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A conversation with Jesse Lovejoy, Director, 49ers EDU & 49ers Museum

I’ve had the pleasure of attending Collision From Home, top technology conference, and sitting down with Jesse Lovejoy, currently serves as the Director of 49ers EDU & 49ers Museum and Managing Partner of EDU Academy. Sports can be an extremely powerful lever to inspire young people if used properly. The 49ers are pioneers in sports-based informal STEAM education and EDU Academy helps other organizations understand how they may play a role in benefiting the educational ecosystems in their communities.

What is Collision From Home?

Times may be uncertain, but one thing remains true. There’s a simple power in people coming together.

Following in the spirit of Collision, Collision from Home attendees will participate from wherever they are in the world, live streaming talks from tech CEOs, international policymakers, and global cultural figures. They’ll chat and connect with each other through the bespoke Collision from Home app and they’ll engage with some of the world’s most influential companies and fastest-growing startups.

Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us about what brought you to your career path?

I always enjoyed working around and working with young people–whether through coaching or being a Big Brother with the Big Brother Big Sister mentorship program. I have also always enjoyed teaching, and tried a ton of different functions in this area, such as substitute teaching, teaching English, and then ultimately, landing a position at a sports museum to use sports to engage kids in learning.

And that was the ‘aha’ moment. I realized that sports can be a very powerful tool to get young people to learn about themselves, to learn about their environment, and, as we are now at the 49ers, to learn about science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).

Looking back, what are the catalysts or inflection points in your career?

A major catalyst was joining the Big Brother Big Sisters program. It is a one on one mentorship program where an adult is paired with a young man or young woman. As the Big Brother or Big Sister, you are there to help in any way, not just in sports or academics, but in terms of how to approach school or life. This experience really drove home my passion for providing that mentorship for as many young people as I could.

Another major catalyst is joining the 49ers to work for Dr. John York and Denise DeBartolo York and given the opportunity to carry their vision forward. As a kid, I watched the 49ers play, my father was a photographer for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and he used to take me to all the games. Joining the 49ers was a really powerful moment for me–not only was I joining a team I loved and still love, but it was an opportunity to do something that I knew is immensely powerful to drive impact in education and engaging the youth.

Can you share what the firm is currently focused on? How will this impact the world?

Of course! The 49ers organization, through the unwavering support of the York family, has been working to support the educational ecosystem in the Bay Area for almost 30 years through a number of key initiatives. 49ers EDU was formed in 2014 and became a living and breathing manifestation within our organization. We are now developing direct service educational programming, becoming the first professional sports team in the world to do so.

That focus really broadens our opportunity to interact and benefit our teachers, students, and families. Since then, we’ve pursued new programming, new training programs, family learning initiatives, and grant programs. Because of this, we’ve really developed a great dialogue with our community.

And when COVID hit, it allowed us to take a lot of the investments that we had already made in content creation and education theory, democratize it virtually, and provide our STEAM learning methodology to a larger audience. We knew, at a macro level, that creating pipelines for young people to enter the workforce is vital across the globe. We are very proud of the fact that we’re part of that continuum for a lot of young people.

Playbook Page Example

Thank you for sharing. You highlighted briefly how COVID has helped transition the programs digitally. How has COVID shaped 49ers EDU now or will in the future?

We have been considering and examining our digital and virtual footprint. Scale is always part of that equation. Currently, we have four classrooms in our building, and we serve about 60,000 participants a year just through our field trip programming. Practically, it is difficult to increase that number in our current space.

Because of that, we have extended our programming by creating an Educational Digital Playbook, and a video lesson series to go along with it. COVID will motivate the educational industry to pivot to digital and virtual components, and it has really pushed us to think even more innovatively about what we are doing now and what more we can do. Instead of providing only in-person content, we will provide video series, interactive learning tools, and digital platforms.

Where do you see the future of sports-based education? The future of sports overall?

I do not see a time where coming up with unique ways to interest young people is not important. One of the most important things we need to do is consider what may be the ultimate goal of a college student with a degree in STEAM and then backtrack to how can we provide that experience to that student while she is six, seven, eight, nine or 10 years old. What kinds of experiences or learning exposure can we provide to spark that interest and passion?

Knowing the importance of providing exposure outside of textbooks, and the propensity for the youth to gravitate towards sports–and not just any sports, but American football–I believe capitalizing on the sports foundation to increase the youth’s exposure is key. I see a lot of opportunities to use sports to educate young people in the future. This trend will become more and more relevant with time, especially as sports teams, organizations and governing bodies realize how important it is to invest in the community as it relates to their business, their fan base, and their overall goals as an organization.

What are your “3 Things I Wish I Knew”? Can you share a story?

First, I wish I knew how difficult it would be for me to reconcile a lifetime of being a fan of the team, and then becoming an employee of the team. I didn’t realize how much it would drive that love and passion into my soul and how much it affects me. For example, I was hired in August of 2013. The season following that, we lost to the Seattle Seahawks at the NFC Championship game. We lost on a last-minute interception in Seattle’s end zone by a guy who actually plays for us now. I have had a lifetime of experiences watching the 49ers win and lose. It used to kill me before if we lost, but that degree increased even more now that I am living and breathing the team. I never understood how much I cared about our football team and our community.

Second, I wish I knew the power we had right in the beginning. We have immense impact and influence to pull people together in a way other organizations may not be able to. We’ve done a lot to capitalize on that asset and built incredible, long-lasting programs. But we could have done even more right out of the gate.

Lastly, and I can make this a humorous one. I grew up in the Bay Area, but Santa Cruz is not really in the Bay Area. It’s 60 miles south of San Francisco. I wish I had understood what I was in for in terms of the commute. I used to live 12 miles away, and it would take me an hour and 10 minutes to get home every day. I don’t think I would have done anything differently, but it would have been good to know.

What is the blueprint for success?

Be kind to people, challenge yourself. Assume that nothing is out of your reach. Work really, really hard. Determine the things that you love the most and explore those things. Know that the things that are hardest for you to do are the ones that offer the most opportunity. Emphasize and think about the people in your community.

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