Winding path lands Lyons at Shenandoah University as school’s new AD
WINCHESTER – Bridget Lyons took over as Shenandoah University’s director of intercollegiate athletics just over a month ago, a role in which she’ll be tasked with setting the next course of direction for the school’s athletics program. Lyons’ own path to Winchester, however, has been anything but straight.
A three-sport athlete who played basketball, field hockey and lacrosse in college, Lyons attended Saint Michael’s College in Vermont with the intention of pursuing a career in sports journalism. Upon her graduation in 1983, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native was doing a variety of jobs, she said, including coaching, officiating and taking photography and writing for local newspapers.
She then decided she’d go back to school to earn a master’s degree in counselor education and seek a career as a high school guidance counselor and coach. Lyons’ professional path turned again once she started graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I found out about this whole other profession of actual academic advisors who worked with college athletes at that level,” the 56-year-old Lyons said recently, “and I thought ‘Wow, this is even a better fit for me than what I thought I was heading towards.'”
After earning her master’s in 1991, Lyons went on to work in academic advising and student support at both the University of New Hampshire and Providence College before returning to VCU as the director of student-athlete advising, heading the same office in which she’d previously been a grad assistant.
Lyons spent 10 years at VCU (where she also earned a Ph.D. in education in 2004), the final three as the university’s athletic director for student services. During that time, she served as the school’s senior woman administrator (SWA) and oversaw the compliance office, life skills program and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
It was a “great” experience, Lyons said, but while at VCU she also “felt a couple things.”
“I felt I really wanted to continued to grow as a professional, and really that job demanded your focus to be on compliance and, again, I knew I wanted to do more things and potentially be an AD,” Lyons said. “And then also, I really felt Division I was heading into a direction where it had become so much about winning and not about really the well-rounded experience. … I felt like you know what, maybe from a philosophical, ethical standpoint, I want to look at Division II or Division III because that might be a better fit for me.”
Lyons made the jump to Division II a little over a decade ago when she joined Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, as the senior associate director of athletics and SWA. During her 11 years at Barry, the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) member school won 12 NCAA championships and was honored with the NCAA Presidents’ Award for Academic Excellence multiple times.
Lyons, in addition to her responsibilities as the senior associate director of athletics, represented the SSC on the Division II Management Council, was a member of the Division II Planning and Finance Committee and spent time as chair of the Division II Committee on Infractions.
She took her most recent career step last fall when she applied for the vacant AD job at Shenandoah. Lyons was hired by SU in November and began in an official capacity on Jan. 15.
What appealed to Lyons foremost about Shenandoah – where she oversees 21 intercollegiate sports, nearly 500 student-athletes and 75 full- and part-time coaches and staff members – was the university’s “mission, vision and forward thinking.”
“Certainly in a time when a lot of private institutions are struggling with enrollment, Shenandoah seems to be thriving,” she said. “They are building. It’s a beautiful campus. The dynamic leadership – obviously President Fitzsimmons is phenomenal. The opportunity to also be a part of her university cabinet, so not just be heading athletics but also be a part of the direction of the university, I found that really appealing. And certainly meeting with the coaches and student-athletes during my interview, we have great coaches, really dedicated student-athletes who, you know, there’s no athletic scholarships at Division III, so they are playing because they have a passion for what they’re doing and really making a commitment, which is really what Division III is all about.”
Much like at Barry, Lyons – who credited her own student-athlete experience at St. Michael’s for laying the foundation for her professional career – sees in Shenandoah the same balance between academics and athletics that she feels are important to the student-athlete experience.
Part of her job, she said, is to find ways to further SU’s academic success within the athletics department while continuing to provide “quality education and a well-rounded experience” for the school’s student-athletes and professional development opportunities for SU’s coaching staff.
“I would want to expand our opportunities for our coaches and our athletes, not just at the university but at the NCAA level,” Lyons said. “What other things can we get them involved in from a leadership perspective or professional development?”
Another part of her vision, she added, is finding ways to become more successful in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, as well as continuing to build on the momentum from the grand opening of Shenandoah’s James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics and Events Center (AEC), which took place only two weeks after Lyons’ arrival at the end of January and showed to her the value SU places on athletics.
“Athletics is mentioned within the university’s current strategic plan, so again that tells me that it’s an important part of this university and is valued,” she said. “That’s really going to lay the groundwork for me moving forward, with setting the strategic plan for our department, is using what the university already has in place and has stated.”
Lyons said she was inspired by the support shown from longtime donors and from the community as a whole during the unveiling of the AEC, and cited community outreach and engagement as vital piece in strengthening the bond between SU and the city of Winchester.
Lyons said on Feb. 9 that she’s already looking at new potential projects for Shenandoah’s athletic department and addressed the school’s need for a dedicated baseball/softball facility.
“It is a priority and again it’s on our website as part of our strategic plan,” Lyons said of an on-campus baseball/softball complex. “We’ve got some things to work through but I’m optimistic and hopeful that we can work that out, and I’ve got to meet with some folks to figure out how to do that. But it’s something that certainly we need and we need to find a way to make it happen.”
Lyons is Shenandoah University’s sixth full-time director of intercollegiate athletics, and she’s the first woman to hold the AD position at the school. The latter achievement is one she holds in high regard and importance.
“Obviously we’re (women) getting there more and more and you’re seeing more and more females hired, but I will say that every female that is hired is hired because they have the skills and are capable to do the job,” Lyons said. “I want to be successful, obviously, but I think again it’s promising to see that we are being given these opportunities, and I feel like I’ve earned it. So hopefully I will continue to pave the way for other women to get that job.”