Women Leaders in College Sports Announces 2018 Rising Star and Commitment Award Winners

April 23, 2018

Rachel DeSchepper
Women Leaders in College Sports

Kansas City, Mo.—Women Leaders in College Sports, the nation’s premier women’s athletic leadership association that develops, connects, and advances women working in intercollegiate athletics announced today its Rising Star and Commitment Award recipients. Jessica Gray (Student-Athlete Development Associate, George Washington University) was named the Commitment Award winner. Sheridan Blanford (Inclusion & Engagement Coordinator, University of Wisconsin-Madison), Sydney Moman (undergraduate intern, University of Cincinnati), and Emma Munguia (student-athlete and undergraduate intern, Brigham Young University) were named Rising Star Award winners.

"We are excited to recognize these outstanding young women leaders,” says Patti Phillips, Women Leaders in College Sports chief executive officer. “These four women are the future of the college athletics industry, and their commitment and passion make them shining examples of what’s to come. I can’t wait to see the impact they continue to make!”

The Commitment Award recognizes an athletics administrator with three to five years’ experience who’s committed to providing high-level leadership and guidance, who goes beyond the call of duty, and who provides outstanding service to their department, conference office, or organization.

The Rising Star Award recognizes junior or senior undergraduate students, graduate students, interns, or volunteers who aspire to a career in intercollegiate athletics. These Women Leaders members demonstrate high-level leadership roles on campus, in a conference office, an organization, or in the community.

Award recipients will also receive scholarships to attend the 2018 Women Leaders National Convention, October 14-16 in Atlanta, Georgia. The National Convention is the premier conference for women working in intercollegiate athletics, offering unparalleled leadership and professional development, industry training, and networking opportunities.

Award nominations are open through April 27, 2018 for the Josten’s Administrator of the Year Awards (across all divisions) and Nike Lifetime Achievement Award. Women Leaders members may submit their nominations here.

About the Honorees

Jessica Gray is a Philadelphia native and a two-time Temple University alum, receiving both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 2011 and 2014, respectively. During her decade at Temple, Gray worked as an undergraduate men's basketball manager and graduate assistant for the men's basketball program, prior to working in Compliance and Student-Athlete Affairs from 2014 to 2017. In her role at Temple University, Gray served as the advisor to the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), oversaw life skills programming and community service for the department as well as being the compliance contact for various programs.

“From taking us under her wing when she barely knew us as student-athletes in SAAC, to watching us take-on full time positions in Athletics Administration, Jess’s faith and leadership has never wavered,” wrote Olivia Wynn, academics and compliance assistant at Wagner College, in her nomination essay. “Jess’s support has never failed us, and she always reminds us that she is a quick phone call, email, or text message away.”

Gray currently serves as the Student-Athlete Development Associate at The George Washington University. In her role. she oversees all community service, career development, life skills programming and serves as the SAAC advisor.

Sheridan Blanford joined the University of Wisconsin Athletics Inclusion and Engagement staff in August of 2017. Her work focuses on aligning procedures, policies, and programs throughout the department and university to meet the needs of all staff, coaches, and student-athletes through a lens of diversity and inclusion. Among her responsibilities, Blanford oversees the athletic departments student-athlete organization that promotes discussion around inclusion issues, leads the departments three affinity groups that serve minority student-athletes, LGBTQ student-athletes and international student athletes, and serves on both campus and departmental committees that deal with diversity matters. She also works with the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, University of Wisconsin-Madison staff members, and community partners to develop and improve programming, mentorships, and other opportunities related to issues of inclusion and diversity to enhance the overall student-athlete experience.

Sara Eisenhauer, assistant commissioner at Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, writes in her nomination essay that, “When I first met Sheridan Blanford, there was only one word I could come up with to describe her: impressive. Less than two years removed from her undergraduate experience, Sheridan carries herself in a way that most experienced athletics administrators do not. She is extremely professional, charismatic, and impactful.”

Blanford previously served as the Assistant Director for the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). In the MIAC, Blanford oversaw the conferences strategic plan, and also worked closely with Gender, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion subcommittee, which allowed her to create, purpose and facilitate programs and initiatives that expanded the support and investment of students and staff from diverse, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds across 13 different institutions. She was also given the opportunity to develop programming and training for the MIAC membership that set out to articulate the importance of inclusivity of different cultures, ethnicities, lifestyles and belief.

Blanford graduated from St. Olaf College in 2015 where she played basketball and earned her master's degree in Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership from the University of Washington the following year.

Sydney Moman began her journey in college athletics as a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati in the fall of 2015. She began her work in Compliance and Football Recruiting, and over time, she took on opportunities in Student-Athlete Support Services and Sport Services. Moman is set to graduate in April 2018 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sport Administration and a minor in Sociology. Passionate about serving her Bearcat community, she will return as a graduate assistant in Sport Services and Student-Athlete Support Services for the 2018-2019 academic year. Her areas of interest include diversity and inclusion, financial literacy, student-athlete academic development, career preparation, and education.

“Sydney has an integral role in our office, as well as the department as a whole, and her value cannot be measured,” writes her nominator, Niki Cianciola, director of sports services at the University of Cincinnati. “She not only has a love for athletics but is always wanting to learn as much as she can, take on new roles and responsibilities, and is willing to go above and beyond of what is expected of her. She is without a doubt, the best student intern that we have ever had in our office.”

Outside of the Lindner Center, the Columbus, Ohio, native was a member of the Society of Sport Leaders, most recently serving as the Director of Development.

Emma Munguia will graduate from the Brigham Young University School of Family Home and Social Sciences in April 2018, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. Munguia maintained a 3.5 GPA, while being active in athletic competitions, student organizations, and serving in various leadership roles in her local church congregation. Munguia was a part of the BYU cheerleading team for three seasons (2015-2018). She was an active participant in all aspects of the sport and overcame numerous injuries to continue participating. She is an excellent example of perseverance in the face of obstacles.

“Emma is a remarkable young woman who has a desire to make college athletics (and the world) a better place and has the vision, intelligence, communication skills, leadership, and empathy to actually do it,” says her nominator, Liz Darger, senior associate athletic director/SWA at Brigham Young University.

In addition to BYU Cheer, Munguia was involved in several student organizations and worked as an intern to the athletics department this past semester. She served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee as well as the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. In addition to her role on the Inclusion Committee, Munguia was involved in an inclusion-based student-athlete assembly as a Coordinator in planning the event. Munguia also was a key part in developing a new mental health outreach campaign at BYU.

Following graduation, Munguia will be interning with BYU Athletics working on diversity, inclusion, and gender equity initiatives where she hopes to continue to make a difference in the lives of the student-athletes at BYU.

About Women Leaders in College Sports

Founded in 1979, Women Leaders in College Sports (formerly NACWAA; womenleadersincollgesports.org) is the only nationally recognized collegiate professional membership organization whose mission is to develop, connect, and advance women leaders working in intercollegiate athletics. More than 3,500 members strong, Women Leaders promotes the growth, leadership, and success of women as athletics administrators, conference commissioners, professional staff, coaches, and student-athletes. Follow Women Leaders on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @WomenLeadersCS.