Changing What Leadership Looks Like
For most students and alums, the face of SF State athletics is green with a big toothy grin. But though the Gator is SF State’s mascot, behind the scenes there’s another face for the University’s sports programs: the director of athletics. Since the spring of 2018, that’s been Stephanie Shrieve-Hawkins, who came to SF State after 20 years of athletics administration at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and St. Mary’s College. She recently sat down with SF State Magazine to discuss her vision for athletics at the University.
How rare is it for a major university to have a female director of athletics?
Nationally it’s still unique. Sometimes I’m asked, “Do you oversee the men’s sports, too?” Men don’t get asked that about women’s sports! So especially for the female student athletes, but also for the male student athletes, to see a leader who’s female is life changing. It is exciting that right now at SF State we have a president who’s female [Lynn Mahoney], a provost who’s female [Jennifer Summit], a director of athletics who’s female. We’re modeling inclusive leadership.
Before becoming director of athletics, you already knew SF State well: Your grandfather, father, stepfather and sister all earned degrees here. What was your impression of the University?
I knew the academics were strong from family and friends who attended here and taught here, but I didn’t know much about the athletics here. It didn’t seem to be something you heard a lot about, but it should be. So I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm for the program, and of course now I want to sing the accolades from the top of the Golden Gate! It was a very warm welcome from the campus community when I got the job — probably the warmest welcome I’ve had at any job. The support from the alumni and the donors and everyone else has been incredible. I feel it is our role to contribute to the positive experience for everyone on campus, especially the students.
The Gators had a stellar 2018-19, with every one of the University’s 13 athletics programs advancing to the postseason. Any theories on where that success came from?
We [coaches and staff] talk about how we want our student athletes to feel like winners. Not just on the court, but in the classroom and in the community providing community service. So if they happen to lose one night they still feel good about who they are — about what they did in class that day or how they interacted with a classmate, faculty or staff or in the volunteer work they did. They feel good about how they are doing in life and how they are preparing themselves for the future. Confidence in yourself takes the pressure away from winning — and, as a result, you win more.
What do you think makes athletics at SF State different than the programs at other universities?
Our people and our attitude. And how we support each other. I’ve encouraged the coaches and staff to collaborate with each other to maximize the student-athlete experience. So the basketball coach may talk to the volleyball coach about training or recruiting or anything. Everyone is available to everyone. I think it creates a team atmosphere across all the teams. And then academically, our student athletes’ cumulative GPA is above 3.0. That’s our standard. And there’s that community service piece, too. Our student athletes learn that they’re here for a higher purpose, and I think it helps them perform better and prepares them better for the future. And it helps the coaches perform better and keeps staff motivated to provide the support needed.
Some pundits say the triumph of the U.S. team at the 2019 Women’s World Cup was a turning point for women’s sports. Do you agree?
The women’s team was amazing, and the way they were able to champion women in sports this year was huge. Yet they have been doing that for almost three decades now. And to go back even further, Billie Jean King felt pretty pivotal, too, right? How about Jackie Joyner-Kersee? So there have been other pivotal moments for female athletes and teams in our past, and it always seems to go backwards again. I would love to see this “turning point” sustain itself this time. We’ll see.