Emerson names new Athletic Director

Emersons newly-elected Athletic Director, Stephanie Smyrl

Emerson College

Emerson’s newly-elected Athletic Director, Stephanie Smyrl

By Leo Kagan, Assistant Sports Editor

Emerson College announced last week that Stephanie Smyrl, the current athletic director at Lesley University, will take over the same position at Emerson after the end of the academic term.

Smyrl, who spent a combined 16 years in sports administration between Lesley and Wheelock College, will take the helm of the department on May 22. She will succeed Interim Director Stanford Nance, who took the position in February after longtime head Pat Nicol retired.

Smyrl said she’s looking forward to joining a brand new environment at Emerson. 

“I’ve always kept my eye on Emerson,” she said in an interview with the Beacon. “I love the location—when I was there for my interview, [seeing] the hustle and bustle, the logo everywhere, and knowing that the student athletes really enjoy being student-athletes there: it’s just amazing.”

Smyrl has a background as both an administrator and an athlete; she started playing soccer at three years old and continued her career all the way through college at Stony Brook University. She said she believes her understanding of both sides of the student-athlete experience will aid her in elevating that same experience for Emerson’s athletes. 

“The experience that I had as a student athlete was top notch,” she said. “And I truly feel like it’s my responsibility to give back, to make sure that the students that come through the doors at Emerson feel supported and feel like they are having the best possible experience that they can.”

In creating that positive experience for student-athletes, Smyrl believes that two facets of athletics at Emerson must be addressed. First, Smyrl said that the athletics department must focus on the small victories.

“What are the little celebrations where student athletes can feel that love as we work on the larger picture?” she said. “What are the things that can mean the world to our student athletes that we’ve overlooked?”  

Part of the small victories, Smyrl said, is communicating with athletes and coaches on the status of larger projects, like the potential development of more on-campus athletic facilities for the baseball or tennis teams. 

“[It’s] really hearing from teams and individual student athletes and coaches about what is working and what’s not and setting realistic expectations,” she said. “If there’s this thought like, ‘BAM,’ we’re gonna have [all the athletic facilities] right on campus, we owe honesty, to say, ‘Hey look, the administration is going to work on it. But in the meantime, student-athletes, what can we do to make sure that you see the growth while you’re a student-athlete and then when you graduate and you look back, you see that the growth has continued?’”

Smyrl said part of her responsibilities in her first few weeks and months will be getting to know her coaches and athletes—a responsibility she relishes. 

“I will be doing a lot of listening and learning to understand the successes and the challenges that are going to be coming with this new adventure,” she said.

According to Jim Hoppe, vice president and dean of campus life at Emerson, creating interpersonal relationships is one of Smyrl’s strong suits. 

“She was at the Heart of the Lion Awards on Saturday, and I was impressed by the fact that she made time to walk around and talk to just about everybody that was there,” he said. “Very outgoing, but then she listened [too]. I think students are going to really like her, because she’s going to take the time to get to know people and she remembers you.”

But as much as she wants to get to know student-athletes and coaches—and address their needs—Smyrl said she genuinely believes in engaging with the larger Emerson community and fostering connections that run deeper than athletics. 

“It can go both ways, like ‘It would be great if my classmates came to my men’s basketball game, but then I’m going to reciprocate and I’m going to go to an event that my classmate is holding,’” she said. “Then you start to bridge that gap—I’m really excited to build [and] increase that engagement across campus.”

One of Smyrl’s biggest challenges is fighting the widely-held perception that Emerson is not a “sports school.” But Smyrl pushed back against the idea that academics and athletics must be mutually exclusive. 

“I strongly believe that you can be competitive and also be extremely successful academically,” she said. “I see that already with the student athletes at Emerson.”

Hoppe added that Smyrl’s strengths as a creative problem-solver and storyteller will help his department redefine the role of athletics at Emerson. 

I think that perception [of Emerson athletics] has already started to change in the seven years I’ve been here,” he said. “The secret, to me, is going to be to do it in an Emerson way. At Emerson, it’s an ensemble, it’s a competition. The student athletes are going to perform. It’s about making sure athletics plays a role in really supporting the values of Emerson.”

At the end of the day, Smyrl’s goal is what any athletic director’s would be: winning. 

“’I am competitive and I want to win more NEWMAC championships,” she said. “I really want to see the hard work that student athletes put in day-in and day-out, to be rewarded. They’re all working hard for the championship hardware.”