Lexie Walker, a volleyball student athlete at Northern Vermont-Lyndon and the president of the North Atlantic Conference (NAC) Student Athlete Advisory Committiee (SAAC), and Amira Jones, a former basketball student athlete at Thomas College and a participant in the NCAA Division III (DIII) Student Immersion program, soaked up the sun and some insight into Division III athletics at the 2019 NCAA Convention in Orlando. Both women recently completed their collegiate eligibility and have recently, or are about to graduate. (Pictured left to right: Walker, National SAAC representatives Nicole Monick and Michael Litz, Jones)
Jones graduated from Thomas College with a Bachelor’s degree in Sport Management in December 2018 and was selected to participate in the uniquely DIII Student Immersion Program from a long list of applicants.
The Student Immersion program was developed in 2015 by Division III governance staff and the NCAA Office of Inclusion under the guidance of the Division III Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. Forty students are selected annually to attend the program that runs concurrently with the NCAA convention. Participants are exposed to the Division III governance process through attending educational and business sessions of the convention, as well as more focused interactions with collegiate athletics professionals and personal development sessions such as DiSC assessments. The intent of the program is to add to the diversity of Division III by developing the next generation of candidates for coaching and administrative roles on college campuses.
“What I enjoyed most about the Student Immersion Program was meeting and hearing from so many inspirational men and women,” Jones said. “I also very much enjoyed being allowed into voting sessions and conference meetings and other important events that took place at the conference. As student-athletes, we don't really think too much about what goes on behind the scenes in our sports. This program really allowed us to get a good look at that, and I enjoyed that very much.”
Thomas College Director of Athletic Shana Ness said, “we are very proud of the way Amira represented Thomas College and our athletic department while attending the NCAA Student Immersion Program. This was a wonderful opportunity for her to learn more about the NCAA and the many career possibilities she could have moving forward. I am confident her attendance will lead to good things for her in college athletics.”
Jones is well on her way toward a long career in athletics, starting as an AAU basketball coach this spring. “After the student-immersion program, we were invited to the NCAA Division III Next Steps Program that takes place in June. This program focuses more potential careers in sport with a focus on college athletics. I plan to attend this conference and to continue to gain more knowledge about college athletics and hopefully begin to start a career within it” (pictured right, Jones with fellow Student Immersion peers)
Jones (pictured left with Jackie Joyner-Kersee, recipient of the 2019 NCAA President's Gerald R. Ford Award) and Walker attended convention workshops, awards dinners, educational sessions, SAAC programs, as well as the Division III issues forum and business session where governance is in action as the membership votes on legislative proposals. Both women also participated in the North Atlantic Conference meeting held in conjunction with the NCAA Convention. Student athletes listened to administrators work together to make decisions on topics including sport specific issues, schedules, and conference championships, as well as NCAA grants, legislation, and convention-related issues.
“The thing that I learned the most while attending the convention was that our voices, no matter how small our school, our voices as student athletes really have a role in molding and shaping the future of the NCAA,” remarked Walker. “It may seem small coming from a campus standpoint, but once you bring it to the conference and then onto the national level- it really changed my view of how things change and that we really do have a say in what happens.”
Walker also took part in several National SAAC meetings and events, including a Unified Special Olympics event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization. She also had the opportunity to interact with administrators and student athletes across all divisions.
“The thing I enjoyed most about going to the NCAA convention was meeting different student athletes from different parts of the US. Regardless of where we came from, we all had one thing in common. It was being a student athlete. And although most of us were complete strangers we were all able to bond over our experience of being a student athlete. Being able to share these experiences and similarities whether they were Division I, II or II, it was just amazing to see all of these people come together in one place.”
Walker (pictured right with NAC Associate Commissioner Kate Roy and Commissioner Marcella Zalot) returns to lead the NAC SAAC for one final semester before heading into a career in television meteorology. She brings a renewed energy back to her own campus at NVU-Lyndon as well as the conference. “I would not be where I am right now if it was not for the support of everyone in SAAC at the conference level, I truly appreciate it. Thank you all so much from the bottom of my heart.”
“It is a tremendous opportunity for Lexie and Amira to attend the NCAA Convention and see first-hand how the Division III governance process works,” NAC Commissioner Marcella Zalot remarked. “The chance to experience the sheer size of the Convention, to gain awareness and perspective, and to meet students from institutions across the country is a valuable leadership moment. It is also energizing to see the Convention through the eyes of students and first-time Convention attendees. It is a good reminder that Division III is special.”