Betsy Stephenson


A win-win situation

When Betsy Stephenson joined Emory as director of athletics and recreation in July, she not only gave up her post as associate director at a highly competitive NCAA Division I school–the University of California at Los Angeles–and moved across the country, she also came to a physical education facility under major renovation.

But Stephenson says the move felt right because of what lies at the heart of the Emory athletics program: the student athletes.

“There is a common element between Emory and UCLA, which is student athletes who want to achieve at a high level both academically and athletically,” Stephenson says. “The differences have to do with focus. There is more of a participant focus at a Division III school versus a spectator focus at a Division I institution. For me, the participant side is where my passion lies.”

Stephenson’s first priority is to see the building renovation to completion. The project, originally planned to fix the Woodruff Physical Education Center’s leaky roof, will add a new, 80,000-square-foot upper story. Already Stephenson has had an impact on the WoodPEC’s future by reconfiguring some aspects of the new space. For instance, all the fitness machines and equipment will be relocated to a “fitness corridor” on the upper level, rather than being spread out in various areas as they are now.

“Getting the facility up to par is really about programming, about serving the needs of the campus population,” she says. “We need to be a rallying point and a source of pride, an environment where people come to care for body, mind, and spirit.”

Stephenson also is working with Emory’s Office of Development and University Relations to seek new opportunities for funding and support dedicated specifically to the athletic programs.

“The challenge is trying to maximize our resources and identify additional resources to keep our programs accomplishing great things,” she says. “That doesn’t mean changing our identity, but there are inflationary costs associated with running these programs and facilities. We need to make sure we put resources toward maintenance and improvement.”

Another goal high on Stephenson’s list is boosting student interest in athletics–an ongoing challenge at Emory. About 350 students participate in the University’s competitive varsity programs, while almost half of all undergraduates join some type of club, intramural, or fitness sport while at Emory. Still, turnout at competitive events is traditionally low. Stephenson is hoping to find some new ways to generate enthusiasm among students.

“I feel really good about the total experience here,” she says. “But I think there could be more team-to-team and program-to-program support. The recreational programs and club sports offer a mutual support link that can be investigated and experimented with more. Our vision is that if we create energy and enthusiasm around those events, it will help our image as a campus. If this is the only thing missing from what Emory has to offer, let’s fill that gap.”

Stephenson was a three-sport athlete in high school and played volleyball for a year at the University of Kansas, where she went on to serve as associate athletics director and senior women’s administrator from 1992 to 1996. During Stephenson’s time at UCLA, the university won fifteen NCAA Division I national championships.

“Betsy Stephenson is a tremendous fit for our exemplary scholar-athletes and dedicated coaching staff,” says John Ford, senior vice president of Campus Life. “I’m confident she will provide strong leadership for Emory’s athletics and recreation programs, which have been a national model for the successful integration of athletics and academics.”

“Sport was a passion, something I wanted to stay close to,” Stephenson says. “Athletics administration was a natural transition for me.”–P.P.P.



© 2005 Emory University