'Women in Sports' Profile: UP Associate AD Karen Peters
Karen Peters (middle) was honored by NACWAA as the Division I Administrator of the Year in 2013.
Karen Peters (middle) was honored by NACWAA as the Division I Administrator of the Year in 2013.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Eighth in a series

The second annual “Women in Sports” career seminar, presented by the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, will be held Saturday, Jan. 24 in Portland, Ore.

Designed for college and high school females interested in pursuing sports-related careers, the seminar will take place in the Georgia Pacific Room at Memorial Coliseum.

The event will feature panelists from a broad cross-section of occupational paths, including coaching, administration, business, marketing, media, media relations, NCAA compliance, sports medicine, ticket sales, and officiating. Attendees will have an opportunity to interact with -- and seek career advice from -- a slate of experienced sports professionals in a round-table format. 

Below is a profile on a panelist who will be featured at this year's event. 

Karen Peters, University of Portland
Senior Associate AD/Senior Woman Administrator

College attended:

  • New Mexico State University (undergrad)
  • University of Massachusetts-Amherst (grad)

College major:

  • Undergrad - Journalism
  • Grad - Sport Management

Current position: Senior Associate Athletic Director, University of Portland

Years in current position: 8 1/2

Primary job responsibilities: My primary responsibility is oversight of the internal operations of the department, including supervision of several varsity sports programs, and oversight of compliance, academic advising and student services. My job also includes responsibilities for special projects; policy and procedure development and implementation; long-range planning and budgeting; and serving as the department’s contact for Title IX/Gender Equity issues. I also serve as the Senior Woman Administrator for UP, which includes being a UP representative to the West Coast Conference Executive Committee.

Things I enjoy most about my job: I enjoy helping coaches and student-athletes work towards their goals -- athletically, academically and/or personally. Seeing students and teams achieve, seeing them improve, is incredibly fulfilling. I enjoy that every day is different, and every year is different. It can be crazy, but it makes the job a lot of fun, and I'm fortunate to have a job where I am constantly learning. I also enjoy working with the coaches and staff in our department -- UP has a great group of people that work behind the scenes for our student-athletes, and finding ways to support them is a big part of what I love to do. Overall, I love being in a position where I can help shape and direct a department, and impact so many parts of the great experience that we provide for UP student-athletes.

First job in the sports industry: Very first? Working as a scorekeeper for the Las Cruces (N.M.) Youth Softball League when I was 15. I got my start in college sports in my sophomore year at New Mexico State University, working as a student assistant in the sports information office.

Previous jobs in the sports industry: I've worked in college athletics since my sophomore year of college. I started in sports info at NMSU, then went to graduate school at UMass, where I got to dabble in a variety of areas in the business. From there I landed an internship with the Ivy League, where I worked in student services and compliance at Columbia University. This got me started on the administration path, which continued with my first real full-time job at Stanford University, where I was an assistant for compliance and recruiting. I stayed at Stanford for 10 years, and expanded my role to include eligibility, recruiting, admissions, gender equity, events, and sport oversight. I came to Portland eight years ago as an associate athletic director overseeing compliance and sport administration, and my job has expanded over the years to include oversight of or involvement with just about every part of the department.

A key mentor who helped me on my career path: I've been fortunate to work with so many amazing people in my career, and at Stanford I reported up to two women who were very influential in my development. Susan Burk was my immediate supervisor, and taught me so much about how to work with a variety of students and coaches. We had 35 sports, and figuring out how to work with them was a challenge -- when should I treat everyone the same, when should I treat people differently? She also taught me what being a working mom looked like; she had two young children, and gave so much to both her job and her family. Susan's boss, and the senior associate AD for the department, was Cheryl Levick, and working with Cheryl taught me about having high standards, how to run meetings and work with groups, and how to make decisions in a high-pressure environment.

Most influential person in my early professional development: My first two bosses were very influential for me, because they taught me the basics of hard work and professional standards that stick with me to this day. At NMSU the head SID was Steve Shutt, the assistant SID was Brian McCann, and both of those men shaped me as a professional. They worked harder than anyone I knew, but also made the job fun. They had incredibly high standards for the work in that office, and held the students to those same high standards. They treated everyone professionally -- big school or little school, successful team or not. They paid attention to the big picture and the little details, and they provided great service to coaches, students and the media.

How I got involved in my professional career: I was looking for a work-study job at school. I had no idea about jobs in an athletic department, but my summer job supervisor steered me toward the sports information director at NMSU, who was looking for student workers. I got hired on and stayed there for the rest of my NMSU career.

Biggest hurdle I overcame breaking into the sports industry: My initial hurdle was not knowing what professional paths were out there. Growing up, I thought that to work in sports you had to be an athlete, a coach, or in the media.

Key attributes that have helped shape my career path: I work hard, and I do good work. It's my advice to anyone looking at this as a business, and it's something I take very seriously myself. There is so much advice out there about how to get ahead, but for me it's so important to take care of the basics. Yes, it's important to network; yes, it's important to get a variety of experiences, but none of that will matter if you aren't doing your job well.

Knowing what I know now, the one thing I would do differently in college to help me on my career path: I would do a better job of keeping in touch with people that I met along the way ... yes, I would network more. I've worked with and met a ton of great people over the years, and I wish I would have keep in touch better with many of them. Meeting new people is important, but don't forget to keep relationships going with the people you already know!

Best advice I’d give to a young female wanting to work in sports: Find a way in the door, don't be too picky about where the experience is, or what you are doing. So many people look at our business and only want to work at "big-time" schools, but there are tons of great experiences out there at all kinds of schools. And don't forget to have some adventures along the way -- take a leap, move across the country, try different things when those chances come your way!

Favorite sports team: The Portland Pilots, of course, and the Chicago Cubs.

Most memorable sports-related moment: Most recently, gathering with UP folks to watch the men's cross country team finish third at nationals was pretty amazing. Those coaches and students had worked for so long for a podium finish, and to see them get it and be able to celebrate that moment with current and former Pilots was pretty great. My first most-memorable moment was going to the Sweet 16 with the NMSU men's basketball team my junior year of college. The games were played at UNM, and to hear so many Lobo fans root for the Aggies as we came onto the floor was incredible.