By: Adam White, @FOSAdam
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Stevie Baker Watson, Theodore Katula Director of Athletics and Recreational Sports at DePauw University. A graduate of Ohio University and Northeastern Illinois University, Stevie got her start in athletics on the athletic training side where she was a athletic trainer for nine years before making the transition to the executive side. Hailed as “One of the best in the business” by her colleagues she was gracious enough to offer a behind the scenes look into what it takes to be an Athletic Director at the Division III level, how everyday is a learning experience and why working in collegiate sports has given her an outlet to change the lives of many individuals.
How did you get to where you are today?
As the current AD for DePauw University, she quickly took us on a trip down memory lane in which she reminisced on her time at Saint Xavier University Aurora University and most recently, North Central College where she was the Assistant AD/SWA. Although hired for a different position at Aurora, she “took on responsibilities in compliance, facilities, event management and just about everything from a day to day perspective.” With a plethora of experience under her belt she stressed how she has over time learned “patience” because like many of us, she was worried about “how quickly she could get to her dream position and didn’t truly value the experiences she was obtaining.”
As the Athletics Director for DePauw University, what does your job entail? How is it different from AD positions at Division I schools, how is it similar?
Like many other Athletic Directors her job entails everything from normal office duties to budgets to event management. From there, Division I AD’s and Division III AD’s are very different and she summed it up great in one line saying, “I fundraise, I recruit, I meet with alumni or I could be in my heels walking through the bleachers after a basketball game picking up trash.” She recognizes that it is “not typical behavior” but she also realizes that at a smaller school, “it is what we need here to get things done” and that even though she is the “visionary and the leader, she also has to be the one setting up the chairs or doing parking for an athletic event."
What is your favorite part about working in collegiate athletics? Did you always see yourself where you are today?
Laughingly like many others Stevie recounted her past saying, “I had no idea that I would be where I am today. I should have known based on what I did in high school, but I wasn’t sure.” You could tell that although she wasn’t sure that she would be here in the beginning that she was happy to be here now. It was truly evident her love of the position because her outlook on sports and how she “has the ability to make the 18-22 year old time period for student athletes a very special time for them” and she also loves the fact that she can “be around them and help them through this very transformative part of their life.
What is the best career advice you wished you had received when starting out?
“Remember that you have two ears, two eyes and one mouth for a reason. You should listen and look more than you speak.”
“A well-phrased question will not only get you answers, but gain the respect of the person that you are speaking with.”
What skills or experiences are vital for newcomers into the sports industry?
Flexibility, adaptability and patience. You have to learn a lot before you can get your dream job. Your first job is not going to be your dream job, but you have to get an in somewhere. Solid communication skills both verbally and written and being conscious of your body language. Take initiative. Listen and reflect on what is going on around you. You need to ask the teams or company’s what you can do for them, because it doesn’t do them any good if you are only doing something that benefits you. Be a lifelong learner, everyone you meet will teach you something.
How do you like the current landscape of college athletics? What would you change?
I would love to see the media focus more on the student athlete experience. We tend to forget everything that our students do day-in and day-out to be successful both on and off the playing field. I have students who will graduate with double majors and ones who will have studied abroad and still received 4 varsity letters. We are too focused on the money aspect of everything and not the actual experience of everything.
Relationships are the key to happiness. There’s an arms race regardless of what division you’re in and generally people see that as positive growth, but at the same time I could have less than stellar athletic facilities if the people I work with are empowered, excited and engaged and truly loving what they do day-in and day-out. I try to treat people with respect. I want them to be stakeholders in our department.
I try to foster a collaborative work environment. I want to know how people feel about things before we get to the tense moments. I’m always asking questions, because I want to know what is going on in their lives. Working in athletics can completely take over your life, but what I try to share with my staff is that I’m with them in this for the long run and that there are going to be things that go on in their personal lives that will affect their schedule. I want them to know that I will make sure they get what they need.
Its okay to have a fear of the unknown as long as you don’t let it paralyze you. If you know your values and trust yourself and understand other’s perspectives, you don’t have to fear the unknown because you will be prepared.
Failure is part of it, I’m not always going to be right. You’re allowed to fail as long as the mistake doesn’t happen again
You can always learn. For the past eight days I have been traveling with teams and everywhere I went, I would take pictures and notes of what others were doing so I could take it home with me and use it to improve our Athletic Department.
You gotta live in the moment and try things that in that moment, you may not be sure how they all fit together but five months or five years down the road you may see how they all connect in the end.
Don’t be so narrowly focused on one dream, be willing to have multiple dreams and be willing to work at all of those things at the same time.
Do what makes you happy.
Seize your moment and seize your opportunity.
We would like to thank Stevie for her great insight and background into what it is like being an Athletic Director! You can follow her on Twitter here!