Seven Monmouth student athletes attended the first ever Women’s Sports Foundation Athlete Leadership Connection on October 19, an event specifically designed to inspire and propel female athletes who wish to become powerful leaders in the business world as well as in their sport. Seniors Sarah Olson and Jasmine Walker of Women’s Basketball, seniors Michelle Gonzales and Marial Pierce of Women’s Lacrosse, seniors Danielle Axelrod and Kristen Brett of Women’s Soccer, and senior Nicole Sandelier of Softball were in attendance along with 30 elite world-renowned female athletes, all interested in expanding her potential beyond her sport.
For more than 40 years the Women’s Sports Foundation has educated and enhanced the lives of women and girls through sports and physical activity. Originated in 1974 by Billie Jean King, the WSF has funded countless awareness campaigns, research studies, and scholarships. Seeking to bring the worlds of professional and collegiate athletes together, the foundation created the Athlete Leadership Connection. This was the first ever Connection and MU’s first experience with the WSF.
“They [The Women’s Sports Foundation] have so many fabulous mentors and role models that the idea of putting our student athletes in the same room with them was just so exciting and so overwhelming. When they offered the opportunity I just could not wait to get our athletes in front of them. I think it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Monmouth University Athletic Director Dr. Marilyn McNeil.
The full-day event was held at Morgan Stanley Headquarters in New York City, consisting of panels, interactive workshops, and competitions geared to inspire and propel female athletes beyond their past and present success. Experienced athletes and business industry leaders provided insight and support to attendees through two panel discussions, three breakout sessions, and a competitive session.
WSF President and two-time Olympic gold medalist Angela Hucles welcomed all in attendance and began the first panel discussion, entitled “The Business & Athlete Connection: Inspiring Journeys, Powerful Positions.” Val Ackerman (Commissioner of the Big East Conference), Lisa Brummel (Co-owner of the WNBA Seattle Storm), Larissa Fontaine (Global Head of Apps Business Development at Google Play), and Michelle Kwan (Outreach Coordinator for the Hilary Clinton for America Campaign) discussed their experiences in sports and how it helped them in their professional lives. Carla Harris (Vice Chairman of Wealth Management and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley) moderated the conversation, stressing the value behind performance and relationship currency.
Groups parted ways into breakout sessions including, “Identifying Your Brand,” “Opportunities in Continued Education,” “Creating Your Own Foundation or Charitable Fund,” and “Building Publicity & Public Awareness for Your Sport.” Athletes discussed various topics pertaining to career establishment and continuance.
In the afternoon, attendees gathered for another panel discussion, this time called, “Champion Athletes: Connecting Your Sport with Your Future.”
Moderated by NBC Sports Reporter Carolyn Manno, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track & field), Hannah Kearney (skiing-moguls), Shannon miller (gymnastics), and Dr. Andrea Woodson-Smith (wheelchair basketball) discussed the various challenges they faced during and after their careers.
Competitive sessions were then divided into two groups: Project Connection and Job Connection. While the Job Connection learned how to properly write a resume and interview, the Project Connection offered attendees the chance of a lifetime. In just an hour and a half, three separate project groups developed programs and pitched them to three “Angel Funders,” similar to NBC’s Shark Tank. The Angel Funders consisted of Richard Ader (founder of U.S. Realty Advisors), Lisa M. Cregan (Managing Director for Morgan Stanley), and Warde Manuel (Athletic Director at the University of Connecticut). This was an opportunity for the collegiate and professional athletes to utilize the tools gained throughout the afternoon.
“It was humbling and enlightening to be in a room with such incredible and inspiring athletes. Being able to connect on a personal level was really cool. I gained valuable presentation and networking skills,” said Olsen, who participated in the Project Connection.
The event was supported by national partners Gatorade, NBC Sports Group, espnW, and FOX Sports. Premiere partners included Morgan Stanley and U.S. Realty Advisors, LLC as well as Ohio University’s Master of Sports Administration Program. The ALC was a success, as it provided valuable insight and opportunity to every woman in the room. In conjunction with the WSF, Monmouth Athletics hopes to make the annual event a tradition.
PHOTO COURTESY of Michelle Gonzales