Commencement profile: Kelsey Sipp

Out of concern for the health and safety of the Huskie community, NIU is hosting virtual commencement ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 12, and Sunday, Dec. 13, for those who register. Those who would prefer to watch after the scheduled times can visit YouTube no later than Monday, Dec. 14.

Kelsey Sipp
Kelsey Sipp

Kelsey Sipp’s path toward becoming a nurse was on hold.

“I had my associate’s done, and I was waiting for my acceptance letter. I was on the waitlist for two semesters,” says Sipp, who had earned that first degree at Kishwaukee College. “At that time, I really started reevaluating what I wanted in a career and what I wanted in life.”

Sipp thought of all the sports she had played growing up and during her years at Hinckley-Big Rock High School. Softball. Basketball. Volleyball. Track. Competitive Dance.

Majoring in Kinesiology, she realized, would allow her to combine those lifelong passions – “Sports were always close to me. I always did multiple sports every season, and I just wanted that part of me back,” she says – with her recent preparation in health care.

That door opened when she transferred from her suburban university to the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education in January 2019. She quickly joined the Exercise Science Club and volunteered one month later at the Abominable Snow Race in Wisconsin.

But when the department’s new Sport Management major launched in Fall 2019, Sipp finally found her true destiny.

“I liked Kinesiology and I was interested in it, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to be a leader for youth, and so I decided to transition,” she says.

“I like the aspect of sports that you can just find yourself. You learn very valuable skills that I still use as an adult. Teamwork. Leadership. Being positive on the court. I really think that you can take advantage of those characteristics and skills you learn, honestly, to create that path for success in the future.”

Chosen as marshal for the College of Education’s Fall 2020 commencement ceremony, Sipp is about to start the next chapter of her journey: a master’s degree in Sport Management at NIU, which she will begin January.

Kelsey Sipp
Kelsey Sipp

She’s already working in her graduate assistantship with the Sycamore Park District, where she is building on experiences from previous internships with the Chicagoland Speedway and the Windy City Bulls.

At the race track, she helped Guest Services to ensure that operations ran smoothly before, during and after NASCAR and the National Hot Rod Association events.

With the basketball team, she developed and pitched ideas for new “theme nights” and improved marketing efforts by gathering contact information for about 5,000 principals, student organization advisers and athletic directors.

Eventually, Sipp says, she hopes to become an athletic director herself.

“My main goal is to focus on youth or young adults, if I’m at the college level. It’s all about them gaining the experience of a lifetime,” she says. “I want to focus on brining them that joy of having fun out there on that field with their teammates, making those memories and getting those valuable skills.”

She’s seen the difference an affirmative adult can make from her own time in sports and from coaching softball and dance.

“It’s just the idea of being there for them,” Sipp says. “It’s cheering them on during the good and the bad, being that coach who wants to get them going in a positive manner. You just get to see a different side of them when they’re having fun: ‘Let’s be positive. Let’s have fun. Let’s do it together.’ ”

NIU has prepared her well, she says.

Professors always underscored the importance of constant and robust communication and networking, no matter how busy a daily schedule becomes – “It’s a hard career to get into without that,” she says – and encouraged students “to never settle, always strive toward the highest mark and keep going.”

Kelsey Sipp
Kelsey Sipp

That advice proved valuable during COVID-19, she says, adding that persevering through the pandemic has boosted her confidence: She is no longer scared to receive responses of “no” from her outreach in search of job opportunities, she says.

“It’s just pushed me to be a strong individual – my own powerhouse,” Sipp says. “Even though the times are rough, and we feel like we’re not going to get ahead, I just have to keep going. It’s pushed me to think more outside the box.”

A first-generation student, Sipp says that her family is proud of her achievements and excited for what comes next – and, for her part, she knows that she is ready for the long road ahead.

Father Patrick Sipp supports his daughter’s decision to switch to a sports-related degree and follow her passion, she adds.

“My dad’s my rock,” Sipp says. “He’s always told me to never settle – and he knows that sports are my life. He’s excited to see me grow into the next chapter of my life.”

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