Discovering Connection

How IAA Grad, Toni-Ann Derby, Turned Challenge into Opportunity

Being an athlete and a fan of sports is common in the United States but pursuing it as your life’s profession is not. For Toni-Ann Derby, 2020 graduate of the NCAA/Women Leaders in College Sports Institute for Administrative Advancement (IAA), this reality was similar to her life’s experience growing up in Jamaica. Immigrating to the United States in 2010 was not just a pathway to an opportunity-filled life for Derby, but an opened door for her to pursue her deepest passions.

A former member of the dance team at Pace University (class of 2014), Derby has made a name for herself in intercollegiate athletics not by networking or former student-athlete prowess, but by a genuine love for personal development and providing others that same opportunity. There are few greater testaments to maximizing every moment of opportunity than Derby herself, who channeled her experience being laid off during a pandemic as fuel to invest in her future and attend IAA despite the obstacle and heartache of 2020. 

But Derby’s connection to Women Leaders did not begin with attending IAA, rather with a woman leader in her own life who encouraged her to attend the 2019 Women Leaders National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Derby has always known that genuine connections matter, but she did not understand the difference between genuine connection and networking. That is, until she heard from fellow Women Leaders member and Director of Athletics at Berry College, Angel Mason, at the Convention’s First-Time Attendees Workshop. 

During the workshop, Mason challenged participants to be genuine in the connections they made throughout their week in Phoenix and not to succumb to the routine of handing out business cards that never lead to greater relationships. 

“Challenge accepted,” Derby said and set out determined to only exchange phone numbers with industry peers and leaders she met, no business cards. Most people have the mentality that you should only network with senior-level leaders in your industry of choice, but don’t do that, she says. “Knowing people because of who they are and not what they do,” has changed the trajectory of her impact in athletics and even made her aware of the Women Leaders Institute offering that later reimagined her access to community. 

Although the months following the 2019 Convention proved challenging, Derby strongly believes in not making excuses and sidelining your aspirations amidst tough times. So, what did she do to navigate this period of uncertainty? Derby stayed active and engaged in the community that she knew would support her through the next steps in her journey to advance in intercollegiate athletics. What she did not expect was finding exactly what she needed at Women Leaders during her participation in IAA; a program that she heard about through a connection made at Convention. 

“People were just open,” Derby recalled about her programming experience. “The energy was real, to where I almost forgot it was a virtual program.” 

Program speaker and Athletic Director at the Alabama State University, Jennifer Williams, shared with participants, “your vibe attracts your tribe,” which has proven true in the months following graduation from the program. Derby’s peers and classmates encouraged her not to talk down to herself, and when the job opening at the West Coast Conference (WCC) came along this past Fall, many of her former classmates and personal Board of Trustees encouraged her to apply knowing that the individuals who lead the Conference would be a good fit for her. 

“My IAA sisters and mentors have prayed with me, spent hours on the phone with me and helped me transition to my next role,” says Derby about how her support system really shaped her job search experience. “They know me on a personal level. I am where I am today because of them and the knowledge they have shared, and I want to do the same for others.”

Now the current Assistant Director of Championships, Sport Operations and Governance at the West Coast Conference, Derby spends each day celebrating, championing, and improving the athletics environment that shaped so much of her own experience. Derby says that juggling Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) responsibilities, training, course work and her job during her time at Pace transformed her understanding of the art of balance and discovery. Those two skills have since become pillars of Derby’s mission in life, sport and relationships; and came into practice this past year while navigating her future in the industry. 

“It was like a personal promotion,” she shares about the process in accepting the WCC job after her IAA participation. “I took everything I learned at IAA and brought it to the table and made myself heard.” 

“Between MOAA and Women Leaders, I have been given everything I didn’t know I needed,” and that has made all the difference.


Applications for the Institute for Administrative Advancement (IAA) are open now! Women Leaders partners with the NCAA to offer impactful leadership development programs that cultivate the personal and professional growth of every female administrator—no matter her career level. We are excited to offer this year's IAA program virtually, combining both East and West classes, to enhance connection opportunities. 

Apply for the opportunity to gain valuable leadership training, enhance your industry knowledge and expand your network connections. Spots are limited and applications will close on Friday, February 26.

Scholarship applications for all leadership events are also available! Apply here!

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