Spry is thrilled to celebrate the many successful women in the sport industry. We are proud to work with many of these women and can’t wait to share their stories and successes with you!
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Kirsten Elleby. Kirsten is the Deputy Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator at Syracuse University, a position she recently assumed following six years as the Associate AD for Student-Athlete Enrichment and SWA at the University of New Orleans. Prior to UNO, Elleby also spent time at Coppin State and Wake Forest. With the Orange, Kirsten serves as the department’s liaison to the University’s Title IX office and also has direct oversight of the women’s basketball, volleyball and softball programs. Eager to hone her craft at every opportunity, Kirsten completed the NACWAA/HERS Institute for Administrative Advancement program in 2009 and is also a 2021 graduate of the NCAA Dr. Charles Whitcomb Leadership Institute.
Below is a summary of our conversation:
Please give me a brief history of your life/career
I was an army brat, so I called a lot of different places home as a kid. I was born in New Jersey, but spent most of my childhood and adolescent years between army bases in Ft. Bragg, NC and Heidelberg, Germany. I actually graduated from Heidelberg American High School. When people find out I spent time in Germany, the next question that usually follows is, “Can you speak German?” The answer to that is an emphatic, “No”. I can say “Danke schön”, which means “Thank you very much” in English, but that’s about it. After high school, my family moved to their last duty station in Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD and eventually settled in Baltimore, which is where they currently live. I’m a huge Ravens fan, so I guess I’d consider Maryland home. While I wasn’t a student-athlete in college, one thing most people probably wouldn’t know about me is that I was a competitive figure skater for about 10 years. I was inspired by Debi Thomas in the 1988 Winter Olympics. It was amazing to see a woman who looked like me excelling in that sport and it became a big part of my life for a long time. Even though I haven’t skated competitively for years, the sport is still very near and dear to my heart.
What inspired you to want to pursue a career in intercollegiate athletics?
I actually fell into the career following some tutoring of student-athletes during graduate school. My sports management professor told me that working with and supporting college student-athletes was actually a thing. That led to my first full-time opportunity at Coppin State, where I had the privilege to work with the legendary Fang Mitchell…and 17 years later, here I am!
What’s the biggest thing you know now that you wish you’d known earlier in your career?
Learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. College athletics is very rewarding, but can also be very demanding. The environment is not always comfortable and you have to develop a thick skin and keep pushing forward. I think my skating career probably helped a little bit with that as well.
When asked about her role models growing up? In sports, in business?
Personally, my mother, Gail Elleby, will always remain my biggest role model. She had the biggest heart and was an elementary school teacher for over 20 years, and I always admired how invested and committed she was to ensuring that her students were cared about and prepared to be successful. I try to devote that same energy to the student-athletes I work with each day.
Professionally, Todd Hairston has been a genuine advocate and amazing mentor for me in the athletic administration field.
The best piece of advice you’ve ever received was?
You cannot be everything to everyone, so learn that it is okay to not always say yes. I’m not sure I always apply that advice in life as much as I should, but it’s great advice nevertheless.
Finish the sentence, The best part of my job is student-athletes. The kids keep you young!
Kirsten might have grown up with dreams of winning gold, but throughout her career, everything she has touched has turned to gold. From Coppin State, to Wake Forest, to New Orleans to Syracuse, she has left an indelible mark on the lives of student-athletes each step along the way. Please join Spry in celebrating her as one of the tremendous leaders and role models in our field!
Read the next article in Spry’s Women’s History Month series: Celebrating Julie Sommer, The Drake Group.