Erica Perkins Jasper, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps athletic director, is fueled by a passion for sports. She took over the role last June, after a career in tennis, where she bounced between coaching and administrative roles.
In an interview with TSL, she described her ascent to becoming CMS’ athletic director as “not normal,” as she’s previously worked in a myriad of roles.
After playing Division I tennis at Washington State, Jasper served as the head coach of the women’s tennis team at Georgia Southern, where she also finished her master’s degree. From there, she became an assistant coach at William & Mary, which was a top program at the time, she said.
Following her stint at William & Mary, Jasper was offered the head coaching role at Michigan State, which was her “dream job.”
However, two years into her gig with the Spartans, she was recruited by the United States Tennis Association, the national governing body for tennis in the U.S.
“I was basically at a point in my career where I knew I loved coaching, and I thought I was pretty good at it, but I also had a feeling that I wanted to get into administration,” Jasper said. “So I decided to take the gamble — I took a job at the USTA.”
Jasper served at the USTA for four years, where she was the senior manager of junior and collegiate competition.
However, after having her first son and “[wanting] to get back on a college campus,” she then took the head coaching position at the University of New Mexico.
“Part of the reason was we wanted to be back on a campus, but part of the reason is I was super fortunate in my career when I was coaching, but I never spent more than two years anywhere,” Jasper said. “I felt really like I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, that I could really turn a program around.”
In her first year at New Mexico, the tennis team finished last in the conference. By her third year, the Lobos won their first-ever conference title, and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
Jasper’s transformation of the program and her expertise in tennis didn’t go unnoticed.
She soon got an offer to become the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s chief operating officer, which she said she accepted because “I was 100 percent confident at that point that I wanted to transition into administration.”
Her time at the ITA — where she oversaw DI, Division II, Division III, NAIA and junior college tennis — helped her transition to where she is today.
“Frankly, I had been really [DI]-focused up to that point,” Jasper said. “My job at the ITA really spanned across all five divisions, and I became very enamored with [DIII]. So when this position opened, in a lot of ways, it was a dream-type position for me because our athletic programs are super competitive.”
Having enjoyed serving as both an administrator and a coach, Jasper believes her new job at CMS combines the two experiences nicely.
“I think I have the best of all worlds in that I still get to interact on a daily basis with our student-athletes,” she said. “I still get to have a team to support. The couple of times I had been in administration, I really missed supporting a team. But I get to work with coaches, I get to work with staff — I love that part of it. I think coming over from the ITA, where we were a coaches association, I got a lot of joy with helping coaches get better.”
Jasper also highlighted the strength of CMS athletics and noted that she believes much of her work will be made easier by the pre-existing structures of CMS.
“When you come into an athletics program that’s already super successful, you can sometimes get ahead of yourself and start creating all kinds of goals and changes,” she said. “One of the things I did when I got here is I dove into becoming a part of our CMS athletics culture. So really, I think my job is to help keep us on the continued path of success.”
But she recognizes that CMS sports aren’t perfect. In recent years, there have been incidents of hazing and other misconduct on the CMS track and field, baseball and swim teams, resulting in probation, suspension and mandatory training for athletes.
Jasper said she plans to use an education-first approach to avoid instances like these in the future.
“Any time you have an incident come up and you can combat it with education first, it’s always a great thing, understanding that sometimes, at the end of the day, if someone does something significant enough that requires punishment, you obviously need to do that.”
She believes that such efforts begin at the institutional level and will require collaboration between Claremont McKenna College, Scripps College and Harvey Mudd College.
“I also think it’s exceptionally important, because we’re a consortium of three colleges, that we work in partnership with folks on all three campuses any time an incident comes up so one, we can hopefully get ahead of it all together but two, then create a unified plan for addressing it, whether it’s education, whether it’s punishment, or whatever it might be,” Jasper said.
Jasper also mentioned that she’s heavily focused on expanding fitness opportunities for all students at the three schools — noting that she hopes all students will continue to use Roberts Pavilion for recreational use.
“I would love to get every student in the doors of Roberts at least on a weekly basis, if not on a daily basis,” she said.