When people ask Sherry Dai how many languages she speaks, she says three: Mandarin, English, and product.
A competitive swimmer and collegiate athlete, Dai is now turning her enthusiasm for sports products into a career through the Sports Product Management master's program at the University of Oregon's Lundquist College of Business Portland campus.
“I want to put my passion for athletics into the sports product industry,” Dai said. “I want to produce good-looking, high performance apparel to help athletes and all individuals perform at their best.”
Dai and her classmates have learned about the product design and development process, as well as business fundamentals like consumer insight, costing, brand marketing, finance, and more.
She likes that the program goes beyond the theoretical and gives its students opportunities to learn from practical experience, including using software programs like Browzwear and Illustrator to design apparel, footwear, and other products.
Even during her free time, Dai enjoys designing and making her own sports bras, functional pants, and tank tops for working out. She puts her own logo on the clothes—an “S” in the shape of a water drop—for Sherry and swimming.
At the beginning of the program, the students are placed on teams of five to six, led by a coach from the industry. Each team is tasked with developing a product and bringing it to market in 18 months.
Dai’s team has a designer, an engineer, a business representative, a marketing and economics representative, and a sports science expert. Together, they’ve created a yoga bag that turns into a mat.
“The program is so diverse and I work with a lot of classmates from different backgrounds,” Dai said. “I truly believe that diversity can drive innovation.”
Shelly Gourlay, director of the Sports Product Management Program, said the master’s program was created to teach the business of product creation, and the goal is to educate the future leaders of the industry.
“In our program, students learn about all the functions that contribute to the creation of products for the sports and outdoor industry,” Gourlay said. “They learn how to innovate, spot business opportunities, pitch ideas, collaborate cross-functionally, and measure success.”
Gourlay said Dai is energetic, passionate, and full of promise as a business leader.
“She’s the kind of team member everyone loves to work with because she takes initiative, she follows through, and she does it all with a smile,” Gourlay said. “It’s a privilege to work with students like Sherry.”
Krista Martenson, an instructor and apparel lab manager, added that Dai has a naturally positive attitude.
“She can walk into any room and bring good energy to it,” Martenson said. “She’s self-driven and doesn’t leave any opportunities undiscovered. Those characteristics will add value wherever she chooses to take her career.”
This isn’t Dai’s first graduate degree. Back home in Taiwan, she earned a master’s in sports biomechanics at the National Taiwan Normal University, where she also earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education.
While pursuing her studies, she continued swimming and joined research projects for sports bras and functional pants, providing recommendations to factories based on her experiment results and knowledge of sports biomechanics.
She also worked as a marketing executive for a golf company, developing marketing campaigns for the LPGA Championship in Taiwan and other events.
During this time, Dai studied at the University of California, Irvine for a two-month summer program.
“I liked the U.S. and the sports industry out here,” she said. “At that time I promised myself I would get a job or study out here.”
Her professor at UC Irvine was a University of Oregon graduate who said great things about the school, inspiring Dai to apply to the Sports Product Management Program.
Since the full-time graduate program is based in Portland, Dai and her peers have been able to make connections with professionals from Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Columbia Sportswear, and many other brands with strong connections to the Portland area. Each student in the program is placed with a mentor from the industry.
“We have a lot of opportunities to get connected with industry contacts and see future opportunities in the sports industry here,” she said. “That is super helpful for our future careers.”
While still a student, Dai held a position as a Nike Explore Team Footwear research assistant. During the summer of 2019, she also interned at arena Water Instinct, a company that makes competitive swimwear.
“It was really exciting for me because I was a swimmer, and I got to go into the swimming industry and learn about different aspects,” she said. “I worked closely with the product line manager and marketing team and also went to the USA Swimming National Championship this summer and learned about marketing strategies for products.”
Thanks to her experiences in the program, Dai knew her career interests lied in product line management or product development. After graduating from the master’s program on March 16, 2020, Dai took on a role in quality control for Seattle-based outdoor gear manufacturer Outdoor Research.
“I’m still competitive right now,” she said. “That’s why I always want to push myself and not limit myself to anything.”