Purposeful. Open. Just. Disciplined. Caring. Celebratory.
Operationalizing the above six principles of a vital learning community espoused by educational theorist Ernest Boyer was not only the focus of my dissertation, but has also been a consistent theme along my professional journey. Effectively merging these core principles with the goals and realities of a highly competitive performance environment has been my life’s challenge – both as a student-athlete and later as an intercollegiate administrator.
Even with my experiences at three flagship public institutions, it was not surprising to me how well my DNA aligned with that of my soon-to-be new home – Colgate University. This is a place, after all, where coaches are referred to as “athletic faculty,” thus, reinforcing a direct link between the learning and competitive communities that make-up the student-athlete experience. The strong connection between these two communities at Colgate require the athletic department to be transparent and inclusive in our planning so that we stay aligned with the mission, values and culture of the institution.
My journey to becoming an athletics director was not mapped out; rather, it has been a culmination of a series of auspicious life experiences. Along the way there have been opportunities and mentors that have shaped and changed my vision. Somewhere along this path I realized that I was called to lead in this profession.
I remember when I was the captain of the track team at the University of Missouri, I approached then athletics director Joe Castiglione about building a new outdoor track. Already having plans in the works, he got me involved (as a sophomore!). I immediately organized a letter writing campaign to legislators and curators. Joe also put me in face-to-face meetings with potential donors. I was getting my first taste of impacting the student-athlete experience – and I loved it!
A few years after I left Mizzou, while in private practice as a psychologist, Joe called to talk about addressing student-athlete mental health and ended up creating a new, first-of-its-kind position for me on his staff at the University of Oklahoma as a counseling and sport psychologist. This move created a professional path that has been challenging and teaching me ever since. At the time, I did not envision my career odyssey leading to today. But, I have always been inspired to help people move and change, and to put my training and experiences into leading others.
Mentors like Joe, Bubba Cunningham (North Carolina Athletics Director), Patti Phillips (CEO of Women Leaders in College Sports) and Cheryl Levick (Personalized Executive Training) have continually pushed me to develop my leadership portfolio, positioning me for this next step. Bubba’s steady presence, sage advice, ability to lead with integrity and persevere through adversity and complexity has imbued me with the confidence to know that this step is the natural progression in my development as a leader.
While my career arc may not have been wholly intentional, how I conduct myself and how I strive to interact with every person very much is intentional. Both are based on the core principles of being – purposeful, open, just, disciplined, caring and celebratory.
At Colgate, I fully expect that we will be intentional about everything we do, from our approach to the student-athlete experience, to the relationships we build within the Hamilton community. On a campus where one in five students participate as a competitive athlete, we are uniquely positioned as a Division I institution to foster a meaningful relationship between the athletics department and the student body. Underscoring the important role that athletics plays on campus, my vice presidential appointment provides a seat at the table of the President’s cabinet as well as a position on the Deans Advisory Council. These forums will undoubtedly afford valuable opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration and gaining a deeper understanding of how athletics impacts, and is impacted by, the rest of campus. The position also provides oversight for all physical education and recreation, allowing the athletics department to have a direct impact on the health and well-being of the general student body. It is my aim to ensure that every Colgate student has the opportunity to be as healthy as they want to be, and as competitive as they aspire to be.
During my tenure, we will demonstrate an absolute commitment to the student-athlete academic experience, including maintenance of one of the highest graduation rates in all of Division I. The academic experience at Colgate is rooted in the social experience of the institution and is fully integrated in the community, on campus and off. Athletics must then be fully committed to this philosophy as well. Colgate’s compact footprint will undoubtedly help foster cross-campus collaboration, as we aim to remain in lockstep with the institutional mission and vision.
Our messaging will be clear and consistent. Coaches and staff will serve as character models for our student-athletes to emulate. We will continue to advance our competitive success and national profile. We will ask and answer questions, regularly taking the temperature of our ideas and direction. Situated in a small town, we will embrace the mandate be a good neighbor. Through purposeful action, Colgate athletics will be a point of pride and inspiration for the Hamilton community. Challenge accepted!