dr. Sherman helped get us excited about everything Indianapolis has to offer and opened the door for us to get engaged."
Pierce noted that Al-Hamed stood out for his willingness to get involved in the opportunities outside of the classroom that IUPUI and Indy have to offer.
Sherman said Al-Hamed's outgoing and personable personality, paired with a relentless work ethic, is exactly what the industry is seeking.
"His drive is unquestionable, and his ability as a leader is what impressed me the most. Right away, he was able to get people to follow his lead, and that's a trait that is difficult to find," Sherman said. "Not to mention, he is just a joy to be around and brings a motivated yet focused energy to every room he enters."
Al-Hamed took advantage of the Sports Innovation Institute's connections to the Circle City's rich sports landscape. He started by volunteering at ISC, which led to his internship. His hard work as an intern was then rewarded with a job offer in August.
"To me, showing up is more than half the battle and says a lot about someone's character. I hadn't worked at Indiana Sports Corp long before I realized how much Wally showed up and gave of his time," said Sarah Myer, ISC senior director of marketing and communications. "His reliability, his demeanor, his work ethic and his ability to collaborate with others made it clear to me that he would be an incredible asset to our team."
As with everyone's lives and work, COVID-19 has made Al-Hamed's job difficult. That time spent last year concepting ideas for the Fan Jam vehicle was thrown out because of the pandemic. Unable to travel to college campuses or take advantage of the vehicle's mountable basketball goals, he's had to get creative in promoting the tournament. Because of a lack of in-person activities and an increase in safety concerns, he has gotten used to hearing the word "no."
An event on Monument Circle in October helped change the tide. ISC held a drive-thru event where they gave out 2021 Final Four posters, headwear, hand sanitizer and more. That event helped open the door for other opportunities to build excitement for the Final Four. Businesses started allowing setups in lobbies, and restaurants began distributing promotional material as well.
Hoosiers are excited to see the large Fan Jam vehicle out around town and take pleasure that their city is hosting this prominent tournament in the midst of the pandemic.
"We learned that the community wanted something to get excited about, whether it was basketball or something else," he said. "But the fact it was basketball and the Final Four got them more excited."
Drive to succeed
Al-Hamed's former classmates and professors speak highly of his character and work ethic.
"Wally is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen," said IUPUI senior Kyle Clay, a sports management major and an intern at ISC. "He's constantly working and putting in so much effort."
Al-Hamed's self-determination has steered him throughout the beginning of his career.
Born in Indianapolis, Al-Hamed is of Jordanian descent and lived in the Middle Eastern country between the ages of 6 and 16. When he was 10 years old, his father had a stroke that paralyzed half of his body. His father had to sell his car dealership, and the youngest of four children watched his siblings work to help provide for the family.
Through an unfortunate situation at an early age, Al-Hamed saw how a person's character could be forged in tough times. He looks at both positive and negative events as learning experiences and leans on those lessons while pursuing his career in sports management.
"Be willing to do whatever it takes," Al-Hamed said. "It's a mentality I built early on -- don't say 'no' to any opportunities."
IUPUI and the sports management program was the right choice for him. Al-Hamed said he was "beyond happy" with his choice to attend the school and thanks Pierce and Sherman for their assistance.
"Even if I wasn't where I am now, I would still be appreciative because I know the professors did their best to set us up at the highest level," he said. "If you're a student who really wants it and really wants to work for it, they are in your corner, and you'll succeed."
"Making the Madness" is a feature series that explores the IU Bloomington and IUPUI students, staff, faculty, alumni and venues involved in hosting the 2021 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament.