On June 1, 2015, Lesley Irvine began working as the director of Pomona-Pitzer Athletics and chair of Pomona College’s Physical Education Department. Originally from England, Irvine previously worked at Bowling Green State University as senior associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator. She sat down with TSL to reflect on her new position and her plans for the year.
TSL: What has been the best part of your experience in Claremont so far?
Lesley Irvine: I have had an absolute blast. Coming in in June was a really good time because I committed the first three or four months to just listening and learning and understanding before I started thinking about what we want to do. I’ve just really felt that people have been excited and open and willing to help, and I couldn’t have felt more welcomed. I really felt the energy in terms of the momentum that’s occurring.
TSL: What sort of things came out of your conversations with people here on campus?
LI: My role—what are the opportunities to build relationships? When you say ‘health and wellness,’ when you say ‘physical education,’ when you say ‘athletics’ on this campus and at Pitzer, what comes to mind? Those were some of the conversations that we had. We talked a lot about the hope that athletics specifically can be one vehicle for campus pride and community and just excitement.
TSL: What are your goals for the year?
LI: A lot of my focus has been really just trying to create a visual presence and have people sense that there’s change and hope. So, I went to work painting everything blue and orange. I started in my office, and you’ll see that we have lots of banners and little pole banners that have popped up. The students came back and really noticed it.
My role is far greater than varsity athletics. It’s health, it’s wellness. We run such a great physical education program out of here. It’s so cool that it’s so valued on this campus. We held [an orientation session about health and wellness] in the Rains Center, because we really want to emphasize this message that the Rains Center is the home for all of our students. It’s not just a varsity athletic facility.
TSL: How do you balance your role as director of Pomona-Pitzer Athletics with your role as chair of the Physical Education Department at Pomona?
LI: I spend a lot of time in meetings making sure that I’m working with our students, meeting with their coaches, meeting with other people on campus. It’s interesting, there’s just a certain vibe and tempo that we’re used to in athletics in general. We work really quickly.
TSL: When we spoke to you in May you talked about building bridges between athletics and other parts of the colleges like Admissions and Institutional Advancement. Could you tell us more about that?
LI: It’s just making sure that when we work with other areas on campus, we are communicating with them about what their goals are and what the institutional goals are. Admissions is a key piece as you look at understanding what amazing institutions both institutions are. As we work towards having 21 teams, it’s really, truly celebrating what both institutions look for in students. As we go out there and talk to prospective students, we understand that and we help identify students who are great fits and invite them to be a part of what we are doing. So, it’s just having those open lines of communication.
One of the really cool things that happened over the summer was the Special Olympics. Those types of community partnerships that intersect with athletics and sport and just what health and wellness can provide everybody—those types of things are really, really cool.
TSL: What do you think athletes—and students in general—should know about your role?
LI: The vehicle of health, wellness, physical education has opened so many doors for me. I’m a believer in all the benefits that everything we do here at the Rains Center provides to the overall educational mission, so I think I just want people to know how passionate I am about that. I really view myself as trying to make that be contagious.
I want everything we do to be centered on the student experience. I recently had a student reach out to me who was interested in a Sagehen student fan club. I responded within ten minutes to that idea. I’m just this big ball of energy that is willing and open to hear any ideas.
TSL: How has your past experience come into play here?
LI: I’m a former student athlete, I’m a former coach, I’ve been an assistant coach and then a head coach, and then I’ve been an administrator. What’s really cool about that is I feel like I have the ability to know what they’re going through. I joked with the teams that it doesn’t feel like that long ago that I remember sitting in team meetings as a student athlete.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.