By Sean Savage
“My younger self would definitely be surprised with where I’m at today,” Ava Fernandez said. “As an adolescent, I was average at everything.”
Fernandez, who graduated from Springfield College with a Sport Management degree in June, is anything but average today. Her collegiate career landed her a job with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils as a sales associate.
Her pathway through her adolescence bolstered her desire to have sports be a part of her everyday life. Perhaps this thinking is best described by American mixed martial artist Holly Holm: “Passion first and everything else will fall into place.”
Born and raised in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, Fernandez developed a burning passion for sports at an early age. “Honestly, I was somebody who was always sort of distracted in elementary school. But, I had a passion for sports. I was a decent student, but nothing crazy,” Fernandez said.
She continued, “As a kid, I was always involved in sports, especially softball and basketball.”
Her passion for sports never waned, as in her high school days was when she realized what she loved to do. Her high school offered a dual enrollment class, Intro to Sports Management, through Syracuse University.
“I was able to take a college class before arriving at Springfield. I sort of had an advantage in that sense; I was aware of what the major entailed and what you could do within the industry,” Fernandez said.
She was grateful for the opportunity: “It gave me a chance to get exposure as they had us do events and more,” Fernandez said “It gave me an early glimpse of what is to come through my senior year of high school.”
Getting acclimated to college presented another challenge. “Staying organized and focused was not easy; it was a completely new environment,” Fernandez said.
“If there was something I needed to do or get done, I learned to just get it done quickly. The life of any college student gets pretty busy quickly,” she added.
As Fernandez continued through her college years, adjusting became second nature.
Her advice to students who have similar passions is the following: “You have to take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. It all starts with the basics, raising your hand and speaking up in class to volunteer work that will follow suit.”
For Fernandez, her opportunity presents itself during her senior year. She landed an internship with the American Hockey League that lasted through the fall of her last year.
“I ended up putting my front foot forward and eventually came out of my shell. Doing this helped me greatly,” she said.
Fernandez did such a great job that her manager inquired about keeping her full time. “She [her manager] asked me if I was interested in connecting on a call,” Fernandez recalled. “So we can get you set up with the Devils.”
She added, “It took three separate interviews; the time process was from December to March. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, which is why I pushed so hard to pursue it.”
She was hired to work with the Devils right away out of college. During the NHL offseason, Fernandez took care of emails and calls.
Now that the Devils are in the swing of their season, she has to be in charge of multiple clients who attend the games. “It is a lot of in-person selling; you go over what the clients want to get out of the season,” Fernandez said. “Every day looks different. You always have a different conversion.”
She has to attend every home game for the Devils. Gamedays often last from 9 am to 10 pm.
These long hours allow Fernandez to build relationships with her company and clients. She adds, “Everyone is really appreciative of the aspect of figuring out what will work for them, which is my favorite part.”
As someone who did not grow up watching hockey, “It has now become addicting,” Fernandez said. “I now know so much about the team and understand what is happening. I love it so much,” she added.
The job – and the Devils faithful – keep her on her feet “Fans will come up and quiz you about the team,” said Fernandez. “So, you better know your stuff.”
Fernandez has come a long way since her early “distracted” elementary days. “Seeing where I am now, working with the Devils and in sales, it aligns with how I was as a kid, ” Fernandez said. “I was pretty outgoing and loved to be in conversations, and I was just really friendly with everybody.”
“I learned if you want to be successful, it is what you put into it,” Fernandez said. “That is what you will get out of it. It is literally as simple as that. If you work hard, you will do well.”
As for her younger self? “Seeing where I am today,” Fernandez said, “little Ava would be proud and surprised.”
Photo Courtesy of Ava Fernandez