At a Glance

Year: '06
Major: Mechanical Engineering

All through elementary and high school, Becky O’Hara ’06 played baseball and softball.
Now she oversees the design of bats, balls, helmets, chest protectors and other gear for both sports as director of research and development at Rawlings Sporting Goods — thanks to a connection she made with the company as a graduate research assistant at the UMass Lowell Baseball Research Center
“I went straight to work for Rawlings,” says O’Hara, who earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. “They had an opening for a bat engineer at the time that I graduated.”
But her path wasn’t always so clear.
Growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, O’Hara also excelled at ice hockey, playing defense on both her high school’s varsity squad and a girls club team, the Rhode Island Panthers. When she was applying to colleges, she looked for schools where she could continue playing hockey while studying engineering. 
“Women’s hockey and engineering are not exactly a common pairing, so it limited the schools I could go to,” she says.
McGill University in Montreal had just promoted its women’s ice hockey team from club to varsity status, and O’Hara was offered a spot. The team came in second at nationals one year and third in another. But as she finished up her senior season, O’Hara still wasn’t sure exactly what kind of engineering job she wanted. 
She began by looking for jobs in biomedical engineering and sports product design. That’s when she ran across an opening for a lab manager at the UML Baseball Research Center. She knew she wasn’t qualified, but she emailed the center’s director, Prof. James Sherwood, to see if there was another position she could apply for. 
Sherwood, now dean of the Francis College of Engineering and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology, suggested she work in the center while earning a specialized master’s degree.
“I wasn’t planning on graduate school,” O’Hara says, but “the work in the lab really benefited me.”
Sherwood founded the Baseball Research Center in 1999 under the sponsorship of Major League Baseball and Rawlings. As a graduate research assistant from 2004 to 2006, O’Hara tested and certified bats for the NCAA and MLB.
While talking to people at Rawlings about a possible internship, O’Hara connected with the company’s then-head of research and development, Art Chou. He offered to sponsor her master’s thesis: testing and characterizing a wide variety of bat prototypes. 
O’Hara graduated into the bat engineering job and never looked back. Four promotions and nearly two decades later, she’s head of research and development for the whole company.
“The timing all worked out for me,” she says.
O’Hara still plays slow-pitch softball, and she helps to coach her daughter’s softball and son’s hockey teams. She has also maintained her ties to the Baseball Research Center, which continues to test Rawlings equipment for both the company and MLB. And at Sherwood’s invitation, she has agreed to serve on the advisory board for SCORE, the UML Sports Collaborative for Open Research and Education.
O’Hara encourages students in the new sports engineering minor and the sports studies minor or concentration within American Studies to apply for co-ops with Rawlings. The St. Louis, Missouri-based company hosts four co-ops each year.
“We’d love to have UMass Lowell students,” she says.

Importance of research?

Becky O'Hara.
“The work in the lab really benefited me.”