It’s an early Monday morning, but there’s a definite energy in the room. It’s one that’s alert and awake—and, more importantly, it’s an energy that’s contagious. The setting is one that’s unlike your typical college classroom at nine in the morning.

I’m on the University of Oregon’s Portland campus, in the historic White Stag Building beneath the city’s famous “Portland, Oregon” light-up sign that greets all that cross the Burnside Bridge. For the next five days, I’m a student, learning the ins and outs of footwear making as part of an orientation workshop offered to the university’s inaugural Sports Product Management master's class.

I was invited by Ellen Schmidt-Devlin. As a former Nike employee of 27 years who led product development, Schmidt-Devlin got her start at the company working under Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, who was also her track coach at the University of Oregon, where she would eventually compete in the 1980 Olympic trials. It’s this same competitiveness and drive that carried over from the track to Nike that’s led to her current path as a director of the Sports Product Management master's program.