Sometimes, one must travel far to fully appreciate what they have.
Such was the case for Amanda Palladino. The 2018 Ursinus College graduate All-American gymnast took full advantage of the opportunities afforded to her as a student-athlete at a Division III institution, but recent trips to a pair of NCAA-sponsored programs opened her eyes to just how fortunate she was.
Palladino just returned from Indianapolis and the NCAA Career in Sports Forum, an educational program that brings together over 200 student-athletes across all divisions to learn and explore potential careers in sports, with a primary focus on college athletics. The four-day forum is designed to assist student-athletes in charting their career paths, as well as provide an opportunity to network with current athletics professionals.
Palladino's journey began last winter, when she applied to the Division III Student Immersion Program at the behest of Director of Athletics Laura Moliken. Held in January, this workshop invited 40 ethnic minority students to the annual NCAA Convention; fully funded to attend, these students are able to gain exposure to Division III, its members and governance process. Mostly geared towards juniors and seniors with a strong interest in a career in athletics, the Student Immersion Program aims to build a pipeline of talented ethnic minority candidates with an interest in collegiate administration or coaching in an effort to increase Division III's diversity.
Following the Student Immersion Program, Palladino was encouraged to apply to the Career in Sports Forum and was one of 240 student-athletes (from a pool of more than 700 applicants) to be accepted. Along with 20 of her fellow Student Immersion Program participants, Palladino returned to NCAA headquarters from May 31 to June 3.
The Career in Sports Forum proved engaging, informative, and eye-opening for Palladino, who was able to network with NCAA staff and student-athletes from all over the country. She took in panel discussions with topics ranging from business etiquette, Division III as a career choice, the perspective of each NCAA division, and even personal and professional branding (her favorite presentation). She was told to embrace the moment and take chances.
A significant portion of the forum centered around distinctions between the NCAA's three divisions. Each has its own distinct personality, method of governance, and set of challenges. Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the program – for Palladino and others with whom she interacted – was the difference in the collegiate experience of student-athletes from Division II and III and those from Division I.
"How much opportunity we have in Division III," Palladino mentioned when asked about some of her takeaways from the forum. "The Division III student-athletes were talking about how we're able to study abroad, take internships, maybe work or join clubs, and the Division I athletes were like, 'Whoa, we didn't even think about that.'
"That wasn't even in their thought process (when choosing a school), that you could actually have time to do things other than school, sport, and sleep."
Division I carries with it a prestige and national cache that lower divisions can't match, but Palladino – who was a UC Ambassador, a member of a sorority and several clubs in addition to being a four-year gymnastics participant – knows that the totality of her student-athlete experience at Ursinus has her well prepared for life outside of college.
"That was something one of the student-athletes brought up, how they questioned that the Division I experience (seems) all about sports, but when the student-athletes go into the workforce they have little experience," Palladino said. "In Division III we're able to take advantage of the opportunity to be well-rounded."
Division III, however, is full of its own challenges. It's the largest division of the NCAA, perhaps a little known fact, but the funding it receives pales in comparison with that of its Division I brethren. That and more was discussed in the divisional perspective panel headlined by Jay Jones, Associate Director for Division III.
"You hear so much more about Division I, you would think that it was the biggest," Palladino said. "It's the largest, but we receive the least amount of money. So why is that? Why don't we have the resources that the other divisions do? That was definitely something that sparked conversation."
For her part, Palladino said the two NCAA forums she attended this year have been instrumental in crystallizing her career goals. Since her sophomore year, she has known that she eventually would love to work for the Olympics. Following the Student Immersion Program, she discovered that collegiate athletics might be the perfect path for her, as well as a stepping-stone to her ultimate goal. An economics major with a concentration in finance, Palladino is particularly interested in the areas of event and facilities management.
"Going to the conference definitely helped opened my eyes to how I need to educate myself more, but also helped me look at how I can use my finance background if I was looking toward facilities and management, looking at budgeting and organization," she said.
Palladino also said that a panel about graduate assistantships and internships was especially helpful – and revealing. The NCAA staff members present at the forum made it a point to emphasize that the process of becoming an administrator in college athletics – an athletic director or assistant athletic director – can take many years. Working as an intern or graduate assistant for an athletic department, then, is one of the best ways to develop an understanding of what goes into running one.
"They're highly competitive, and they recommend any student-athletes who are interested in a career in athletics to go after them," Palladino said. "Not only do you get to work in an athletic department, the school helps pay for your education."
To that end, Palladino has secured interviews with "six or seven" schools for positions that have come available through the Division III's Ethnic Minorities and Women's Internship Grant. These full-time, entry-level administrative openings are for two academic years. She had her first interview last week.
Thanks to her time with the NCAA and her well-rounded student-athlete experience at Ursinus, Palladino is ready for whatever the post-graduate world throws at her.
"I would definitely recommend the Career in Sports forum to anyone."
For more on the NCAA Career in Sports Forum, click here.