An elite college soccer star. A prominent bank manager. Now a detective and an adjunct professor at AIC, Orette Ho Sang '02, MBA '21, has come full circle, and he's only getting started.
By Jeffrey Martin
Opportunities are something that Orette would never allow to slip through his hands. He was born and raised in Jamaica. Growing up, Orette wanted to play professional soccer in England. He explains that Jamaica is still considered a British colony, so as a kid, Orette watched the English Premier League. After graduating high school at sixteen years old, Orette had a shot to play in Europe, but it wasn’t in England as he had hoped—it was Germany. That had him thinking, “Oh my god, Germany at sixteen or seventeen? I don’t know the language, it’s a very different country, I don’t know anyone.” Orette made the rare decision to pass on the opportunity. Instead, he moved with his family to New Jersey in hopes of playing soccer at the college level.
Orette’s high school transcripts proved to be a barrier preventing him from going straight into college. In Jamaica, high school students take exams (otherwise known as subjects) focused on whatever field they want to work in. For Orette, that was the world of finance, specifically accounting. “I love numbers. Math was my thing,” he explains as he dives into what made these subjects so difficult: these exams are designed by Cambridge and Oxford University. Despite passing a handful of these subjects, Orette was told that his transcripts from Jamaica would not be accepted here in the US. He would need to either obtain his GED or spend some time in high school and pass the necessary exams. Orette opted for the latter, ready for his first challenge.
“One of my teammates that used to play for Mercer . . . had connections with schools in this area,” Orette explains, “because he wanted to be close to home. One of his schools of choice was American International College, so he was in touch with their coach.” It wasn’t long afterwards that Orette received a call to check out AIC himself. With a bag carrying just his cleats, shin pads, and some shorts, he took the train from New Jersey to Union Station in Springfield and joined the Yellow Jackets for practice for a couple of days. One coach had a tremendous impact on Orette’s future: “Coach Fred Balbino called me and said, ‘I can give you a scholarship and you don’t have to worry about your tuition.’” Coach Balbino also helped him with the admissions office. It didn’t take long before Orette officially enrolled at the College.
Support is just one of many words that come to mind for Orette when it comes to AIC. Orette recalled, “The teammates kind of helped me along because there are a lot of international kids here. I met people from the Caribbean, people from Europe,” which reminds Orette of back home in Jamaica. It even extends to Jamaican currency, and he goes on to explain that “the motto is Out of Many, One People. Just like me! My ancestors on my dad’s side is Korean. My mom’s side came from India.” The team was more than just a collection of people with diverse backgrounds— they became friends. “In the middle of August, they [my teammates] laughed at me because I was cold. It was kind of cool at the end [of the month] and I asked for sweats,” Orette said, but he learned that sweats weren’t handed out until October. At least he could count on his team for a laugh here and there while he was shivering in the summer heat. Orette went on to graduate from the College in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing —which brought another challenge to his doorstep.
Another concern was employment. Orette was already working in retail after graduation. Everything changed on August 8, 2005, when the government permitted Orette to work in the US. It’s a date that holds a lot of significance for him, as it cleared a path to pursue a new management opportunity with EbLens in Bloomfield, Connecticut, where he trained new managers. After a while, Orette felt tired. In 2010, he needed a change: “This is too much, I’m asking people their shoe size, and I have this education—I need to try to go in the corporate world a little bit more.’” Little did Orette know that was easier said than done.
While he couldn’t officially open the new account, he took down the customers’ necessary information to open a business account for them the next day. Orette recalled sharing the information with his manager: “He just looked at me kind of strange and said, ‘You’re a teller, you just started, how do you know about this?’” Orette directly attributes what he learned from AIC and in Jamaica to this situation. His temperament is one that shows your past experiences can continually benefit you when you least expect it. While the move greatly impressed his managers, the next step in his career wouldn’t happen until a year later. Orette became a citizen, which really opened doors for him. After spending a few months searching for managerial openings, he stumbled upon an opportunity to be a supervisor at TD Bank’s contact center in Springfield. He worked there for about a year until the contact center moved to South Carolina—a leap that Orette wasn’t ready to take. “I can’t make that jump. I just started getting into my own, so I stayed here,” and it didn’t take long for him to find his footing. TD Bank offered him a position as an assistant branch manager in Springfield on State Street—right across the road from AIC. “I’m always coming back,” Orette says as he’s overcome with laughter, realizing there’s a pattern that naturally developed over the years. It didn’t take long for Orette to find another window of opportunity elsewhere for his biggest career change yet.
The opportunity was given to me, so why not give someone else that same opportunity?
Leave it to Orette—the soccer player, the international student, the retail manager, the bank teller, the assistant branch manager, and now the Springfield Police detective— to figure out a way to bring previous experiences into his new line of work. Communication skills and people skills were crucial for his previous jobs—but that doesn’t mean they can’t be relevant in new ways. Orette knew that he could bring that skillset, as well as his education from AIC, with him into the line of duty: “All of your culture comes in one ball, and I was successful when I took that into law enforcement.” Making the jump from police officer on the beat to a detective in the Special Victims Unit would feel great for any member of the department. Orette is not as easily satisfied. When his lieutenant made the offer, Orette said, “It’s going to be a new challenge, lieutenant, but I’ll do the best I can.” His current duties as a detective are different compared to when he was a patrolman, but the compassion remains the same. As an officer in uniform, he’d make it a point to check in on families whose calls he responded to. As a detective, “now those people are coming into my office,” he explains. That affords Orette more time to effectively address the needs and concerns of those families: “Now I’m in this position to call resources in for [them],” whether people need housing assistance, counseling, or something else entirely.
Clearly, it’s working. Fraud Examination had six students. Business Law has eighteen students—a three-fold increase after teaching just one course. He claims that his students would take a part two of either of his courses if they could. An instructor’s success can’t be limited to what happens in the classroom— sometimes what happens outside of it is more important. Orette is proud to make himself available whenever the students need help. He told me of a student of his who asked for help with a very specific situation: the student-athlete was trying to figure out a way to save money while earning his master’s degree. Orette told his student exactly what he did all those years ago, which was to talk to his coach about being an assistant. For Orette, “everything seems like I have to give this knowledge back to kids that needs it.” At the moment, he wants to keep teaching while being a detective. Orette doesn’t know what his next challenge is. I ask him what he’d do if another opportunity presented itself to him. Orette only says one thing: “I’ll do the best that I can.”