Embracing Change

I applied for the Franklin & Marshall position in mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic began to intensify.  It was two weeks after I nervously had traveled with women’s water polo and one week after an emotional 24-hour trip to a canceled Division II wrestling national championship. It was a relief to know that the start of the search timeline was going to be delayed allowing F&M and the candidates a chance to process the severity of the pandemic and its effects on our campuses, communities and families.

The following months were overwhelming on all fronts: transitioning to remote work for the remainder of the semester, navigating first-grade assignments at home for my daughter, learning new technologies and keeping pace with ever-changing guidelines, attempting both balance and separation of professional and personal life in the various rooms of our house, combined with an inability to be outside thanks to awful Lake Erie spring weather, seemingly unending video calls and finally, enduring the unknowns of COVID-19, the virtual search/interview process.

An all-virtual process may not be for everyone, but I found it to be one that I really enjoyed, especially as an introvert who can be overwhelmed with the non-stop parade of individuals during a traditional all-day campus interview. It allowed time for pause and reflection, to rejuvenate and show a true sense of self over a prolonged period of time rather than simply my energy management ability, and it allowed for multiple opportunities to meet with different constituent groups – something the traditional in-person schedule does not provide with its rigid travel and meeting requirements.

Everything in our personal and professional lives since the start of the pandemic has required perseverance and resilience to live in a frenzied state of change. I viewed the virtual process as simply one more thing that was changed by the pandemic and adapted. Life goes on, and the only constant is change. I knew I was ready for a new challenge, so my family embraced the change. We saw it as motivation to push outside of our comfort zone and to face squarely the fear of the unknown. While we certainly had moments of pause, making a career move during COVID-19 never seemed too daunting. We were already awakened into new levels of self-awareness and self-reflection as a result of the pandemic. We released ourselves from monotony and gave our family permission to pursue our potential. Without the pandemic providing us reason and time for self-reflection, I’m not certain we would have summoned the courage to so freely embrace change.

The virtual process was different than traditional on-campus interviews, but no less exciting.  The anticipation while “sitting” in the waiting room before entering the virtual interview was unlike anything I had experienced before, and when the virtual interview was over, I simply clicked “leave meeting” and moved on with my day. It was surreal!  There were times the virtual process felt easier than in-person, and then there were times it was much harder. I enjoyed the ability to meet with groups multiple times and deeply explore topics together, but it was hard to abruptly start and stop our sessions. It was also great to have the flexibility with remote work to prepare in ways I otherwise would not have been able. Perhaps the hardest part was the delayed gratification of visiting campus and meeting personnel. It was almost four months between when I applied and when I was able to visit campus thanks to restrictions and scheduling opportunities. It was nearly two weeks after I was formally announced as the selected candidate before I met my vice president in person, and it will be almost five months before I meet any of the department members in person (and perhaps longer based on needs for health and safety).

Making a career move was a defining moment for my family, but it was elevated to a whole new level of significance because of COVID. It’s an experience I will never forget but will continue to draw strength from thanks to the grace extended by all as we move forward together navigating life’s uncertainty.

 

Lauren Packer Webster

Director of Athletics and Recreation, Franklin & Marshall College

Lauren Packer Webster begins her tenure as director of athletics and recreation at Franklin & Marshall College in August 2020.  She will be responsible for the management and development of 27 intercollegiate programs, club sports, intramurals, fitness programs and all athletic facilities at one of the nation’s leading private liberal arts institutions. Prior to F&M, Packer Webster spent 12 years at Mercyhurst University as a senior leader in one of the nation’s most comprehensive and successful multi-divisional athletics departments. With student success as her driving passion, Packer Webster helped guide the Lakers into competitive and operational excellence in the most successful decade of intercollegiate athletics at Mercyhurst. Packer Webster began her tenure at Mercyhurst in 2008 and was promoted to associate director of athletics in 2014. She ascended to the role of interim director of athletics in 2018, serving at the helm for more than 10 months. The Lakers thrived athletically with her leadership, earning a top-25 Learfield finish in 5 out of 10 years and a top-50 finish in 8 of 10 years thanks to a national championship in men’s lacrosse (2011), women’s ice hockey runner-up (2009), wrestling fourth-place finish (2016), 3 baseball world series appearances (2015, 2018, 2019) and a men’s basketball Elite Eight (2019).  Packer Webster was also instrumental in securing high-profile championship events for the Erie community, including Division I events: 2021 Women’s Frozen Four, 2018 College Hockey, Inc. Ice Breaker Tournament and the 2011 Women’s Frozen Four, along with numerous regional and conference championships. Packer Webster’s service commitments showcase a passion and dedication to the overall administration of the student-athlete experience.  She has served as the national media coordinator for the Division II Women’s Basketball Elite Eight, working with ESPN2 and CBS College Sports to produce semifinal and national championship games.  She has executed a four-year term on the Division II Wrestling National Committee in which she successfully lobbied a championship field increase of 20 wrestlers.  Current committee work includes a four-year term on the Strategic Alliance Matching Grant committee where she will assist in the selection of funding for members committed to enhancing ethnic and gender representation in athletics administration and assistant coaching positions. Packer Webster began her career as a director of media relations for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in 2008.  She also has worked as a lecturer in public relations at Edinboro University.  She is currently in the 2020-21 NCAA Pathways program, and a 2019 graduate of the Women Leaders Executive Institute and the 2018 NCAA/D2 ADA mentoring program.  She received her master’s in Communication Studies from Edinboro University in 2006 and bachelor’s from Penn State in Communication and Media Studies in 2004.