Most young children beg their parents for repeated tellings of nursery rhymes, funny stories and fairy tales.
Kasia Omilian craved a different kind of tale: the real-world account of her mother’s improbable ascent from a decidedly masculine poultry trading floor to vice president of a commodity import-export business.
“I remember being about five years old and asking her to tell me that story again and again,” says Omilian, now a junior at the Foster School of Business. “How she was able to rise above so many challenges. That’s part of where my own dream has come from.”
Her dream? Only to become the first female general manager in the NFL.
If that sounds a bit far-fetched, then you haven’t met Omilian.
Doing the work
The determined daughter of enterprising Polish immigrants who left for America at the first crack in the Iron Curtain, Omilian has designed her entire college experience around a future in the sport that has stirred her passions since her childhood in Atlanta.
Her path to leadership in the National Football League has been intentional and precisely planned. It began with an exhaustively researched spreadsheet logging the skills and backgrounds of each GM running the 32 league franchises. To build her own distinctive resume, she strategically balances business coursework at Foster with studies in Law, Societies and Justice.
She convinced the Husky Football program to hire her even before she received her acceptance letter from the UW. And she has spent the past two summers interning in operations with the Pittsburgh Steelers, helping manage training camp.
Her current role with UW Football is in recruiting, scouting prospective tight ends. She has characteristically immersed herself in the job, poring through video, absorbing wisdom from the coaches, developing a keen eye for talent and potential. “What I bring is a different way of thinking,” Omilian says. “I can see things that maybe the guys miss. I have a unique perspective as a female in the room.”
In football, she’s most often the only female in the room. That means working harder than anyone to prove herself.
“Kasia is not only curious, intelligent and friendly, she possesses an admirable amount of courage and grit as well,” says Josh Murphy, assistant director of player personnel with UW Football. “By challenging conventional norms and venturing into a business and a sport predominantly filled with men, she is proving there is no environment she’s intimidated by.”
Right place, right time
Omilian feels lucky to be launching her improbable career at a school led by a woman president (Ana Mari Cauce) and athletic director (Jennifer Cohen). “If I am going to do this anywhere,” says Omilian, the vice president of Undergraduate Women in Business at Foster, “this is where I want to be.”
And she’s making real progress. Last January she was one of 50 invitees to the prestigious NFL Women’s Careers in Football Forum which took place during the Pro Bowl weekend (she will attend this year’s summit as well, during the NFL Combine in late February). She is building a nationwide network of mentors, partners and champions of her cause. Her contacts include GMs, assistant GMs and veteran scouts. “If all of this is happening to me at 20,” she muses, “I must be doing something right.”
It will certainly take a great team behind her to help Omilian achieve her ultimate aspiration. But she has a shot, and she’s taking it. “I have a strong personality and work ethic that came from my parents who came to America with $100 and a suitcase. They were taking a big leap of faith, and it’s kind of the same thing with my dream. There’s no one ahead to show me the way.”
If Omilian’s ambition began with her mother’s example, it is sustained by her father’s mantra: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”