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MSA Alumni Q&A: Monica Lebron

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Caley Beacham (MSA ’17) recently caught up with Monica Lebron (MSA ’03), who is spending her first fall in New Orleans as the Deputy Athletics Director at Tulane University.

 Monicalebron

Lebron, a California-raised, Yale educated member of the #OHIOFamily started her career in college athletics with the University of Florida and has since moved her away around the Southeast with pit-stops at Ole Miss, and most recently, the University of Georgia. As the Associate Athletic Director of Development for the UGA Athletic Association, Lebron oversaw all aspects of athletic fundraising, raising a record $56.96 million for the 2016 fiscal year. While at UGA, Lebron started a Ph.D in Higher Education, which she’s set to finish next year. 

Lebron brings 12 years of external development experience to her new role at Tulane, and joined the ranks of a very small group of women in intercollegiate athletics that have football oversight on their resume. 

Q: How has the transition process been so far? Are you settling into your new role and New Orleans well?

I’m unbelievably happy. My life’s crazy but it’s awesome. I’m happy every day of my life. I don’t know why New Orleans has been such a good fit for me or why this job has fit me so well. But of all my moves— this I my 8th state— this has been the fastest I’ve taken to a place. Every place I’ve been I grew to love and cried when I had to leave. Usually it takes 3 months, 6 months, sometimes even 12 months before I get settled. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m in a city rather than a college town, or if it’s because I chose to live downtown or what. I don’t know really. I can’t put my finger on it. But every day of my life I find myself telling someone, whoever will listen, I love it here. Now that doesn’t mean the job’s not hard. Every day is really, really hard. I don’t even know what happened today. The days go by so fast because I’m so busy, but when you’re happy it makes doing the hard stuff a lot easier.

Q: How have your previous experiences helped you in this new role?

Honestly, I was scared and this opportunity came unexpectedly and I didn’t know what to expect. I was just jumping into the deep end and so far I’m surviving. I realized pretty early on that I learned more through my experience at Georgia than I had given the experience credit for, and I mean that in the best way. My fear was that I had always done development, so sure I knew a lot about development, but this next job wasn’t just development. 

Had I acquired enough skills to parlay that into this new opportunity? My fear when I took the job that I hadn’t and that I wasn’t ready. And what I’m realizing every day is that this is just like it was at Georgia. I’m creating a team, and encouraging people to work together, and finding all these common goals for every—this is all just on a bigger scale because I’m overseeing more units. 

I’ve learned that it all boils down to the same key point: if you have a strong team, you can accomplish anything. Whether that’s at Ole Miss or Georgia or Tulane or even raising a family, it’s the truth. If you’ve got a strong core, you’re going to be okay. It’s just figuring out if we really do have that strong core and how can we make it stronger and moving forward together.

Q: What’s been the hardest part about the new job?

Stuff like what happened just now when you called. My phone is ringing and I don’t know why. And I’m thinking “Should I answer? Should I not?” And it’s literally because I haven’t looked at my calendar in the last hour. I used to be able to look at my calendar in the morning or even the night before and have a good grasp on how my day would go. Both the AD and Deputy AD at Georgia warned me about this. You’ll look at your calendar in the morning and by the end of the day it looks totally different because things come up. 

I don’t like being unprepared for anything. I’m pretty buttoned-up. I’m pretty Type A. I consider myself pretty reliable. That’s where I need to get more organized and have a plan to look at my calendar every two hours. It won’t always be this much of a fire drill and it will slow down. And this first year will be hard because it’s all new. Just like my first year at Georgia was hard. By year two I’ll have a better handle on things. But that’s hard for me because I like to be all things to all people and if I’m not doing that well, then I feel like I’m letting people down and I don’t like that.

Q: Your whole career you’ve worked for a Power 5 program. What’s been the biggest change moving from those experiences to Tulane?

I’ve said this to the folks that are going to be a part of our team: Just because we’re not Power 5 doesn’t mean we can’t act like it. The reality is that you don’t have the same resources, so you have to do it with less bodies. You can’t get mad—that’s just the difference. You are here, you don’t have those resources, so get creative. 

We’ve got some really smart kids on this campus. Maybe we can find one that is majoring in business and they like to do graphics on the side. Or maybe we have someone that wants to be the next director or producer in Hollywood, but they are majoring in whatever Tulane offers. But you’ve got to go find them. We’re talking about having a short film contest and inviting students to submit their work. And maybe that’s how we find student work. 

We’ve got to get creative because we don’t have the resources to just hire someone. It’s different. In my mind, we’re going to strive to be Power 5, but we have to be really creative with how we’re going to fulfill it because we have less bodies.

Q: Other than the time management that you spoke about earlier, what challenges have you encountered that you didn’t expect?

My responsibilities here are two-fold. I’m overseeing all of our external things and I’m also the sport supervisor for football, women’s basketball, volleyball, and beach volleyball. Because I came up the external ranks in development, it’s such a natural inclination to always go to them and see what they need and how I can help. It comes naturally to me to think it is the most important thing—that’s the revenue generation side. And you want to generate more revenue, so I’m more inclined to focus there. You’re drawn to what you know and because I know external, that’s the natural instinct for me.

But I can’t lose sight of the other half of my job which is being there for those coaches, those student-athletes and those four sports— being anything and everything they need. I have bi-weekly meetings with all those coaches, but I need to remember to just stop by practices from time to time. Stopping by practice and occasionally traveling with them is something I’ve got to figure out and find time for. I just need to do better about stopping in with coaches and saying “hello” to let them know that I’m there, I care, and they can come to me for things.

Q: What been your favorite part of moving into the Deputy AD role?

I am so much more tied to student athletes here than I have been in any other job. They see me at practice, and I go to their games, and I see them at study hall, and I stop and talk to them and see how they are doing and how their families are doing. So when I see them walking on campus they say “hello,” and we know each other, and we have a relationship— that’s really special to me. In the external units you forget why you’re there and it’s because of those student-athletes and I love that part of this job.  

Q: What is your favorite Athens memory?

21 Ludlow. That means nothing to you, but everything to me. That is where I lived both years of the program. Before I got to Athens, all I could focus on was graduating from undergrad. I literally graduated one day, then got in the car with my dad the next day and drove to Athens. Cynthia D’Amico was starting the program as well, and since she had been working, she had more time on her hands to do the legwork with finding a place to live. Cynthia hand-picked Melissa Brennan and I as her roommates. 

She picked Melissa because she was the oldest in the class and she would be mature. And she picked me because I was from California and went to Yale, and for some reason in her mind that meant I was a tall, blonde from California that surfed all day. These were the days before Facebook so she didn’t know any better. So my dad and I drive from New Haven, 12 hours straight, and we show up at 21 Ludlow at like midnight. And I’m obviously not anything like that Cynthia pictures: I’m short and certainly not blonde and probably don’t look like someone from California.

But, anyways, that become 21 Ludlow. The three of us were together the whole time. We became like three sisters. And I mean that in every sense of the word. We fought, we got along, we laughed, we cried, we went through it all together. 21 Ludlow encompasses all of that: my Ohio Family, our classmates coming over for dinner and parties, and the three of us together. 21 Ludlow will always have a special place in my heart. 

For more information on the OHIO MSA program, click HERE