As a student athlete during his time at NC State — first as a preferred walk-on for the football team, then as bullpen catcher for the baseball team — Wilson College of Textiles alumnus Shane O’Toole (PCC ‘15) learned firsthand that what an athlete wears can affect their performance. He puts that into practice every day in his current position as a material development manager for the team sports division at Under Armour.
“One of the greatest things about my job at Under Armour is with every development I do, every project I take on, I think to myself, ‘Would I wear this if I was still playing?’ or ‘What would I do if I was going to wear this on the field?’” he said. “You can bounce your ideas off other athletes at the company because there are so many of us here.”
He aids in the development of the performance apparel company’s On-Field products, including materials innovation and uniform design and implementation for sports including college football, baseball, basketball, softball, track and field, tennis, volleyball and lacrosse, as well as international professional soccer and rugby. He also works with some of the uniforms for Team USA, including the boxing, bobsled and skeleton teams.
“It’s definitely fast-paced and it doesn’t come without its challenges,” he said of his job. “One of the nice things is that I actually get to interact with the athletes…I get to talk to them about [what] they like or don’t like about their current uniforms or training gear…Once they know that you’re an ex-athlete, they understand that you get it and you’re just trying to make them better.”
O’Toole travels frequently for work, shuttling between Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Tamryn — an NC State College of Education alumna — and the company’s headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, and flying internationally to countries like Germany and Singapore, his favorite destination so far. On the road, he tries to soak in the local culture and try new foods; he even tried jellyfish, which he doesn’t recommend. At home, his days begin early and his to-do list is long.
“As soon as 8:00 a.m. hits, (I am) usually either in a meeting or working with different groups, whether it’s design, merchandising or marketing, with our lab team or the rest of our innovation team, discussing a new concept or material or different types of technology that we think we can implement in certain areas,” he said. “It’s nonstop from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but the nice thing about Under Armour is that you play just as hard as you work.”
He enjoys the work and camaraderie — and competition — among his team.
“It’s more like a team mentality, really. It’s the closest I have felt to an athletic team since leaving collegiate sports,” he said. “The good thing is if you have ideas, you can bounce them off other athletes at the company, because there are so many of us…The only problem is, when you get a bunch of ex-athletes in a room and they’re all very passionate about their different sides, there is some head-butting. But we always work it out, because we’re on the same team.”
Growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, O’Toole wanted to be a professional athlete.
“I got to have a taste of that playing college football and baseball,” he said. “I’m pretty banged up physically, [but this career] is exactly what I would want it to be. I’m still working with professional athletes and I work with athletes in mind, essentially just trying to make them better.”
He played sports throughout his college career, waking up at 4 a.m. to practice and studying late into the night. In the summers and in between classes, he worked at a mattress factory and as a vet tech. He also interned at Under Armour in the summer of 2014.
“I was just constantly tired, but I pushed through it because I knew it was worth it,” he said.
Despite his best efforts, he fell asleep in one class near the end of the semester. The professor told his friend to let him sleep, as he had watched O’Toole struggle to stay awake and knew how hard he had worked to maintain a good grade in the class.
“He let me sleep the entire class and when I woke up, everyone was gone,” he said. “He was packing up and said, ‘If you need help, email me. My office hours are from X to Y tomorrow, so just come on in.’ It’s nice [studying at the Wilson College of Textiles] because you get to build a relationship with your professors and they really support you….You’re very close to your professors, very close to your classmates, you’re not a stranger when you walk into any classroom. It’s a very intimate, small college feel inside a really large university, so you get the best of both worlds.” He still consults with his former professors when he needs advice.
He believes his B.S. in Polymer and Color Chemistry is so valuable because of the range of subjects that students study and the variety of careers possible with the degree.
“The curriculum is such a unique blend of chemistry, physics, engineering, material sciences… And essentially you can do whatever you want with that major; if you wanted to go to the chemistry field you can, if you wanted to go to pre-med or try to be a pharmacist or doctor, you can. I have a couple classmates that are now pharmacists or M.D.s. If you wanted to be in materials science or engineering, you can. The possibilities are limitless.”
O’Toole shared some advice for prospective and current students.
“You can do anything you want with your degree,” he said. “Whether it’s Textile Technology, Textile Engineering, Polymer and Color Chemistry, Fashion and Textile Management or Fashion and Textile Design. You will come from the best textile school globally, but you will also have the education and the standing to do whatever you want with your degree. It really enables you to go as far as your dreams can take you — you just have to put in the work…Looking back on how hard college was, whether it was the degree or the time or all the other energy I put in, the only thing I want to say is to never sell yourself short. If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to do it. I’ll quote [legendary NC State basketball coach] Jimmy V. here, ‘Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.’”
O’Toole wrote about his experience as a PCC student back in 2014.
Learn more about the department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science.
Learn more about the department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management.
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Written by Cameron Walker