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NCAA announces 2019-20 Pathway Program participants

Yearlong training aims to prepare next generation of leaders in athletics

The NCAA leadership development office, in partnership with the Board of Governors Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity, has invited 22 senior administrators to participate in the NCAA Pathway Program with a singularly focused goal: preparing these individuals to excel as directors of athletics or conference commissioners.

This yearlong program incorporates a diverse mix of scenario assignments, higher education and athletics leadership engagement, and a thorough exploration of the NCAA governance process.

Participants engage in a series of experiential learning opportunities focused on advancing them to the top role in an athletics department or conference. This includes how to thrive in the ever-evolving intercollegiate athletics landscape.

This year, Katrice Albert, NCAA executive vice president of inclusion and human resources, will serve as the executive sponsor for the Pathway Program. In this role, Albert will have a direct influence on the content design and curriculum development of the year’s programming, while also meeting frequently with the group throughout the year.

“Our Pathway Program represents one of NCAA leadership development’s marquee offerings, with a tangible history of producing the desired outcome of elevating its participating administrators,” Albert said. “I am very excited to be involved with such a dynamic group of leaders to engage, assist, and facilitate their growth and development.

“The 2019-20 Pathway participants represent the most influential decision-makers and change agents in intercollegiate athletics, and it is with great enthusiasm that we seek to play a critical role in guiding these participants on their personal and professional journeys,” she continued.

The cohort of 22 senior administrators coming from institutions across all three divisions will convene July 7-12 at the NCAA national office for an engaging week of programming. Participants will take a deep dive into effective leadership strategies, the development of culture and organization, factors necessary to obtain an athletics director or conference commissioner position, and ways to thrive and excel in the role. The attendees will hear from accomplished speakers who will help facilitate critical conversations on an array of topics related to the state of college athletics.

“Personally, I have met some lifelong friends and colleagues I know I can count on for just about anything,” said Jennifer Bell, director of athletics at Converse and an alumna of the Pathway Program. “Our group stays in touch on a regular basis, and I am very grateful for that. Professionally, Pathway helped prepare me for my next step, as I was selected as the director of athletics at Converse College in June as my cohort was finishing our year together.”

As the program year closes, participants will be separated divisionally with Division I administrators and Division II and III administrators receiving specialized programming surrounding division-specific features and challenges. The participants will meet once more in Indianapolis in the fall and then will select a destination for a spring site visit, where they will receive the opportunity to interact and engage with industry professionals at a wide variety of organizations, providing a well-rounded outlook on leadership styles inside and outside athletics.

“We learned so many valuable lessons throughout the year,” Bell said, “and I have referred to my notes from Pathway quite a bit during my first year on the job. Pathway can be a game changer for those who make the most of it. I have encouraged friends to apply because it can help them learn more about what it takes to advance, particularly to the AD chair.”

Over the past 22 years, the highly acclaimed Pathway Program (formerly the Fellows Program) has produced more than 100 alumni. Nearly 25 percent of the participants have become directors of athletics, while more than 60 percent received promotions in their careers.

The 2019-20 NCAA Division I Pathway Program participants:

  • Kelly Barsky, deputy athletics director/senior woman administrator, UC Santa Barbara
  • Joshua Boone, senior associate athletics director for administration, Miami (Florida)
  • Gabe Cagwin, chief business development officer, Arizona State
  • Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director, Ohio State
  • Richard Duran, deputy athletics director, University of the Incarnate Word
  • Matt Elliott, senior associate athletics director, internal operations, UCLA
  • Nancy Hixson, CEO/deputy athletics director, external, Air Force
  • Paula Jackson, associate director of athletics/senior woman administrator, Hampton
  • Candice Lee, associate vice chancellor/deputy athletics director, Vanderbilt
  • Marvin Lewis, associate athletics director, administration and finance, Georgia Tech
  • Janet Oberle, senior associate director of athletics, Saint Louis
  • Courtney Vinson, senior associate athletics director, Northern Illinois
  • The 2019-20 NCAA Division II and Division III Pathway Program participants:
  • Merlene Aitken-Smith, senior associate athletics director, Clayton State
  • Chris Barker, associate athletics director, internal operations, Wisconsin-Parkside
  • Kristy Bayer, deputy director of athletics/senior woman administrator, Emporia State
  • Sarah Dehring, associate athletics director/senior woman administrator, Alma
  • Kevin Fenstermacher, assistant commissioner/director of communications, Presidents’ Athletic Conference
  • Miriam Merrill, associate director of athletics/senior woman administrator, Hamilton
  • Ashley Reid, assistant athletics director for diversity, inclusion, compliance and internal management/senior woman administrator, Wooster
  • Michael Schulist, assistant athletics director for advancement, operations and media relations, Carroll (Wisconsin)
  • Jessica Harbison Weaver, associate athletics director-compliance and academic support/senior woman administrator, Concordia Portland
  • Brock Wissmiller, associate athletics director-director of athletics development, Upper Iowa