Industry Leaders

Women’s History Month: Celebrating Sue Harriman

sharriman spry women history month

Spry is thrilled to celebrate the many successful women in the sports 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 Sue Harriman, Director of Athletics and Recreation at University of California, Santa Cruz.  Her career in the sports and higher education industry has spanned 4 decades and she has a wealth of experience to share.

Below is a summary of our conversation.

Please give me a brief history of your life/career 

Sue is in her 4th decade of working in higher education and sports. She attributes her love for sports to her parents and siblings and played high school basketball before the Title IX era began.  Sue’s life was full of sports, she grew up playing just about every sport that you can think of and before Title IX was enacted, she often competed against the boys for better training opportunities.  She mentioned that as a child, she and her siblings were disciplined through the attention one needs to concentrate on sports, for example being sent out in the backyard to hit a round of balls in their batting cage, shooting foul shots or getting better at jumping rope. It gave her the opportunity to think about choices, decisions, and attention to details. In high school Sue received 12 varsity letters, played the violin, worked a job, and took lessons in a variety of sports, a true testament to her devotion to sports and the growth she felt as an athlete and teammate.  Sue graduated from Springfield College and followed a winding career path.  Sue worked in health clubs, colleges, universities, and more.  At one point while studying for her master degree, working a full time job, teaching 12 classes a week, traveling to her husband’s football games with their 6 year old and showing dogs. A few highlights include; the opportunity to manage a diverse group of people as a Director of Residence Life, managing corporate fitness centers, Harvard Business and Harvard University Athletic Centers and later in life, opening the Georgetown Law and Rider University Student Fitness Centers. Sue spoke eloquently about living out of a suitcase for years as she balanced her career in a male dominated industry along with managing her home life, travel and numerous hobbies.  After years of working at colleges in both college alumni engagement, athletics fundraising, and as an Athletic Department and Senior Woman Administrator, Sue decided to pursue the ultimate chair as an Athletic Director.  She began applying for positions and ultimately was hired to be the first Director of Athletics, Physical Education, Recreation, and Sports at the University of California Santa Cruz, home of the Banana Slugs.  

What inspired you to want to pursue a career in intercollegiate athletics? 

Sue was always drawn to the collegiate sports industry as a child, but when she married a college football coach she decided to jump in and work in any position that she could on the different college campuses to be involved with the industry and to better understand how much time was dedicated specifically to football. Later in her career and after several years as an Assistant AD, SWA and the number 2, Sue felt she had what it took to become an AD. 

Were you a collegiate athlete? A high school athlete? 

Sue was an amazing athlete. At 9 her parents entered her in ski races, against 12-14 year olds where she’d medal. She was a 12 time varsity athlete, lettering in basketball, softball and as the head football statistician which explains her knowledge of football. In college she played basketball her freshman year and then rode for the equestrian team and played rugby both in the fall and spring seasons. 

Who were your role models growing up? In sports, in business? 

“My parents.  They set the example, got us out there doing it and encouraged me every step of the way. We had to at least try it. I still call them for advice, as a sounding board, or to get re-motivated when I think I’ve hit a wall.” Sue’s met a lot of professional athletes, politicians and celebrities over the years but her parents are still the most impressive!

If you could share one bit of advice with tomorrow’s future leaders, what would it be?

“You are welcome in every conversation, take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves. If they don’t, make them. Leaders find one another by stepping up and taking notice even if you’re the only two in the room.”

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received was? 

“Reach outside the circle for feedback, there are a lot of different ways to accomplish things. Always remember that there is no room or activity or box that “you” aren’t allowed in or welcome in.”

Finish the sentence, The best part of my job is… 

“The people, 100%. It’s all about the individual people I work with, I can hire, the ones I collide with, the introductions…. It’s all about the people. I love meeting different people with a variety of ideas and different perspectives”.  I’m grateful to have the ability to provide opportunities to include and develop people and give them the confidence to let them have impact in this industry.

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

“Coffee or Maple from Fielder’s Choice in Maine.”

Read the next article in Spry’s Women’s History Month series: Celebrating Shoshanna Engel Lewis, Deputy Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator at Brown University.

Lyle Adams


Lyle was a member of the 2007 NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship team at Wake Forest. After embarking on a professional soccer career, Lyle transitioned to the tech industry, where he was one of the first 100 employees at Uber, designing platforms and tools for data consumers. Lyle also holds a Master’s in Sports Management from Columbia University.