DIII Student Immersion Program gives Averett’s Morales insight to collegiate athletics industry

Posted on January 26th, 2018 by Cassie Jones

By Drew Wilson

Prior to recently attending the 2018 NCAA Convention and participating in the Division III Student Immersion Program, Averett University junior Rosa Morales had a general idea of where her career path might take her. Yet, after her experience at the national convention and learning more about the collegiate athletics industry, Morales’ interest in staying within athletics is piqued.

“Honestly, beforehand, I had never really considered a career in athletics,” said Morales, a three-year member of the Averett women’s soccer program who is also on the women’s lacrosse team, which begins play this spring. “After four years of soccer, I planned to be done with sports and move onto other things. Then I got this opportunity and knew this was going to open doors for me. I just needed to be open-minded about it. And then I went there and I loved every aspect about it. I thought it was really eye-opening to see how things work in the background.”

Morales was one of 40 minority students who were selected for the Division III Student Immersion Program, which was created in 2015 and is held annually in conjunction with the NCAA Convention. The program allows selected applicants to attend the convention to expose them to its governance process and programming with the goal to “build a pipeline of talented ethnic minority candidates, with an interest in Division III coaching and/or administration, in an effort to ultimately diversify the division.”

Averett’s Department of Athletics nominated Morales for the prestigious opportunity which is geared toward ethnic minority juniors and seniors who have an interest in careers in collegiate coaching or athletics administration. During her time at Averett, Director of Athletics Meg Stevens has promoted life skills programming and urged student-athletes to take advantage of available opportunities such as the one Morales earned by being selected to go to the convention.

“I think it’s our role and our responsibility as a department of athletics to encourage and promote these kinds of opportunities for our student-athletes to grow on and off campus,” Stevens said. “You see that through our leadership meetings, through SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) and through some of the other things we do with our student-athletes at Averett that are above and beyond what some others are doing and enhance the student-athlete experience. And to have a student-athlete be selected to go to the NCAA Convention is an incredible opportunity. I think it was extremely eye-opening for Rosa.”

After some initial flight delays due to the winter weather hitting the region, Morales eventually arrived in Indianapolis for the convention on Jan. 18. She quickly hit the ground running, attending programming and workshops that lasted from morning until late in the evening. One of her first sessions was on diversifying the NCAA and how to manage it.

“They were talking about how programs like the Student Immersion Program that I was a part of are building a pipeline of students of ethnic minorities and women into a field that is primarily white,” Morales said.

According to the NCAA, only 7 percent of Division III Athletics Directors are ethnic minorities and only 31 percent of ADs are female. Meanwhile 12 percent of DIII coaches are ethnic minorities and 28 percent of coaches at that level are female. Yet, in terms of DIII student-athletes, 21 percent are ethnic minorities and 42 percent are female. It’s a topic that hits home with Stevens as a female director of athletics, and she is proud that the NCAA Division III allows students like Morales to be exposed to these types of experiences.

“Division III continues to be a leader with these types of opportunities for our students to go and experience the convention,” Stevens said. “This opportunity is amazing, particularly for minorities and women. As a female athletics director, it is something I hold very dear to my heart. When we are looking at numbers across our division, but more so across the NCAA, and we look at our student-athlete population and then look at our coaches and administrators and that is a different breakout. We need to do a better job as an industry and make sure that we are more representative of the students that we are supposed to represent. So I think programs like this are exactly what we need. We need to make sure we are exposing our opportunities to all. No matter who you are, what your background is and whatever you bring to the table, you have an opportunity and intercollegiate athletics could be for you.”

Morales also participated in a DiSC assessment, which helps identify a person’s work style and helps he or she develop more effective working relationships. Previously, Morales had taken a DiSC assessment as part of an Averett athletics life skills program, and she was able to see how her personality traits have slightly shifted as she’s progressed through the leadership opportunities that Averett has afforded her so far through her academic and athletic career.

In addition to the workshops, Morales got a firsthand look at the behind-the-scenes actions of the NCAA. She listened in on discussions of proposed legislation, as well as the USA South Athletic Conference’s meeting to debate those items that would be voted on. Morales joined Stevens, as well as Associate A.D. and volleyball coach Danny Miller and Averett President Dr. Tiffany M. Franks at the table during the conference meeting.

“(Dr. Franks) explained what was going on and always asked for my input on the different proposals,” Morales said.

Morales left Indianapolis with so many takeaways from her experience that she’ll try to pay forward to her fellow Cougars back on campus. The native of Stafford, Virginia, learned it’s important to be open-minded. She learned a lot about professionalism and being in a very businesslike environment. She also left feeling confident.

“Knowing that we were a small, selected group of people was very rewarding,” Morales said. “Continuously, throughout the program, the people running it were reminding us that we were there for a reason. Every step of the way you had people supporting you. It showed that the NCAA and the community there is very together — like a family just like Averett is. I really enjoyed that aspect of it.”

And, yes, she also left a little addicted to coffee, which got her through the long days. But perhaps one of the most valuable skills she learned during her few days at the NCAA Convention was the art of networking.

“I met a lot of people,” said Morales, who encountered numerous people who, through one way or another, had a connection to Averett or knew someone who did. “The networking business is insane. I got a lot of business cards. … There was a delegates’ reception and I was getting food and I ended up talking to someone who was really high up in the NCAA. And we were talking over shrimp. After that, he introduced me to more people. I thought that was really cool.”

Morales also learned something about herself following this latest opportunity as an Averett student-athlete.

“It’s definitely helped me get out of my comfort zone,” she admitted. “When I first came to Averett, I was really reserved. I didn’t step out of my comfort zone whatsoever. The more opportunities I was granted and the more I was involved on campus and in the community working with, say, the Boys & Girls Club or Cardinal Village around Danville, the more it has shaped me into who I’m becoming.”

Morales said she never had a “dream career” pinpointed, but as a triple-major in communications, computer information systems and computer science, she thought she might follow in her father’s footsteps by working for the government or in information technology. Or maybe even journalism. Now, she’s strongly considering looking into the option of becoming a graduate assistant while either coaching or working in athletics administration.

“Whatever I want to do, I want to impact people positively, so I think I’d rather want to have a direct relationship and a one-on-one relationship with students,” Morales said.

And with programs such as the NCAA Division III Student Immersion Program, she knows those opportunities exist and are attainable.


**Drew Wilson is the Sports Information Director for Averett Athletics.