From classroom to courtside: Auburn alumna utilizes human sciences degree to support Auburn Athletics

Published: February 11, 2020
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Tra’Cee Tanner started designing her own clothes in the ninth grade. By the end of high school, she had made her own prom dress and soon enough was on her way to a degree in apparel merchandising at Auburn University.

Fast forward to today. 

Tanner’s love for design is now realized on the big stage of Auburn Athletics with Tanner serving as the assistant equipment manager for the Tigers’ men’s and women’s basketball teams and volleyball team. Tanner is responsible for all Under Armour purchases, equipment purchases, laundry services, guest team services and budget control. Tanner is quick to note that it was Auburn’s College of Human Sciences that helped put her passion into practice.

“I chose Auburn because my first time on campus there was a sense of home that you feel, not only with athletics, but with your professors as well,” said Tanner. “Auburn has one of the best fashion design programs in the country. Who wouldn’t want to be at one of the best schools in the nation—academically and athletically?”

While a student at Auburn, Tanner played on the basketball team—continuing the legacy of her sister and mother, also D1 athletes—and she excelled in the design program throughout college. Tanner, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in apparel merchandising, design and production management in 2016, said she was shaped by her experiences on and off the court. 

It was during her senior year that she started to imagine a career developing from her internship with Auburn Athletics. Tanner saw an opportunity to improve the relationship between the Athletic Department and Under Armour and decided to pitch herself. 

“I wrote a job proposal as a merchandise auditor that included strengthening the relationship and apparel with Under Armour, controlling and analyzing Under Armour inventory within the Athletic Department and analyzing Under Armour purchase utilization for all Olympic sports,” said Tanner. “My proposal was accepted and my job position was created. I did not think I would have the opportunity of being an equipment manager. With all that I learned in my undergrad, I was more than prepared for this position.”

And although it was a position she didn’t initially envision, it proved to be a perfect fit.

“When I initially started working toward my fashion degree, I thought I wanted to work in high-end fashion in New York for some of my favorite designers,” Tanner said. “As time progressed, I learned more about the industry and discovered there’s a lot of different avenues out there that involve fashion in some sort of way.” 

During her time in equipment management, unique opportunities and unexpected relationships have evolved. 

“In the three and a half years I’ve been with this department, I have grown more and more,” she said. “I have gained more responsibility that has allowed me to evolve in this profession and beyond. Don’t think inside of a box. Allow yourself to go on a journey to get where you want to go. I have learned things far beyond my imagination, I’ve been able to change and create new things that have never been done and I’ve made connections with people I’ve never thought I’d meet.”

Behind the glitz and the glamour of pursing a degree in fashion, Tanner faced unique challenges.

“The curriculum itself is very time demanding within and outside the classroom,” said Tanner. “Throw playing basketball in the mix, and it definitely didn’t make it any easier. The biggest takeaway from my time at Auburn was time management and networking.”

There were several aspects of student life that shaped Tanner into who she is today, including one of her former professors, Dawn Michaelson.

“Mrs. Michaelson saw something special in me and my passion for apparel and the fashion industry since my first day in her class,” said Tanner. “She was one of the only teachers that didn’t see me as an athlete in her class. She saw potential in a young woman that the world needed to see.” 

Tanner thanks her experience in the classroom for her success in equipment management.

“There is a lot of information that I learned from my major that allows me to be successful in my career,” she said. “From understanding the logistics and forecasting of merchandise to the design aesthetics and fabric technology, Auburn’s fashion program has equipped me to be successful in more than just high-end fashion.”

Looking ahead, Tanner hopes to continue to make a difference with the skills and tools she has gained since graduating from Auburn and maintaining her career. 

“I still aspire to be in the fashion industry in some form or fashion, whether that is being a visual merchandiser, a sports apparel consultant or having my own clothing brand,” she said. “I want to take everything that I have learned thus far and grow even more. I also want to continue to be an advocate for student athletes for life after sports.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.