Michael LaValva ’24

Across his four years at URI, Michael LaValva ’24, communication studies and sports media and communication, took many opportunities to push himself both academically and professionally. As a student in the Honors Program, he worked with Professor Matt Hodler for his honors project. Alongside Hodler, LaValva’s project focused on one of his passions: tennis. He created a podcast entitled Outside-In: Tennis’ Most Compelling Stories, which focuses on the significance of the sport. This internship led him to a role at the Tennis Hall of Fame as a Museum & Education Intern.

Why did you choose URI?

I picked URI during the initial COVID-19 quarantine when I was a senior in high school. I visited URI the year prior but never actually got to go to the Welcome Days or do any official tours, but I was able to do a virtual Welcome Day. I was really impressed by the Harrington School, the things it had to offer, and the notable alumni that they talked about at that event. It was very well organized, and it sold me for sure. I’m very happy that I committed. 

Are you part of any student organizations or on-campus positions?

Most of my time has been with internships and work on campus rather than clubs. I spent a lot of time with [Campus Recreation]; that’s been my big thing here. I’m leading the photography division of that team. That’s been one of my big passion projects over the past couple of years, and working with the whole marketing team there has been incredible for me. I’ve definitely made some close friends and great connections. Aside from Campus Rec, I have done work with URI Athletics in their marketing department filming for the football team and doing technical videography.  I do a little bit of the creative side with the marketing team and then a little bit more of the technical stuff with actually providing the tape for them. So, a little bit of both worlds there.

Have you had any notable mentors or professors at URI? 

One professor that I have had an ongoing relationship with is [Professor Matt Hodler] in the Sports Media and Communication Department. He has been nothing but helpful and I have so much appreciation for him. He was my advisor and a sponsor for my honors project. I have done a lot alongside him, and he’s been a huge help.

Tell me more about your honors project. 

For my honors project, I created a podcast to discuss issues and conduct research about the history of sports media. My professor, Dr. Hodler, teaches about sports media history in an incredible way, so I talked to him about ways I could pursue this angle for my honors project, and he was very interested in that idea. He helped me pin down podcast topics, run through the ideologies [at play in tennis], and the way people think about the sport. I chose tennis as my focus because I am very passionate about the sport, and with the Tennis Hall of Fame being right there [in Newport], it felt like the perfect opportunity to reach out. I sent an email asking to work with them, and luckily, I got a response and was able to create a podcast through my connection with the museum and the research that I collected with Dr. Hodler. I am very proud of my podcast. It ultimately led me to my internship at the Tennis Hall of Fame.

Tell me about your internship at the Tennis Hall of Fame. 

Right now, I am working with the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. I love tennis, and I found that it’s like an epicenter of everything that surrounds the sport, including its culture, communication, and all of its values. I’ve been working with the museum staff in a special area that is above the museum. When I walk into work, I have to walk past trophies for matches like the U.S. Open just to go up to the office, which has been insane. I really love the sport; I love everything about it, and I am so happy to be able to spend time working on delivering the messages that the Tennis Hall of Fame shares.

What do you have planned after graduation?

My path is pretty uncertain right now, which is certainly intimidating, but it’s something that I’ve learned to embrace. I still get nervous about it at times for sure, but from all the advice that I’ve gotten, the search process is promising. I would love to be in sports, but I’m applying everywhere because I know I have to field all of my options, especially with the competitiveness of the field, especially with entry-level positions. I am looking for roles in communication marketing and digital media marketing, but if something catches my eye and it’s communication-related, I’ll absolutely send out an application. 

How has URI prepared you for your future career prospects? 

I think college should be the place where you try to find your footing and understand what you can do. Through trial and error, collaboration with others, and experimentation, I’ve discovered my strengths and what I excel at. By taking these four years to learn about yourself and understand your strengths, you can figure out what you want to do in the future. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to take advantage of those things that URI offers in terms of developing in that way. Admittedly, I’m still figuring that out, but that’s a part of life. Nobody really knows fully what their course is. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s something that I try to embrace.

Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about coming into the Sports Media and Communication program?

The simple advice would be to continue to take advantage of all the opportunities. It’s okay to be a little discouraged when you don’t get certain opportunities, but there’s a lot of uncertainty and opportunity in areas that you might not expect. When I was a freshman, I emailed people in athletics and expected to be able to walk in immediately and take photos or do video for the basketball games. But it rarely works out that simple. I found Campus Rec instead, which has brought me a totally different experience than I had initially hoped for. I have gotten to work with all of the club sports teams in rebranding their content or at least improving their content in terms of headshots for media days; I have worked on some mic’d up series recently, which have been successful in showing that club sports are legitimate sports and it’s a fun atmosphere to be part of. Club sports were something in the sports media realm that I didn’t expect to be a part of, and I’m so happy that I was. Pushing club sports to a new level is one of my proudest accomplishments here.