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NEWS: GNAC's Next Wave of Leaders Emerge Through Recent NCAA Opportunities


Written by Annie Jenkins, GNAC Staff

Four GNAC student-athletes take
part in 
specialized NCAA programming to begin 2018

"A comfort zone is a beautiful place (but nothing ever grows there)" - Unknown.

A new year brings new opportunities to explore the world in which we live and push ourselves beyond what we could ever imagine.

Over the past two weeks, select members of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference had the opportunity to represent the GNAC at the 2018 NCAA Convention in Indianapolis (Jan. 17-20), while Assistant to the Commissioner Annie Jenkins was also appointed as one of 227 individuals to attend the 2018 NCAA Emerging Leaders Seminar (ELS) at the NCAA National Office from January 24-26.

These kinds of programming opportunities provided by the NCAA allows for growth in the industry through leadership development endeavors that inspire the next generation of emerging leaders, along with embracing The Three D's of NCAA Division III: Discover, Develop, Dedicate.

This year, Lasell College junior baseball sport management major Brian Cohen (Rockland, Mass.), Mount Ida College junior men's soccer sport management major Julio Barroso (Central Falls, R.I.), and Rivier University junior field hockey/softball mathematics education major Mikayla Ramsdell (Salem, N.H.) were complete strangers on their way to Boston Logan Airport Terminal B on the morning of Wednesday, January 17, but soon became a united trio with the goal of proudly representing the GNAC at their first NCAA Convention. Their trip was organized entirely by Jenkins, while the three also met and connected with GNAC Commissioner Joe Walsh and GNAC Assistant Commissioner Michael Ghika.

The GNAC has long been committed to engaging with its student-athletes and providing them unique opportunities. One way of doing so is to bring a select cohort of aspiring leaders to the NCAA Convention, taking part in the daily events with a hands-on approach to observe how legislation gets passed. Over the course of four days, the three student-athletes were able to immerse themselves in professional development situations outside of the classroom that included: attending an NCAA Division III Student Luncheon hosted by the DIII National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, partnering with other student-athletes in an NCAA DIII Special Olympics Unified Sports Activity, listening attentively to the State of College Sports address by NCAA President Mark Emmert, and mingling with industry professionals at the Delegates Reception.

The student-athletes also contributed and shared meaninful ideas at roundtables during the NCAA Division III Issues Forum, enjoyed an NCAA Association Luncheon where ABC's "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts joined via telecommunication to accept her NCAA Ford Award, observed the GNAC's Athletics Directors Council Meeting, and capped off the experience by participating in the NCAA Division III Business Session on Saturday morning where the voting of nine legislative proposals took place.

In addition, Lasell College senior women's volleyball (major) Lauren Piper (Scarborough, Maine) attended the 2018 NCAA Convention as part of her participation in the NCAA Division III Student Immersion Program.

When asked to reflect on their experiences, Barroso was especially appreciative of his time in Indianapolis.

"Thank you to the GNAC for the opportunity of a lifetime," he said. "I hope I can use this as a springboard to a job in the college athletics field in the future."

For a look at when GNAC student-athletes attended the 2016 NCAA Convention in San Antonio, please click here. For more on the NCAA Convention, please click here.


1. What did you like the best about being a GNAC representative at the 2018 NCAA Convention?
"I liked being able to see the other end of what I usually see," said Ramsdell. "As far as I knew, the NCAA was simply an organization that made the rules for college sports. I did not realize how much time, effort, and decision-making goes into making the NCAA run as smoothly as it does." 

"The thing I liked the best about being a GNAC representative at this convention was just meeting all of the athletic directors and commissioners from the GNAC and from other conferences," said Barroso. "These are connections that I know are important in the future, and making a good impression with all of these people is just one more step towards fulfilling my dreams of working in college athletics." 

"I loved how I could represent the GNAC at a national convention and interact with other students and administrators from other schools and conferences," added Cohen.

2.  What is your most memorable moment from the trip?
"I think my most memorable moment(s) had to be when I met other student-athletes," said Ramsdell. "Between all the luncheons and the social mixer, I was able to learn so much from other students. One night, the GNAC reps went to dinner with other student-athletes from around the country. It was amazing to have these in-depth conversations about their school, their SAAC program, athletic program, etc. It was really cool to hear about how other schools do things!"

"My most memorable moment from the trip was being able to converse with the different athletic directors and figures during the Division III Issues Forum, because seeing how different regions and conferences feel about certain topics was interesting to listen to," said Barroso.

"I loved being able to attend the Special Olympics event," said Cohen. "It was a great experience getting to meet the Special Olympians and being able to play kickball with them for a few hours."

3. What surprised you the most about what you observed this past week?
"What surprised me most about what I observed was how the voting for the new proposals happened," said Ramsdell. "We attended the legislative meeting, and it was really interesting to see how formal and serious the voting process was. It was very similar to how our government makes decisions. I feel as though I was basically in the 'White House' of the NCAA." 

"The most surprising thing I experienced this week was probably the way that the proposals were voted on," said Barroso. "In a three-day experience, each day was devoted to a different action - the first being devoted to explaining the proposals, the second being for conference athletic directors to vote on how their conference would vote, and the last day being reserved for the actual voting. While these things could all have been put into one day, it is much more efficient for it to be done over three days so that people are not tired by the time the voting comes. It was different, but I liked it."

"I was surprised with the size of some of the Convention," said Cohen. "It was amazing because it seemed like you were always walking past someone new."

4. What is your biggest takeaway of things you learned from this event? (What will you bring back to implement on your own campus?)
"I realized how much more our SAAC could be involved," said Ramsdell. "I talked to other students who have meetings once a week, and my school would only have once a month. We have already started a new trend of having a meeting every other week! An even bigger takeaway for myself individually would be keeping in mind the people that I met. I met so many amazing people, like Annie Jenkins and Commissioner Walsh, and it has created a huge door of new connections for me that I can use in the future." 

"The biggest takeaway is that SAAC can definitely involve itself with more organizations on and off campus, because it eases the burden of events that the group would want to do on campus and also gives SAAC more connections that could benefit the group in the future if there are more opportunities for expanding into different activities that we would not previously have thought of making or attending," said Barroso.

"I learned a lot in the SAAC meeting that talked about starting out with small events and building up to bigger ones. I feel like we should hold small giveaways leading up to events such as fan fest that will help our club grow," said Cohen.

5.  What advice would you give to future GNAC student-athletes selected to attend?
Said Ramdell: "Slap a huge smile on your face. Be outgoing and adventurous. Be overly willing to talk to and meet new people. You would be amazed at the people you walk into or what you learn from other athletic directors, student athletes, commissioners, and even people straight from the NCAA. Overdress and overpack (a little bit). It is always good to have options so that when you see what other people are wearing, you can fit in with everyone and feel comfortable in what you're wearing and not under or overdressed." 

"One piece of advice I would give to future GNAC athletes who attend the trip is to talk," said Barroso. "Talk to as many people as you possibly can. Connections in the sport business are your make-or-break, and it is important to make a good first impression if you really want to keep people thinking about you when the time comes for internship or job opportunities that arise." 

"The best advice that I can give is to put yourself out there and network," added Cohen. "Go up to people and introduce yourself because they could be your future employer someday." 


Following her return from the 2018 NCAA Convention, Jenkins flew back out to Indianapolis for three enriching days at the NCAA Emerging Leaders Seminar where she got to take a DiSC Assessment to learn more about her leadership style, listen to an array of powerful speakers (Kerry Kenny, Cori Pinkett, Oliver Luck, Karen Stromme, Felicia Martin, Dr. Janice Hilliard, and Meg Stevens, to name a few), and network with 226 graduate assistants and fellow internship peers from institutions, conference offices, and affiliated organizations representing all three NCAA divisions from around the country.

"I loved learning about my leadership style and participating in group discussions with like-minded personalities! It was empowering to see that there are other people out there like me that share a similar style and those who are complete opposite...and yet we can learn about how we can all work together! This was especially apparent in our Team Dynamics Group Project where we had just under two days to use our experiences and research to put together an all-encompassing homecoming event as a small group for a mock university to present in front of an NCAA panel on Friday morning," said Jenkins.
Annie Jenkins at the NCAA National Office A few of Annie's biggest takeaways were:

  • "Invest in yourself", "make a short-term sacrifice for long-term gain", "success is a matter of choice not chance", "control the controllable and differentiate yourself," and to "do something today that your future self will thank you for."
  • "Do my job. Find a mentor and remember where your paycheck comes from."
  • "Tips For Success" such as being on time, having an attitude of gratitude, putting people first, and making value-based decisions.
  • Tips for networking, especially for what kinds of questions to ask and how to follow up with the people we meet.
  • A self-assessment reflection of articulating my what, why, who, when, and where in relation to the job search.
  • Inform myself of industry trends and think ahead about how this might affect me. "What's the next big thing?"
  • "Treat Everyone Like An Ace" and to really embrace the role of "Other Duties As Assigned" for that is what opens doors. 
  • "Share your special sauce with others."

For more information on the Emerging Leaders Seminar, please click here

Founded in 1995, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) is an NCAA Division III association made up of 13 member institutions and over 3,000 student-athletes across the New England region. Each year, the GNAC sponsors and administers 20 championships, while balancing academic integrity, athletic opportunities and community involvement. 

– #TheGNAC –

PHOTO GALLERY: 2018 NCAA Convention, Student Immersion Program, Emerging Leaders Seminar