Reporting to the Deputy Director of Athletics and Recreation, the Director of Recreation provides visionary leadership, supervision, and management of Recreation facilities and programs, including Aquatics, Beach, Fitness, Instructional Sport, Intramural, Sailing, Sport Club, Self-Directed Recreation, Tennis and Wildcat Summer Camp Programs. The Director will play a central role in developing creative, state-of-the-art programs and services that comprehensively foster a commitment to diversity and inclusiveness and animate physical fitness among students, faculty, staff, and the greater Evanston and North Shore communities. The Director will be strongly connected to the profession and a leader in Recreation best practices ensuring that Northwestern University is a national leader. The Director is responsible for department oversight of 17 full-time staff, five direct reports, over 200 student staff, and a $2.9 million operating budget. The Director is a member of the Athletics and Recreation Leadership cabinet and the Operations Unit Leadership Team, provides leadership for university/division committees and initiatives, and represents the University at appropriate state, regional, and national professional organizations.

The Director effectively manages Recreation budgets, ensuring sound fiscal operations; collaborates with Athletics leadership and Facilities and Operations to create renovation, refreshment, and capital project plans; provides effective leadership and direction to all program development; oversight of indoor and outdoor facilities and fields; marketing and communications; fiscal management including revenue-generating services; and staffing and supervision. The Director maintains relationships with internal and external constituencies and collaborates to support integrated and holistic wellness model partnerships. The Director will develop and promote a shared vision that drives comprehensive strategic planning, goal setting, and assessment initiatives and implements best practices related to wellness and campus recreation. The Director develops and maintains risk management protocols, policies, and procedures for the recreation department following models of best practice from NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, the Big Ten Conference, and the NCAA.

The Position


The successful candidate will possess a bachelor’s degree in a related field and have demonstrated progressive professional experience within a campus recreation or wellness organization, including significant experience with facilities and programs, staff supervision, and budget management; proven ability in leading organizational transformation, with the capacity to effect change in the institutional culture and operations; demonstrated knowledge of the importance of health, wellness, Recreation, and fitness to a campus community as well as an understanding of the theories, principles, and practices of student development and higher education administration; strong communication, organizational, fiscal, and relationship building skills with the ability to work collaboratively with key on and off campus community partners. A demonstrated orientation toward equity and inclusion and cultural competency in all aspects of campus life will be important considerations in selecting the next Director of Recreation.

Additionally, the following characteristics and attributes were identified by various stakeholders when considering the Director of Recreation position.

  • Demonstrated experience effectively supervising, advocating, coaching, and mentoring professional staff, providing them with meaningful professional development.
  • A record of superior communication and presentation skills, successful relationship building, and collaboration with internal and external stakeholder groups.
  • A demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity, access, inclusion, and belonging.
  • A strong connection to the profession of Recreation and wellness; knowledgeable and engaged in national best practices.
  • Adaptive and flexible to change.
  • Strong background in student development and an understanding of its importance in recreational sports within students’ collegiate experience and student success.
  • A forward-thinking leader with a strong vision for the department and its future growth and potential.
  • Demonstrated change management experience and an adaptive leadership style; flexible to thrive in a changing environment.
  • Demonstrated experience developing and leading campus-wide wellness initiatives.
  • Highly collaborative communicative style with the capacity to foster relationships with key stakeholders, campus leaders, and community partners.
  • Experience with membership development, budget management, financial modeling, and revenue generation for recreation facilities.
  • Industrial spirit with the ability and experience to generate new ideas and see them through to implementation.
  • Confident and decisive with the capability to make tough decisions while explaining the rationale behind those decisions.
  • A fun, positive attitude, and growth mindset.
  • Experience managing all facets of facilities management and long-range planning.
  • A commitment to the mission and vision of Northwestern, and excitement to join an innovative, collaborative, and multidimensional community.


Maureen Palchak served as Associate Athletic Director for Recreation & Athletic Management for nearly three years before being named Chief Operations Officer of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America in 2022. Before Palchak, Dan Bulfin served as Director of Recreation before his retirement after 41 years of service at Northwestern University.


The Director of Recreation is a collaborative and dynamic leader within the division of Athletics and Recreation and utilizes best practices in campus recreation. In addition to strong programmatic and administrative skills, the new Director must be able to build, mentor, retain, and support a strong team.

Campus stakeholders articulated many opportunities and challenges for the Director, and the following are common themes that were highlighted:

  • Create a distinct vision and identity for Recreation. Working with an accomplished and engaged recreation leadership team and the Athletics and Recreation Leadership cabinet and Operations Unit Leadership Team, the next Director will create a clear and unified vision that highlights the purpose of Recreation to meet University goals and aligns with the comprehensive vision of Northwestern Athletics and Recreation. The next Director will elevate and strengthen opportunities for programmatic synergy and greater administrative efficiencies between the two departments.
  • Focus on strategic planning. The next Director will lead short-term and long-term planning on Recreation’s role in shaping the student experience. The next Director will lead conversations around program assessment, organizational structure and space allocation, community partnerships, revenue generation, and deferred maintenance and facilities capital improvement planning.
  • Dynamic and engaged leadership. The next Director will demonstrate a leadership style that builds trust and capacity within the Recreation leadership team and is highlighted by frequent, consistent, and transparent communication that includes enhanced budget transparency and dynamic professional development support. The next Director will develop a strong sense of team among staff and build working relationships emphasizing collaboration, consistency, and equity. Staff should feel encouraged, challenged, supported, and confident about contributing to the shared vision and supporting Northwestern Athletics and Recreation priorities.
  • Innovative campus and community partnerships. With a highly relational and communicative nature, the next Director will strengthen communication and collaboration between Recreation and the larger institution—athletics, student affairs, academic programs, etc.–and the greater Evanston community. The Director will bring innovative thought to program development and facilities usage that is seen as student-centered, strategic, cutting-edge, accessible, and inclusive.


 The Director of Recreation will be an innovative and savvy strategic thinker, work with others to develop and implement a vision, and inspire the campus community to come together to accomplish shared goals for the future.

At an appropriate interval after joining Northwestern, the following will initially define success for the new Director of Recreation.

  • Staff in Recreation can articulate a distinct mission and purpose for Recreation, understand the shared vision and mission as a member of Athletics and Recreation, and feel valued as members of the team.
  • New revenue streams are being explored, and Recreation budgets reflect strategic priorities and best practices.
  • Recreation programs and participation are important to the Northwestern student experience and belonging.
  • Students and community members can articulate a greater understanding
  • Partners across campus feel like valued colleagues and partners to the work of Recreation.
  • Student employees see their work in Recreation as a valuable and intentionally developmental part of their student experience.
  • Students and staff see the new Director as approachable and accessible. Through a student-centered orientation, this advocate supports programs, builds rapport with students, and seeks their input.
  • Staff, students, and community members see the Director prioritizing frequent and transparent communication skills.

Institution & Location



NU Recreation provides a variety of Recreation, fitness, and sport activities designed to foster individual development, enrich university life, and engage the university community in positive lifestyle choices.

Northwestern has long recognized that a quality education includes both formal classroom and extracurricular learning opportunities. The University has endorsed the classical concept of “A Healthy Mind In A Healthy Body” by making various quality physical Recreation, sport, and fitness opportunities available.


To facilitate world-class fitness and recreation experiences for students, faculty, staff, and the University community.

Core Values

  • Safety: Provide participants a safe and secure environment.
  • Service: Provide a helpful & welcoming environment.
  • Quality: Provide valued, memorable programs, services, and experiences.
  • Teamwork: Staff behavior reflects Northwestern Recreation values.
  • Education: Foster individual development through teaching, mentoring, and leadership opportunities.
  • Stewardship: Make efficient & effective use of university resources.

History of Recreation at NU




Dr. Derrick Gragg, Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation

Dr. Derrick Gragg was named Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation by President Morty Schapiro in June of 2021, the 23rd person selected to lead the department for the Wildcats. A long-time athletic Director, college sports administrator, and diversity and inclusion leader, Gragg joined the Northwestern family after serving as the NCAA’s senior vice president for inclusion, education, and community engagement.

Throughout his career in college athletics, Gragg has prioritized representing the underrepresented and providing a voice and allyship to people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community.

While serving as the NCAA’s senior vice president for inclusion, education, and community engagement, Gragg has ensured diversity, equity, and inclusion are reflected on all levels of college athletics. He had a dual focus on internal and external initiatives and programming.

A former football letter-winner at Vanderbilt, Gragg has always valued the impact of academics on athletes. He earned a master’s degree in sports administration from Wayne State University, then his doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Arkansas. Gragg joined the Arkansas athletic department in 2000 as an associate Director and eventually was promoted to deputy Director.

Gragg became Eastern Michigan University’s athletic Director in 2006, then was named to the same position at the University of Tulsa in 2013.

Under Gragg’s leadership, Tulsa athletics transitioned from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference in 2014-15. In the first six years of Tulsa’s membership, Hurricane teams won 19 Conference titles, the second-most in the league. During his tenure, Tulsa advanced to postseason competition 53 times and produced 28 All-Americans, eight CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, and 1,158 American Athletic Conference academic honor roll recipients.

Gragg also helped conceptualize the Tulsa Legacy Game, designed to pay tribute to the survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, which is widely recognized as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history. The first Tulsa Legacy Game took place last year.

He administered the development and implementation of the athletic department’s strategic plan, was instrumental in securing Tulsa’s largest-ever planned gift for athletics, and facilitated the department’s first all-sport apparel agreement with Adidas, tripling the amount of athletics apparel for student-athletes, coaches, and staff. He also served as tournament Director for NCAA DI Men’s Basketball Tournament First and Second Round games in 2017 and 2019 at Tulsa’s downtown BOK Center.

Deneé Barracato, Deputy Director of Athletics for Operations & Capital Projects

Deneé Barracato was named Northwestern University’s Deputy Director of Athletics for Operations & Capital Projects on July 10, 2019.

As Deputy Director of Athletics at Northwestern, Barracato leads and manages four areas for the Wildcats: Capital Projects & Operations, Events & Facilities Management, Equipment Services, and the Department of Recreation, Intramurals, and Competitive Sports. Barracato also manages the Under Armour apparel partnership for the department and is the sport administrator for Volleyball and, previously, women’s basketball. Internally Barracato serves as the liaison to Facilities Management, Operations and Risk Management, and the Northwestern University Police Department.

Barracato leads and provides the strategic direction for Northwestern Athletics’ world-class facilities and its capital projects program, which includes overseeing the planning, design, and construction efforts for the $800 million Ryan Field Redevelopment Project.

In 2019-20 Barracato was appointed to the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee for a five-year term. In September 2022, Barracato was selected as a member of the LEAD1 Association Diversity Fellowship Program Class of 2022-23. Shortly after, in October 2022, Barracato was recognized as On3’s 2022 Rising Star College Sports Administrator You Need to Know List.

Before Northwestern, Barracato served as the Director of Athletics & Recreation at York College (NY), leading the Cardinals’ 17 varsity programs in the City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) as well as all campus recreation efforts. Barracato’s four-year York tenure followed a four-year stint as the Associate Athletic Director for Finance & Administration at Queens College and as a Director of Partnership Strategy for the Madison Square Garden Company (MSG). In this role, Barracato led the strategic development, brand activation, and partnership marketing for MSG’s integrated sports, media, and entertainment partnerships, which included working with the NY Knicks, NY Rangers, and NY Liberty.

Barracato began her career in athletic administration at Adelphi University, eventually rising to Assistant AD/Senior Woman Administrator (SWA) for the Panthers. She then joined the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as the Associate Director of Division I Women’s Basketball.

A four-year basketball letter winner at Hofstra University, Barracato led the nation in steals for Division I Women’s Basketball and earned America East All-Conference honors. Following graduation, she played professional women’s basketball. In addition to her undergraduate degree from Hofstra, she earned a Master’s degree in Exercise Science/Sports Management from Adelphi University.

Barracato serves as a Women Leaders in College Sports (formerly NACWAA) member and is a proud member and graduate of the Dr. Charles Whitcomb Leadership Institute‘s inaugural class for women.


Founded in 1851, Northwestern University is one of the country’s leading private research and teaching universities and the oldest chartered University in Illinois. Northwestern maintains three campuses: a 240-acre campus on Lake Michigan in Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago, a 25-acre campus in the city of Chicago, and another campus located in Doha, Qatar. Enrolling 21,000 students across 12 schools and colleges, Northwestern is recognized both nationally and internationally for the quality of its educational programs at all levels, and, for the third year in a row, U.S. News & World Report has ranked the institution as the ninth-best University in the country for 2022. A charter member of the Big Ten and one of only five private AAU members/top research universities to compete in NCAA Power Five conferences, Northwestern sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams (8 men’s and 11 women’s). Northwestern supports over 500 student organizations, hosts 38 club sports programs, and maintains a 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Mission, values, and priorities

University Strategic Plan

Since 2011, Northwestern’s Strategic Plan, NorthWEstern WILL, has provided a framework to define its shared goals. It builds on strengths and focuses on energies and resources on the most pressing issues that are distinctively positioned to be addressed. The structure of the plan encourages multidimensional approaches to achieve significant goals in four pillars critical to the University’s future. These pillars have been refined and articulated more recently as University Priorities, guiding ambitions, continuous improvement efforts, and institutional investments.

See the full strategic plan.


Total enrollment: 22,603

Undergraduate: 8,559

Graduate: 14,044

Retention rate: 98%


Northwestern continually strives to build and foster a rich, vibrant, diverse community that embraces unique individuals and perspectives. Northwestern University actively seeks women, minorities, veterans, and disabled persons for employment and promotion.


Michael H. Schill – President

Michael H. Schill took office as Northwestern’s 17th president on Sept. 12, 2022. He also serves as a professor at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Schill is a nationally recognized property, real estate, and housing law and policy expert. He is the author or co-author of three books and more than 40 scholarly articles. His work includes studies of the determinants of value in condominium and cooperative housing, the impacts of housing programs on property values, the enforcement of Fair Housing laws, mortgage securitization, and the effects of housing market regulation. His casebook, “Property,” co-authored with James Krier and Greg Alexander, is one of the most widely adopted casebooks in American law schools.

Benefits Overview


The anticipated hiring range is $115,000 – $130,000 annually, commensurate with education and experience. Northwestern offers its employees a comprehensive benefits package. See here for the full benefits offered at Northwestern University.

Application & Nomination


Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. To apply for this position please click on the Apply button, complete the brief application process, and upload your resume and position-specific cover letter. Nominations for this position and questions about the status of the search may be emailed to Dell Robinson at or Anne-Marie Kenney at Applicants needing reasonable accommodation to participate in the application process should contact Spelman Johnson at 413-529-2895.

 Salary and Benefits

The anticipated hiring range is $115,000 – $130,000 annually, commensurate with education and experience. Northwestern offers its employees a comprehensive benefits package. Visit

Visit the Northwestern University website at

 Northwestern University does not discriminate or permit discrimination by any member of its community against any individual based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, parental status, marital status, age, disability, citizenship status, veteran status, genetic information, reproductive health decision making, or any other classification protected by law in matters of admissions, employment, housing, or services or in the educational programs or activities it operates. Individuals who feel discriminated against based on these classes should contact the University’s Office of Equity. Northwestern University complies with federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and its implementing regulations. Title IX requires educational institutions, such as Northwestern, to prohibit discrimination based on sex (including sexual harassment) in the university’s educational programs and activities, including employment and admissions.