Mentee Spotlight: Candace Smith & Ashley Cruder

Candace Smith is the director of women's basketball operations at The University of Akron and Ashley Cruder is the women's basketball academic counselor at Southern Methodist University

1. If you could have a one-on-one conversation with anyone in history, who would it be and why?

Candace: Dr. Maya Angelou. She embodied the very characteristics of a phenomenal woman and inspired every other woman to be phenomenal as well. Her writings found ways to speak to people from all walks of life and she always found a way to persevere through some of life's toughest challenges. She represents grace and the only language she truly spoke was "love".

Ashley: Anthony “Tony” Wells. Tony, was my club track and field coach for arguably the greatest club team in Colorado; “The Colorado Flyers.” Historically, Tony was known for coaching women, and was a huge advocate for women. The reason I would chose to have a one-on-one conversation with him is because I would love to pick his brain and understand the science behind his coaching mechanisms and how they molded so many young women into the successful individuals they are today. He constantly preached the message of having a sense of pride in yourself, as well as never giving up no matter what circumstances may arise. One of his favorite saying was, “It’s not the size of the dog but the fight in the dog, have some pride Bubba.”


2. What has your career path been?

Candace: I was hired as a Graduate Assistant at The University of Akron right out of college and was promoted into the Director of Operations role after about one month on the job, due to staff changes. I’ve been in the role since - this is the beginning of my eleventh year.

Ashley: My career path has been an interesting one for sure. I started off as a track & field student- athlete at Florida State University; after my freshman year I transferred to Auburn University. Following the completion of my second degree at Auburn I took a job with Enterprise- Rent- A- Car. After being with the company for a year and a half I returned to Auburn to obtain my Master’s degree and worked as an academic graduate assistant for the men’s and women’s track & field and cross country teams within the Student- Athlete Support Services Department. Following my graduate assistantship, I went back to Tallahassee and took a position as an academic advising intern in the Student Athlete Academic Services Department at Florida State working with baseball, softball, soccer, and men’s & women’s swimming and diving. While in my intern role, I also served as the interim academic advisor for baseball and soccer. At the conclusion of the internship program I accepted my current position as Women’s Basketball academic counselor at Southern Methodist University, and have been in this role for a year and half.

3. Who has had the greatest impact on your career to date?

Candace: Our Senior Associate Athletic Director/SWA Mary Lu Gribschaw. When I expressed my interest in athletic administration to her, she immediately supported my vision and connected me with Women Leaders!

Ashley:  For me I would say the students I have had the opportunity to work with at each institution have had the greatest impact on my career to date. It is an extremely rewarding feeling when you leave an institution and former students stay in contact to let you know how they are doing academically as well as athletically.

4. Who is your mentor?

Candace: My mentor is Melissa Dawson

Ashley: My mentor is the awesome Resa Lovelace, Assistant Athletic Director of Student- Athlete Development at University of Maryland

5. What is a highlight/positive experience you've gotten out of the program so far?

Candace: The experience so far has been great! She has been very open and willing to share knowledge and recommendations on how I can look to further advance my career in college athletics and I cannot thank her enough for the openness she has had with me so far. The mentorship program is a great opportunity for women in the field who are looking to get to that next step but may not necessarily know what course of action to take to get there. Having the chance to connect and gain insight from someone who is already at that next level is invaluable.

Ashley: My experience in the program so far has been great. Resa and I were able to connect when she was in Dallas so that was refreshing! With the spring semester getting underway I know she’s working hard preparing events for the student- athletes, and we’re currently in the middle of basketball season so we’re both busy; but when we’re able to connect, the conversations are always right on time. For me I love and appreciate having a mentor I don’t feel like I have to talk to every week, but still know the connection is genuine. Resa has been very candid and made it very clear that if I need anything don’t hesitate to call or text. For me it’s a warm feeling knowing I have a mentor who lives miles away but is literally one call/text/FaceTime away.


Women Leaders in College Sports provides the opportunity for members to connect and grow together in a fully virtual mentorship program. The program runs in concordance with the academic year (September-May) In 2018, we were able to match 164 mentor/mentee pairs! For more information on the program, please click here. Please mark your calendars for July 2019 when we will open up applications for the next iteration of the Mentorship Program.

For further questions or inquiries, please contact Megan Cairns