Sophia Sharpless ’21 ran through countless sneakers—now she designs them

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Sophia Sharpless (second from right) with her coworkers in Baltimore, M.D. where Under Armour headquarters is located.(Photo courtesy of Sophia Sharpless ’21)

Caroline McParland, Sports Editor

Right after graduation, Sophia Sharpless ’21 found a career that is the perfect intersection of her college major and the sport she loves. At Lafayette, Sharpless majored in mechanical engineering and competed with the track and field team. The Princeton, N.J. native has since moved to Baltimore, M.D. to be closer to the Under Armour headquarters where she now works as a footwear analyst.

“I kind of always knew what I wanted to do,” Sharpless said. “In high school, I started working at Footlocker to learn more about sneakers. I wanted to go into engineering, but with the intention of ending up in sneaker engineering,” Sharpless said. “I played sports my entire childhood, and I’ve always had chronically bad feet, and I couldn’t find a pair of sneakers that fit my needs.”

While studying mechanical engineering, she focused on elective courses that would benefit her in the future.

“Since I was on the track team, I was with Sports Med a lot, and one of the trainers actually makes orthotics for some of the athletes, so I would just go in and talk to him and he would let me watch him make the orthotics,” Sharpless said.

Sharpless applied for an internship with Under Armour as a rising junior but did not get it. She did not give up on getting an internship. Instead, she spent that summer working with Nestle at the production plant learning about their factories.

Sharpless added that she almost did not reapply for the Under Armour program again the following summer, but everything she intended on fell into place when Under Armour reached out to her and said they were waiting on her re-application which she then submitted.

Sophia Sharpless ’21 has found a job working with Under Armour at the intersection of her college major and her college sports team. (Photo courtesy of Sophia Sharpless ’21)

“I got accepted to the footwear innovation internship, and I was supposed to go out to Portland, Oregon. My project would have been a special emphasis on traction studies for the Curry 9 basketball sneaker,” Sharpless said.

In this internship, she would have worked with Steph Curry’s team to complete different analyses of the traction patterns on the new sneaker. However, this was canceled due to the Covid pandemic and she did not go to Portland. Instead, she participated in a mentorship over that summer and was still able to become acquainted with Under Armour and the sneaker industry.

After returning to Lafayette for her senior year, she received and accepted a job offer with Under Armour in Maryland. 

“My official role is a footwear materials lab analyst, so I conduct mechanical testing on different next-generation sneakers,” Sharpless said. “I work in innovation, so I’m mostly working with products that have not been put on the market yet to mechanically test them and then analyze the results. I then report out and inform the developers and the designers and all about which of these concepts and technologies could be beneficial and how they should be used in future designs.”

Running from fifth grade to her senior year of college, Sharpless has tried out countless pairs of running shoes.

“Having different teammates was also really good because I got a lot of information about what people need for their feet. It also worked really well for having a job where you’re working on a team and collaborating,” she said. “Working in building a product now, it’s very beneficial to have actually played the sport. It’s a lot easier for me to understand the importance of different technologies that we’re working on and how different concepts work within sneakers because I’ve actually worn them.”

In addition to being on the track and field team, Sharpless worked as a peer mentor and for Recreation Services.

Sophia Sharpless and her coworkers participating on the Under Armour kickball team. (Photo courtesy of Sophia Sharpless ’21)

“Both roles were good opportunities to communicate with people who had different backgrounds than me on a daily basis. I learned a lot of things that are good skills that I can take into a career where I’m going to be interacting with people,” Sharpless said.

While Sharpless encountered bumps on the road, she is happy to have found herself in her current role.

“My dad has always said if you work in a career where it’s something you’re passionate about, it won’t feel like work, and I wanted to try and do that,” Sharpless said. “You just have to be patient with yourself, and you’ll find something that makes you happy.”