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DII mentoring program helps athletics administrators take next step, become ADs

Lake Erie Athletics Director Kelley Kish (right) used her mentor, St. Cloud State’s Heather Weems, as a sounding board in her new role. Submitted by Kelley Kish

Kelley Kish’s first stint in a Division II athletics department solidified her career goals. Working under longtime UIndy Athletics Director Sue Willey, Kish realized she wanted to lead an athletics department of her own someday. She didn’t know when that day would come, but she had an idea, roughly, of where — Kish aimed to stay in Division II.   

A few years later, she took a step closer to that goal when she was accepted into the NCAA and Division II Athletics Directors Association Women and Minorities Mentoring Program. Then an associate athletics director at Nova Southeastern, Kish was one of 10 Division II athletics administrators in the program’s 2017-18 class who aspired to be Division II athletics directors and hoped to prepare for that career jump by engaging with mentors.  

But just three months after she joined the yearlong program, Kish was hired as the athletics director at Lake Erie. After accepting the job, she had one question for Division II consultant and program coordinator Jill Willson: “Can I please still stay in this program?”  

The program pairs each participant with a Division II athletics director who serves as a mentor. Participants attend an orientation at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis, participate in monthly webinars, visit their mentor’s school, and cap off the year with a graduation at the annual convention of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.  

“Back when we started this program, we had some conversations about, ‘How can we grow our own?’” Willson says. “What can we do that’s more helpful for our assistants and associates at the Division II level to get them to the next step?”  

Since the inception of the program in 2011-12, 69 Division II administrators have graduated, with 10 more in this year’s cohort. Of the 79, 10 have gone on to accept jobs as Division II athletics directors. 

Courtney Lovely, a senior associate athletics director for Palm Beach Atlantic, says the program both confirmed that she wants to be an athletics director and showed her she has what it takes. “I felt a lot more confident after the program,” Lovely says. “Like, you know what? I could actually do this job.” 

Lovely and her mentor, Winona State Athletics Director Eric Schoh, formed a close bond that has continued since their formal pairing ended in summer 2017.  

Kish did continue in the program even after becoming an athletics director. And in her new role, she had a built-in sounding board. Not only did she consult with her mentor, St. Cloud State Athletics Director Heather Weems, but also an entire group of athletics directors. 

The program was created by Division II governance leaders precisely for that purpose. “There wasn’t a lot of time in my first year that I would shut the door in my office and say, ‘No one bother me,’ except for those webinars and my calls with Heather,” Kish says.  

Now that she’s spent more than a year at the helm of an athletics department, Kish is eager to give back. She’s already led a webinar, sharing insights into her first 100 days as an AD. She hopes to one day become a mentor herself.     

“You can’t even measure how much of an impact it will have on your career in your current position and if you choose to advance or have the opportunity to advance,” Kish says. “It’s really unlike any other mentorship program that I’ve ever done.” 

MORE ABOUT THE MENTORING PROGRAM

Each year, 10 mentees are selected for the program. To be eligible, nominees must be a full-time employee in a Division II athletics department or conference office. All women and minority men are eligible for the program. Participants receive the following:

  • A one-year membership in the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
  • Expenses to attend an orientation session at the NCAA national office and to the NACDA Convention.
  • One visit to shadow an assigned mentor on the mentor’s campus.
  • Communication via phone or email with mentors.
  • Monthly webinars from September through May.
  • Access to a secure website through the NCAA, which will include reference materials, articles and other resources.
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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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