“Diversity” is the word of the day. Everyone is focused on enhancing their diversity and inclusion plans and designating staff to oversee the development and execution of those plans. As I study the profession of athletic administration, one area of diversity that I want to encourage is the diversity of skills and experiences that one can acquire at different institutions. This is encouragement for those administrators who are struggling to advance in their profession and feel like you’ve hit a wall. Diversifying your professional portfolio may be just the kick start you need.
I began my tenure with the University of Miami in October of 2019. When I officially started the job, I recall saying to myself, “Wow, your eighth institution!” That’s right, the U is the eighth university I have worked for in my 22-year career in athletic administration. The average time spent at each institution may be low, but the experience gained at each institution was tremendous. It is somewhat unusual to see a senior-level athletic administrator at a Power 5 school with experience at Division II and HBCUs, but that’s my story. Southwest Baptist, Delaware State, and Alabama A&M each helped develop me into an attractive administrator for the University of Miami. When I look at my resume, I see a diversified professional portfolio. Just like our financial advisors admonish us to diversify our financial portfolio, I believe there is value in having a diverse professional portfolio relative to institutions, skills and experiences.
When starting your career in athletics, you usually don’t have any name recognition. Your work shows up before your name. If you’re doing your job well, you will be known for your work and supervisors will trust you with more and allow you to do more. This is when you learn new skills, gain more experience in your field, and master your area. When you have mastered your area, then you can look at other areas in the athletic department to see where you can gain a new skill or experience to help you advance.
At Pitt, I was an academic advisor to athletes. I mastered my job in academics.
I then helped the fundraising staff write the script, direct the video, and choose the athletes to star in the “You Are Team Pittsburgh” video scholarship campaign. That was my first introduction to fundraising and what it meant for the department.
Skills and experiences are more important early in your career. Be a hands-on learner and be willing to put in the extra time. Remember, any new skill/experience you gain will likely be outside of your normal work hours for the job for which you were hired. Those skills/experiences will be useful somewhere down the line. You just don’t know for what institution it may come in handy.
I oversaw ticketing at Alabama A&M. During my time at Winthrop, our ticket manager resigned, and we were hosting the conference basketball tournament. I immediately became the ticket manager for the rest of the year and into the beginning of the next basketball season.
Administrators with mature careers usually have diverse institutions on their resumes. Diverse institutions means private, public, rural, urban, suburban, small, mid-size, large, PWI’s (predominantly white institutions), and maybe even HSIs (Hispanic serving institutions) and HBCUs. In my opinion, knowing how to navigate in different higher education settings gives you a slight edge and makes you an invaluable team member. If you are a senior-level administrator with insight into the standard philosophies of how different institutions operate, it just gives you a broader view of the business of higher education.
At Southwest Baptist, I was a part of a campus group called the Fit Committee. We were responsible for interviewing candidates to see if they fit the culture of the institution and the department in which they were going to work. I began the Cane Culture Council here at Miami because culture is so important to the health of an athletic department and we were looking to do something similar to a Fit Committee within the athletic department.
If you are serious about advancing in this profession, then you must be strategic in navigating your career. If you are early in your career, make sure you master your current job and acquire the skills and experiences that will be helpful later in your career. If your career is mature, focus on navigating through the choppy waters to get to your ultimate destination. A change in institution may be necessary for added credibility or a change in your foundational skill set may be needed to show your range of experience.
The first part of my career, I worked in academic services for athletes. I was known throughout the N4A (National Association of Athletic Academic Advisors for Athletes). I gained skills and experiences at different institutions in budgeting/finance and rebranded myself to the industry as a budget/finance administrator and now I am heavily involved with CABMA (College Athletics Business Management Association).
Identify your ultimate professional goal and be persistent in gaining the skills/experiences necessary to reach that goal. Your diversified professional portfolio will be a guide for other athletic administrators coming behind you, so take good care of your career.