From the moment they first stepped through the office doors of the Chicago Bears, Upper Iowa University (UIU) alumnus Dom Hillesheim ’18, and UIU seniors Jack Thode and Joshua Buresh realized they were moving from one extended family into another. Like their experience at UIU’s Fayette Campus, the former Peacock baseball teammates found themselves surrounded by caring people who inspire others to achieve their career and lifetime goals.
Double majoring in marketing and communication studies at UIU, Hillesheim was hired as a full-time seasonal employee with the Bears organization just four days after graduation. This past spring he was rehired by the National Football League (NFL) team as an events and hospitality seasonal employee.
“The culture of the Chicago Bears is like a family, very similar to UIU’s Peacock family,” Hillesheim said. “The Bears celebrate their 100th NFL season this year and to this day everyone continues to be provided the same opportunities to excel. I don’t think I would have grown as much professionally with any other employer as I have here.”
In addition to his part-time role with the Bears events and entertainment staff, Thode is employed with the team’s game-day staff. A senior marketing and sport administration major, he worked his first NFL training camp the summer of his freshman year.
“One of my favorite parts of my job is the fact that no two days are alike,” Thode said. “The job is extremely fast-paced with a ton of moving pieces that come together to create the final product. It takes a huge group of people to put together events of this magnitude and I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to have this experience with one of the most historic NFL franchises. I have been able to work alongside a tremendous team that is provided great leadership. Learning from these individuals has been an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Buresh previously served as a stadium operation intern for the Waterloo Bucks developmental baseball team in Waterloo, Iowa, before joining Thode on Chicago’s part-time events and entertainment staff in July 2019. With a career goal of
working in athletics, ultimately with a professional team, the former Peacock first baseman hopes this most recent opportunity provides more connections in the industry and opens future doors.
“I believe getting this experience under my belt can only help me find employment in something that I hope to do every day of my life,” Buresh said. “Playing an active part in the operations of a professional sports franchise would be a dream come true.”
A senior sports administration major from Waverly, Iowa, he acknowledges that his employment with the Bears would not have been possible without his UIU education, the support from Hillesheim and Thode, or his internship with the Bucks
“I have been given opportunities at UIU that would not have been possible at other schools,” Buresh said. “The University’s eight-week schedule required me to only take two to three classes per session, which allowed me time to concentrate on other things in my life. From day one, being a part of Peacock baseball resulted in my friendships with Dom, Jack and other teammates that will last a lifetime.”
The Fayette-to-Chicago pipeline started when Hillesheim, an all-state catcher from Menasha (Wisconsin) High School, chose to attend UIU when given the opportunity to play for the Peacock baseball team. While achieving his higher education, he earned Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference All-Academic team honors and interned with UIU’s athletic department.
Under the tutelage of associate athletic director Brock Wissmiller, Hilleshiem was assigned various tasks related to event operations, managing the UIU athletic department’s Snapchat account, providing commentary on the Peacocks Sports Network, planning the football team’s Kid’s Day and working with various University partners.
“After only two weeks on Campus, Brock allowed me to walk in and start learning how a front office works at the collegiate level,” Hillesheim said. “The entire athletic department provided me such an unbelievable four-year experience that I truly don’t believe I would have gained it anywhere else.”
Hillesheim noted the baseball coaching staff was always very understanding when it came to balancing his education, work and baseball schedules. At the same time, his professors always challenged him to do his best academically. Associate professor of sport administration Karla Gavin, associate professor of business Summer Zwanziger Elsinger, and associate professor of communication Melle Starsen were especially helpful in preparing him for his interview with the Bears organization.
Now 23, Hillesheim credits his entire UIU experience as the catalyst that launched his career.
“I enjoyed so many things at Upper Iowa that it’s hard to even narrow it down to a few,” Hillesheim said. “I think it all comes down to the people. From teammates and coaches to the staff, faculty and administrators, UIU truly cares about you. My teammates, friends and everyone associated with Upper Iowa and the Fayette community will always hold a place in my heart. I can’t thank all of these individuals enough for what they did and continue to do for me.”
The Upper Iowa graduate’s current duties with the Bears events and entertainment team include premium ordering and hospitality for fan and Halas Hall events. In terms of premium ordering, he has the task of ordering programs, giveaways and roster cards for all events and gear. For hospitality, Hillesheim works with other internal departments to ensure all areas are properly set for each event. As an example, many events have title sponsors. These title sponsors receive a hospitality area and he helps design the assigned area, orders catering and works with guests to make sure they have an enjoyable experience.
Guests often come to Halas Hall and its two viewing suites for the chance to watch the Bears practice and enjoy a meal. Hillesheim’s job is to manage these and similar events. Since the planning and execution for Halas Hall and fan events vary so greatly, Hillesheim is busy year round.
“My favorite part of my job is working for months and even sometimes years to plan an event, and then sitting back and watching the fans and guests enjoy the work the entire staff put into it,” Hillesheim said. “Seeing the fans’ smiles and excitement when they get to the event makes all of the hard work worthwhile.”
Already, Hillesheim has enjoyed a pair of career highlights. The first occurred when the football team clinching the NFC North title last year against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field in Chicago. The celebrated win was shared throughout the Bears organization. His second highlight was being tasked with taking over operations for the Skate with Staley event. As part of the festivities, the team mascot – Staley Da Bear – and other personnel visit a Chicago suburb ice rink.
“Taking charge of an event from start to finish was an experience unlike any other,” said Hillesheim. “This opportunity allowed me to take ownership of an event. A coworker and I incorporated aspects that weren’t done in the past and it proved to be a huge success. I can’t wait for my next similar opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Thode’s role with the Bears includes everything from operating inflatables in the kid’s zone to helping with the execution of player autograph sessions. At training camp, the Bears staff also manages all hospitality areas, information booths and other fan experience areas. At other events, such as the Chicago Bears 5K, it’s all hands on deck to put up signage, work with sponsorship activations and set up Bears branded items. As part of the game-day experience, Thode has run flags onto Soldier Field ahead of the team and after each Bear’s score.
“The opportunity to work for one of the most iconic NFL franchises was what initially interested me in the position,” Thode said. “But after I learned more about the position from Dom and the interview process, I soon discovered numerous other factors that appealed to me. The networking opportunities have proven to be one of the biggest benefits. I have met tons of sports professionals in the Chicago area and beyond as a result of this position.”
The Peacock outfielder from Cedar Falls, Iowa, credits a number of his professors, teammates, coaches, classmates and other members of the Peacock family for helping him achieve his early career goals. He noted that one of the biggest benefits he has witnessed is that the UIU faculty and staff go the extra mile to get to know each individual student and are invested in helping everyone succeed.
“My advisor Karla Gavin and Dom have both been especially instrumental in getting me to this point in my life,” Thode said. “Karla is a phenomenal professor and she truly wants her students to achieve their dreams. I can text her or swing by her office anytime and she is always available. And what can I say, I wouldn’t be here in Chicago if it wasn’t for Dom. This summer I accepted a sports marketing internship with a company called TSMGI. I met my internship coordinator through my work with the Bears, so I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without that original recommendation from Dom. He really helped kick start my career, and he is still one of my mentors and best friends to this day.”
Reiterating the comradery that each of the three former teammates continue to share, Hillesheim acknowledges his dream to someday become a baseball scout.
“While I hope to continue working my way up in the realm of the Chicago Bears fan experience for years to come, my passion for baseball will never diminish,” Hillesheim said. “Scouting young players, developing them, and giving them the chance to play professionally is very intriguing to me.”
As the Chicago Bears commemorate their 100th season in the NFL in 2019-20, three Peacocks have reunited in the Windy City. Here, they are realizing that they, too, have reason to celebrate their past and current success, while also looking forward to one day providing others with opportunity and inspiration.