The listening sessions have ended, and a new Delta Lodge Director of Athletics and Physical Education will be appointed soon. Each candidate had a two-day interview process, involving two forums: one open to students and one with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and Club Sports Council. At the open forums, each candidate answered questions presented by the selection committee and then opened up the floor to a question-and-answer session. The questions dealt with topics of diversity, collaboration between athletics and the Oberlin community, ideas to revamp Philips Athletic Center, standards for coaches and student-athletes and future goals and visions for the Athletics department as a whole. The search committee has narrowed it down to four candidates.
Kiki Jacobs Kristin “Kiki” Jacobs, the associate director of athletics and senior woman administrator at Springfield College, was the first candidate to visit campus. Many seniors were familiar with Jacobs, who held the associate director of athletics and senior woman administrator position at Oberlin College two years ago. Prior to Oberlin, Jacobs spent 15 years at Washington & Lee University and one year at Dartmouth College. Jacobs received her M.S. in physical education from Western Illinois University and a B.A. in economics and political science from Dickinson College.
Although Jacobs was personable and made an effort to speak to each student during the forum, she resigned from her position at Oberlin at a time when the Athletics department was very different than what it is now. The majority of the coaching staff has changed, as well as the overall vision of the department. If hired, Jacobs might have a difficult time adjusting. When asked why she left Oberlin, Jacobs’s response was that she did not feel it was a place for her to grow as an employee. This rubbed students the wrong way — many feel that the Athletics Department needs a lot of work, giving almost anyone the opportunity to affect change.
It appeared that Jacobs could not understand Oberlin nor relate to the needs of the Athletics department and students, even though she once worked here.
The second candidate, Karen McConnell, is the former associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator at Heidelberg College. McConnell, who was the head women’s basketball coach at Heidelberg for 20 years and is currently a math teacher and girls’ basketball coach at Wooster City Schools, got a warmer reception than Jacobs. She received her M.Ed. from Ashland University and a B.S. in business administration and secondary education from Heidelberg.
McConnell seemed a bit shy about Oberlin’s environment, but did seem excited about getting involved and bridging the gap between athletics and the Oberlin community. She had clear, specific and progressive ideas to involve administrators from all departments. She responded to questions directly and addressed the reasons why she left Heidelberg and now wants to return to Division-III athletics. While McConnell had less recent experience than other candidates, she was personable, approachable and made an effort to connect with each person on an individual level.
Currently the associate Athletic Director for Education Services of Carthage College, Gary Williams was the third candidate brought to campus. Williams has spent the past 15 years at Carthage as the director of first-year advising, assistant football coach, and instructor in exercise and sport science. Williams received his Ph.D. in leadership in higher education from Cardinal Stritch University as well as an M.Ed. with a concentration in emphasis counseling and sport administration from Carthage.
Upon meeting Williams, it was evident that he was extremely personable, relatable and passionate. He answered all questions with confidence and made eye contact with each student. His visions for the Athletics department were clear: He wants the gym to have excessive Oberlin decorations, to create better spaces for lounging and relaxation and to make the building more inviting.
When asked how long he envisioned himself working at Oberlin, Williams responded, “One month to 15 years, I will stay until I can no longer make a difference.” Williams was well received by most students, though some felt that he was a bit too quirky, and it made students uncomfortable.
The fourth and final candidate was Natalie Winkelfoos, the interim Delta Lodge director of Athletics and Physical Education at Oberlin College, and the senior woman administrator. Winkelfoos has been at Oberlin since 2004 and has had various roles within the department, ranging from assistant women’s basketball coach to associate director of Athletics for development and alumni affairs. Winkelfoos received her Masters of higher Education Administration and Personnel from Kent State University and a B.A. in communication studies from Baldwin-Wallace College.
Winkelfoos understands Oberlin. When she introduced herself, she gave her preferred gender pronouns, demonstrating to students her sensitivity to gender identity on campus. She is a strong advocate for trans training for all coaches within the department, as well as female equality within athletics. Because she has been here for eight years, Winkelfoos has the advantage of knowing Oberlin, the students, the culture, the school and the athletes, and she will be able to make an immediate impact on the department.
While there are some students who feel that this is a positive, others feel that her current ties and relationships within the department could cloud her judgment and that hiring from outside instead of promoting from within is the right direction to go.
All four candidates have had their turn to voice their respective missions for the Athletics department, and all students have had their opportunities to voice their thoughts and concerns regarding each candidate. It seems that the biggest concern is the decision of promoting from within or hiring someone brand new and the effects each would have on the department. Will hiring someone who will require an adjustment period to Oberlin reap better benefits than hiring someone who has been here for a long time?
That decision is up to the search committee and President Krislov.