For 50 years, Title IX has allowed women an equal opportunity to achieve their dreams. It has also allowed women to dig into their passion for sports and create careers out of it.
Nan Carney-DeBord, Director of Athletics at Denison University, and Dawn Stewart, Vice President of Student Affairs and Director of Athletics at Otterbein University, are two of these women.
Both Carney-DeBord and Stewart discovered they wanted to pursue careers in college athletics after their time as Division III athletes. Carney-DeBord played field hockey and basketball at Denison, while Stewart played tennis at Otterbein.
After college, each woman spent time working at different universities across Ohio and the Midwest before returning to their alma maters.
For Stewart, being able to work at Otterbein is something she doesn’t take lightly. She feels privileged to work at the place she once called home, and her own time as a student helps her better understand the students she now serves.
“It's an honor, Stewart said. “It's very special, but it's also wanting more for the students that I serve, and just trying to constantly push for that.”
Witnessing the development and achievements of student-athletes is one of the main reasons why Stewart and Carney-DeBord love their work. Student-athletes are a driving force in their decision making and they both frequently encounter the same question: “what can be done to enhance their college experience?”
At Denison, Carney-DeBord helped implement the Knetzer Family Institute, which not only works toward bettering this experience, but also improving the mental health of student-athletes and, in turn, improving their performance.
“Essentially what we do is utilize the sport experience to intentionally develop the social and emotional competencies of our student athletes,” Carney-DeBord said. “We also do things that will align with our university values, which is the development of autonomous thinking, discerning moral agents, and active citizens in a global society.”
In 2021, Carney-DeBord was named the Women Leaders in College Sports Division III Nike Executive of the Year. The award is given to recognize “Women Leaders in College Sports members for significant contributions made as a senior-level administrator of intercollegiate athletics,” according to the group’s website.
Stewart has also been recognized for her work. In 2016, she was named an Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year for Division III by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
Both women are examples of what it means to be a strong leader, especially in sports. Because the sports industry is a male-dominated field, it’s important to have more women in leadership roles to show young girls they can be whoever they want to be.
“I think it's important for anyone, no matter how they identify, as they're pursuing a career or role … to see others that look like them,” Stewart said. “That reassures someone that it's possible.”