Soldier Girl

Moira O’Connor, ’12, is operations director at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

“Anything big that comes into Chicago comes into this stadium.”

And by “big,” Moira O’Connor isn’t just talking football players. She’s talking about the Rolling Stones. Beyoncé. Metallica. And, of course, the Chicago Bears. If it’s world-shakingly big and on its way to Chicago, she’ll have the stadium ready and running.

Oh, the stadium? Soldier Field, the historic Chicago arena where the 2012 Minnesota State University, Mankato grad is Director of Operations. At 30, she’s the youngest to hold the job, which oversees about 40 employees and a $6 million operating budget.

It’s a job she says uses both her psychology degree from Minnesota State Mankato, and a law degree from John Marshall Law School in Chicgo. The route that began with studying and playing hockey at Minnesota State Mankato dog-legs a few times before ending at the stadium, but O’Connor approached each turn with smart planning and flexibility.

In a family of lawyers, including a Chicago alderman as a dad, O’Connor chose to attend Minnesota State Mankato for its women’s hockey program.

“I wanted a school where I’d play and was a little closer to home,” she said. “Mankato was the right fit. It’s not tiny. I liked the town. I liked the team, and frankly it was nice to also have fun in college…We were an OK team in a phenomenal league, so we got the best of both worlds. I got to play, it was competitive, and then I got to have fun as well.”

She played for four years, and captained in her junior and senior years. She graduated with a psychology degree and headed back to Chicago, where she pretty much fanned out applications in three areas: law, communication and psychology.

She ultimately chose to study law while working at an ice rink on the city’s north side. That job expanded to managing facilities on the South Side as well, all for the same company that manages Soldier Field today. When a position opened in events management at Soldier Field, she applied and got it.

Three years ago, she ascended into the Director of Operations. She also earned her law degree and passed the Illinois bar exam—but decided to continue working at Soldier Field rather than becoming a litigator.

 “I realized when I got the role I’m in now, which was with two years left in law school, that I liked what I was doing and who I was doing it with,” she said.

The law degree serves its purpose in more ways than one, she said.

“I took over contracts at work,” she said. “We just negotiated Chicago Fire coming back in to the stadium. I get to use [my law degree] still, but it’s a very different way of thinking, a very different way of approaching things. It comes in handy to me on a daily basis.”

Even more useful, she said, is her psychology degree from Minnesota State Mankato.

 “I use it all the time,” she said. “The psychology degree is probably the best thing in the world. Especially certain classes. Human memory was one of the more interesting classes in college. I’ll sit at work and if I have to memorize something … or like when I was studying for the bar exam. What I learned in that class helped me figure out how to best study for that test. It comes in handy like that.”

The everyday tasks of her job range from overseeing equipment repairs to maintenance to cleaning to major event operations—it runs the gamut.

Each game day for the Bears, with upwards of 61,000 in attendance, starts with making sure the building’s clean, the field is set and playable and all the setups are in place.

“We do the facility operations and the Bears run game presentation, if you will. And I oversee all of that.”

As for the giants of entertainment and sports, the professional thing to do is let them do their thing and not get in the way. When she and staff saw Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts getting in a run on the day of a concert, they let him be despite the accessibility. Same with NFL players.

“We treat ‘em the same way regardless: ‘Welcome to Soldier Field, thanks for being here.’ And just keep walking.”