School of Kinesiology Alumna is a 2021 Forbes 30 under 30 Sports honoree

Madeleine Orr, PhD, founder of the Sport Ecology Group and School of Kinesiology alumna.

Madeleine (Maddy) Orr, PhD, was recognized by Forbes in the 2021 30 under 30 in Sports list. Orr is a 2020 alumna of the School of Kinesiology PhD program, with an emphasis in sport management. 

With her recognition, Orr becomes only the second academic to ever make the list, alongside Dr. Christine Baugh whose research on concussions informed national debates. Additionally, Orr is only the tenth Canadian to make the list, surrounded by National Hockey League players or representatives. 

Orr said when she received an email from Forbes letting her know she’d been nominated for the list, she wasn’t sure what to think.

“I was excited,” Orr said. “But I had no idea how many people got that email, and what the chances were that I’d make the final list.”

Orr’s nomination is in relation to her work as the founder and co-director of the Sport Ecology Group (SEG). She founded SEG in 2019 as a graduate student. (The School did a feature story on SEG at the time, you can read it here.) She was struggling to make connections with fellow researchers that were engaged in work related to her unique research interest: the impact of climate change on the sport sector.

“I founded SEG right after I finished writing my preliminary exams for my thesis,” Orr said. “I remember thinking it was really difficult, because I was pulling together research from the sport management field and the natural resources field. My interests in climate change and sport were really unique, and there weren’t many other people looking at it.” 

Her goal in founding SEG, was to create an online community of researchers with similar interests. Since many of the scholars interested in her area of research were located across the world, this “online lab” of sorts would give them the opportunity to collaborate without having to be physically in the same space. The SEG team just hit a milestone of a combined 40 articles that are either in press or have been published which is, “pretty unreal for an online lab,” Orr said. 

In addition to their research, the SEG team is also focused on teaching, service, and serving as industry liaisons.

“What we’re researching is impacting people right now,” Orr said. “You often see researchers publish great work in these fancy academic journals and that information just sits and collects dust, we don’t have time for our work to sit around and not get read.” 

Orr then rattled off several recent sport industry hurdles that were caused by climate change, including the relocation of the Tokyo Olympic marathon due to heat and a trackable decrease in the length and quality of ski seasons across the globe.

“We want to get our information out there for people to read and understand,” Orr said. “So, we’re doing things like providing syllabi related to sport and climate change and creating modules you can add to a sport management class that already exists. We’re also trying to be visible in the industry, we’ve participated in events like the NCAA Final Four, the Super Bowl, and the X Games.” 

It’s obvious that Orr has big goals, and is working to make them happen. But, being on the Forbes 30 under 30 list wasn’t even on her radar before being nominated. 

“I have a lot of personal goals,” Orr said. “But, you know, they’re all kind of piecemeal, they’re small, a little here and a little there. My first big goal was to find a tenure-track faculty position, and now I have that. I wasn’t expecting this at all, but it’s been really incredible.” 

So how did Orr find out she made the final 30 under 30 list? 

“I woke up on December 1 and my Twitter was blowing up,” Orr laughed. “That’s how I found out. Forbes did send me an email later that day, but we found out the old fashioned way – word of mouth.” 

Orr said she plans on nominating fellow sport academics next year. 

“I think that’s something that the academy could be better at,” Orr said. “We don’t always do a good job of proving our value to the industry. It’s exciting to see the research side of the industry get some visibility.” 

As a graduate of the School of Kinesiology, Orr offered this advice to students:

“Think outside the box. Everyone in your field is going to love sports, and love playing sports. If you really want to succeed, you need to think about what you have to offer that goes beyond that, because sport is a business. It’s great to love the product, but sport is the product, and the industry is a business.” 

Additionally, she said her experience on the Kinesiology Student Council and participating in the Three Minute Thesis competition gave her great insight into her research and into how academics works on a governance level.

“Both of those experiences really helped me learn how to represent myself, present my research well, and leverage the power I had in my position as a student,” Orr said. 

And, Orr’s final bit of advice to sport management students is to, “listen to the Sports Business Journal podcast, because membership to the journal is really expensive, but the podcast is free!”  

In addition to her work with SEG, Orr is an assistant professor in the Sport Management department at the State University of New York, Cortland. 

The Forbes list nomination process is open to anyone. There is a Forbes committee that screens all of the initial submissions and passes on a curated list to their panel of reviewers. The 2021 panel of reviewers who selected Orr included Emmanuel Acho, a former NFL linebacker, Lyle Ayes, the Managing Director of Evercore, Mark Cuban, a billionaire entrepreneur and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and Billie Jean King, former professional tennis player and the founder of Women’s Sports Foundation.   

Congratulations Maddy, we’re proud to call you an alumni and can’t wait to see what’s next for you!