After a national search for a new athletic director of the College following the departure of Harry Sheehy ’75 last summer, a search committee selected Lisa Melendy, who has served as interim director this past year, to fill the position. Record News Editor Catherine Gerkis sat down with Melendy to discuss her experience as a long-standing member of the College’s athletics department and her goals going forward as the new athletic director.
Why did you want to be the athletic director?
I have been working at Williams for over 25 years now, and it was just sort of the next step, I think, in terms of being at Williams. Beyond that, it’s an exciting place to work. I’ve had the opportunity to be the acting athletic director in 2006-07 when [former athletic director] Harry Sheehy was on leave. I had the chance to be interim director this year. It’s a great department of colleagues that are committed coaches and educators, and it’s really exciting to work with them and great student athletes. When you want to be an athletic administrator in Div. III, which I do want to be, this is really the place where people want to end up, so it’s a great opportunity. I was able to apply for this position and get it, which was really exciting, but it was really about continuing the work and trying to think about the mission of the College, which I really believe in. I want to think about how athletics integrates with that mission and try to implement my vision of that here.
What previous positions have you held at the College and how do you expect your role to change now that you have been named athletic director?
I arrived at Williams [in 1985] when I was hired as the head women’s soccer coach, and in that year I was also the assistant women’s varsity squash coach, the head JV squash coach, the assistant women’s varsity lacrosse coach and the head JV lacrosse coach. It was great; I got to work with a lot of colleagues and learn a lot. Then I started doing other things in the department: I was the assistant coordinator of physical education and then became the assistant athletic director and the senior woman administrator, which is an NCAA term. I then became an associate athletic director, and I took on a larger role.
In terms of changing, we’re really looking at what sort of reorganization we want to do. We have a lot of meetings set up for the next six weeks or so to talk as a department about how we might or might not make changes, what things we value and how we want to delegate things. I think the job will not change a lot because I already didn’t have a specific sport – I did more nuts and bolts things – and I hope that we’ll be able to take time to think of larger policy questions and implement them.
What are the main goals you’d like to accomplish as athletic director?
We’re talking a lot about how we might revamp our physical education program and thinking about a more integrated wellness program throughout the College. We’re clearly successful in intercollegiate athletics, so we need to talk about how we can continue to be successful, and we also need to keep people fresh and excited in their jobs. A real focus will be [on] faculty and staff development in our office to keep people engaged in their work and moving forward.
How do you plan on following up on Harry Sheehy’s impressive tenure? What aspects of his work as athletic director do you want to maintain? What might you look to improve upon?
Both Harry and the previous athletic director who hired me, Bob Peck, really laid the groundwork for successful programs, hiring good people and trying to put our programs in a position to be successful. We saw a lot of changes during the time that they were both in power in this role, and they really dealt with these changes – changes in how we did admissions, how many programs we had, how we were allocating resources. I’d like to continue managing our resources in a way that supports our mission and look at what other areas we can build on. Right now the conversations on campus are, how do we increase the diversity within our department, both among our students and among our staff, and how do we continue on this path of integration between our students that are athletes and those who are not varsity athletes. I think we are at a point to rethink our relationship with intramurals and club sports. Our intercollegiate programs are in really great shape, and they need to be continually cared for, but I think there are other areas that the department is anxious to put some time and energy into.
What aspects of being athletic director are you most looking forward to? Is there anything you are nervous or hesitant about?
The exciting thing about working at Williams College is the people that you get to work with. The students that you get to work with are fantastic; I am excited to find ways to be more connected with them. It’s easy to get isolated in your office and not see the students as much as you’d like. The other exciting part, as I said before, is working with the faculty we have in our department. They are tremendous people with lots of ideas, and I think they are excited to take this moment to see if there are other directions we want to go in and validate the things we feel really good about. I don’t feel very nervous about things, partially because I know the place and I know the people. I know that I have strong enough relationships [at the College] that if people were having any issues or problems or felt that they needed to give me feedback, they would.