College athletes’ days are planned to the minute—between working out at dawn, practicing in the afternoon, and traveling to games, not to mention attending class, studying, and attempting to socialize. Upon graduation, that ultra-scheduled lifestyle comes to a grinding halt. Statistically, less than two percent of NCAA players move on to careers in professional sports. Which is why student-athletes must make time to focus on academics and their transition to the workforce. Just ask Laura Howell.
Howell played NCAA Division I golf at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, while earning a B.A. in interior design.
“When you want to pursue professional sports but that doesn’t end up panning out, jumping off a constant hamster wheel can be rough. Your coach is no longer telling you to hit the gym at 5 a.m. or to report to practice at 2 in the afternoon,” she said. “All of a sudden you need skills in organizing your own day, keeping your mental health in tact, and remaining physically active.”
After receiving her undergraduate degree in 1997, Howell landed a position as a facilities and design consultant for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. She quickly gained more design experience in corporate, government, and educational spaces before making a leap into strategic account management for global office furniture company Steelcase, and moving to Atlanta. By 2008, she realized she needed to bridge the gap between her art background and her future in business. The perfect place to connect those dots? The Executive MBA program at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business.
“Robinson has incredible roots, both in Atlanta and across the world,” Howell said. “During our international business residency in China and Japan, we’d walk in a room and global business leaders started high-fiving the dean and our professors.”
Now, Howell runs distribution for the East Coast and New York City territories for Herman Miller, the world’s largest contract furniture manufacturer. On paper, her pathway from the golf course to the board room appears seamless. But initially, the adjustment felt pretty brutal. And that was with support from a strong nuclear family and who Howell calls “the best girl dad on the planet.” For that reason, she has established the Bryan F. Howell Women in Athletics Scholarship, open to female athletes majoring in business at Robinson. And yes, Bryan F. Howell is her father—as well as a fellow athlete.
“He attended every tournament and travel event, when he had his own career, marriage, and family to sustain,” Howell said. “When I was a teenager, not wanting to do anything as teenagers tend to do, he pushed me out of bed. He had the greatest influence on my success.”
In addition to honoring Howell’s father, the scholarship offers undergraduate females at Robinson an opportunity to excel in both sports and academics.
“As a family, we relocated several times; I attended three different high schools over the course of four years. My family helped me get through all those tough times, but not everyone has that support system,” Howell said. “Balancing school and a sport is a ton of work. I want these women to feel empowered to follow their dreams and move forward with what they want to accomplish.”
Establishing a scholarship is just one of the ways Howell gives back. She volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Cobb County, serves on Robinson’s board of advisors, and has sponsored events like dining etiquette sessions for Robinson undergraduates to learn formal table manners. To Howell, the importance of teamwork translates beyond playing fields, tracks, and courts.
“When you’re a member of a team, you learn from a young age that you can’t get anywhere by yourself,” she said. “Whether it’s sports, philanthropy, or work, you become part of a family and learn to achieve things in numbers.”