Last Updated on August 3, 2023
Interview with Dr. Kristina Navarro
Sports Degrees Online had the chance to catch up with Dr. Kristina Navarro about her career journey into sports administration and campus leadership. They touch on a wide range of topics including the importance of aligning your purpose with your passion, the importance of emotional intelligence and networking. She also shares some thoughts about how students can set themselves up for future success by making the most out of experiential opportunities.
About Dr. Kristina Navarro
Kristina Navarro Ph.D., CSCS is the Director of Athletics and Assistant Chancellor at UW-Platteville. In addition to teaching graduate level course for the sports administration program, she manages 16 D-3 athletics programs, intramurals, and campus wellness.
Bryan Haggerty: Welcome to Sports Degrees and career talk brought to you by sports degrees online. I’m your host, Bryan Haggerty. Today we are speaking with Professor Christina Navarro, assistant chancellor and director of athletics and recreation at the University of Wisconsin Plattville. Thanks for joining us today, professor.
Dr. Kristina Navarro: You betcha.
Bryan Haggerty: Dr. Navarro, can you take a few minutes to just share your journey and how you found yourself, where you are today in academia?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: I’m from Madison, Wisconsin originally. Growing up, my dad was a sport administrator at the high school level and a high school principal. So I was kind of involved from a very early age with that. I started out at UW Madison for college and then ended up transferring to UW Lacrosse as a student athlete in two sports, volleyball and track and field. There, I studied business and sport management with a minor concentration area in strength and conditioning. I graduated in 2006, and then did a one year internship at UW Madison, which was rotational internship with the athletics department, and then applied to grad school.
I went on to UNC Chapel Hill, and I was a graduate assistant for two years. I worked in everything from operations to tickets to, then focused in the Carolina Leadership Academy. And then after that, started my PhD right away back at UW Madison and worked in the athletics department for about four or five years after that, while I was concurrently finishing up with my PhD in Educational Leadership in Policy Analysis, and then from there went on to a tenure track faculty position at the University of Oklahoma. There, I worked primarily with the graduate program and sport administration and the athletics department at OU.
Then had an opportunity to come back to UW Whitewater as an assistant professor and assistant athletic director and then worked my way up to deputy athletic director role and tenured professor. Next, I took a two year stint to Rutgers, where I was a senior associate athletic director and clinical faculty member, and then most recently, three years ago, started my job as the Director of Athletics, Assistant Ahancellor and Associate Professor here at UW Plattville, starting my fourth year now.
Bryan Haggerty: Well, congratulations. That’s a lot of university experience and a lot of quality programs and organizationa that you’ve been a part of. So, professor, what advice do you have just generally for students out there who would like to work in collegiate athletics? You’re somebody who’s been involved in collegiate athletics so many different universities. So what advice do you have for people out there?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: I think the best advice I ever got was to align your purpose with your passion. If your passion is sports, how do you align your purpose? For me, it’s serving student athletes to find an ideal situation for your day-to-day life and your day-to-day work. Working in athletics is not a nine to five job, so it has to be something that you’re really passionate about. You have to want to be a part of it, and your family has to want to be a part of it as well.
“I think the best advice I ever got was to align your purpose with your passion. If your passion is sports, how do you align your purpose? For me, it’s serving student athletes to find an ideal situation for your day-to-day life and your day-to-day work. Working in athletics is not a nine to five job, so it has to be something that you’re really passionate about. You have to want to be a part of it, and your family has to want to be a part of it as well.”
Bryan Haggerty: That makes sense. Because games, matches, and events are always happening on weekends and at night time, and you got to be there, I’m sure.
Dr. Kristina Navarro: Yeah, exactly.
Bryan Haggerty: So, professor, looking at coming back to Plattville, you’ve taken on a number of leadership roles both within sport and campus wide. Now you find yourself reporting directly to the Chancellor and working on initiatives like the Pioneer Leadership Institute and Pioneer Activity Center. How did you make the transition from sports leadership to campus-wide leadership? Obviously, you’ve beenin leadership within the athletics context for so long, but now you hold a role that is very much a campus leadership position. How do you make that transition?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: Yeah, I think the transition really started when I was at UW Whitewater and working kind of on both sides of the house with a special project from our Chancellor to run the Warhawk Leadership Academy. And that was kind of an all inclusive leadership opportunity for individuals to engage in high impact practices, study abroad, internships, different things that would help enhance their experience as an undergrad.
Then, I really got involved at Rutgers across campus and across athletics more intentionally in how they partner with student affairs, career services and again, international studies, study abroad. And that’s kind of what helped me really hop fully into an assistant chancellor role. I now work with our Pioneer Leadership Institute, which helps prepare students for life after college, life after sport, and really focuses on those high-impact practices that higher education is really based upon.
Bryan Haggerty: Now, your current role involves overseeing the division of athletics and recreation – which has 16 NCAA Division Three athletic programs – intra-mural sports, campus recreation, as well as fitness and wellness programming. That is a lot of responsibility!
As someone who has spent considerable time working in both participatory sports and interscholastic sports, can you share some thoughts on why some students on the Sport Management/Sport Administration track should consider working in participatory sports?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: Yeah, I think working in participatory sports and working in intercollegian athletics is really rewarding process if you’re an all in type person where you want to see something go from start to finish and have a full circle kind of holistic impact on the student and the student athlete.
Bryan Haggerty: With your experience in both competitive collegiate athletics and the intramural side or the YMCA side of sports, are there certainly personality or types or skills which tend to help a person succeed in one area or the other?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: That’s a good question. I think having a high level of emotional intelligence is going to be key to succeeding in this space. So I would always say a high level of emotional intelligence or EQ learning and working with different types of individuals and how they can continue to coordinate across multiple personality and leadership types is really crucial to that type of position.
“I think having a high level of emotional intelligence is going to be key to succeeding in this space. So I would always say a high level of emotional intelligence or EQ learning and working with different types of individuals and how they can continue to coordinate across multiple personality and leadership types is really crucial to that type of position.”
Bryan Haggerty: And so for students out there who might say, ‘wow, I don’t know if I have a high level of emotional intelligence or not”, how would your average student develop their EQ? Are there certain things that they can do to improve their emotional intelligence?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: I think really just being around people and having experience leading and working with people in a team environment is huge. Knowing that you’re going to have to make concessions and be flexible at times, but coming at it with a collaborative spirit [is very important]. Also, trying to problem solve and have data driven solutions to support why you want to move an agenda forward will help people kind of come along with you versus you trying to lead and nobody following you.
Bryan Haggerty: That’s good advice. Now, professor, when you first arrived at UW Plattville as a professor of sport management and you continue teaching classes in the Master’s in Sports Administration program. Can you talk about some of the ways that you incorporate your industry knowledge and your experience into the courses that you teach?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: I think that’s really a huge aspect of trying to make sure it’s a scholar practitioner approach. Basically, it’s trying to make sure that [your students are] having success on the ground and working forward and toward their goals in a way that’s informed by research and practice. So I always say that’s very much a scholar practitioner mindset. You’re informing your work by data and research, but you’re making adjustments on the fly and using your own good judgment to work with and collaborate with people.
Bryan Haggerty: There are obviously a ton of sport management sport administration programs out there at the undergrad and the graduate level for students to choose from. What are some things that prospective students should keep in mind when they’re trying to choose which sport administration program is best for them?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: That’s a good question. I think [it’s important to] look at what are the tenants of the program are, and what is the focus of the program is. What courses are you specifically going to be taking? Is it focused on business? Is it a focus more on the social science aspect of things? Does it have a diversity, equity, inclusion, focus? Those are some things just to consider in the curriculum. Does it have a Practicum capstone component where you’re going to get real world experience and then where are the people getting hired that come out of the program? Because I think that’s a huge aspect to be aware of and understand.
“I think [it’s important to] look at what are the tenants of the program are, and what is the focus of the program is. What courses are you specifically going to be taking? Is it focused on business? Is it a focus more on the social science aspect of things? Does it have a diversity, equity, inclusion, focus? Those are some things just to consider in the curriculum. Does it have a Practicum capstone component where you’re going to get real world experience and then where are the people getting hired that come out of the program? Because I think that’s a huge aspect to be aware of and understand.”
Bryan Haggerty: My last question for you is specific to Wisconsin. What are the selling points for pursuing a sport-related degree or career in Wisconsin?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: Yeah, I think at Wisconsin Plattville specifically, most, if not all of our students are able to work intentionally within the athletics department as a G.A. or a fellow. And that’s what attracted me to the sport administration program specifically at University of North Carolina, is the real world experience I was going to get coming out. So we fully engage our individuals in the department. Two of our graduates have been employed by our institution, and several are at other state schools in the area. So it sets you up very well to work within higher education and intercollegiate athletics through real world experience and also classroom experiences.
Bryan Haggerty: And when you see these your students finding their way to these opportunities – how much of that would you say comes from doing well during internships versus networking or mentorship relationships?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: Coming from a program where there’s 30 years of history [like UNC], I would say the alumni network is important. There’s a lot of people into industry now, which always helps with newer programs. You’re not [always] going to have that deep alumni pocket of individuals, but it’s more of a matter of where are they immediately going to work? And so trying to understand what are those current connections and networking points you would have from graduating within the program. But you also need to be thinking about what skill sets are you going to glean from the program that you can take on and transfer to any [context], whether it’s D-1, D-2, or D-3, private sector wellness, corporate side, etc. I think that’s really what are the tangible skills you’re going to walk away with.
Bryan Haggerty: Do you think as students are kind of shopping around for programs, if they’re asking professors where recent graduates have been employed or are being employed, is that a pretty normal question that the faculty should be willing and able to answer?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: I think so, yeah. I mean, if they can’t, I think there’s a problem. You should have an understanding of where your alumni are going because you want to have a lasting connection with them even after they graduate.
Bryan Haggerty: Looking specifically at Wisconsin and Plattville, how is the sports economy in the state and in your region? And where are some of the major employers where your graduates are finding jobs?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: Yeah, I think for us, it’s really in the well, I would say it’s in the tristate region, but we just had somebody take a position out in California as of lately. So within our first two cohorts, we have individuals employed mainly in the higher education college athletics realm. We have some in minor league baseball. We have some teaching at the community college or coaching at the community college level. And we have others that are really engaged in the youth sport camp area.
Bryan Haggerty: Very cool. And, Professor, I couldn’t let you go without asking at least a little bit about your mountain biking. Is it true that you are a pretty avid mountain biker?
Dr. Kristina Navarro: Yeah, I got into it, and once I graduated from, I guess from my master’s program, I was looking for something else to do to stay fit and stay in shape. So I got into triathlons. I did the Iron Man and Madison a couple of times and then really liked the biking stage the most. So I had some friends that took me mountain biking for the first time and really enjoyed it. And then in Wisconsin, it’s snowing most of the years, so they have these fat bike tires that allows you to ride on the snow as well. Very cool. In my free time, I like to get outside when I can.
Bryan Haggerty: Awesome. Well, professor, thanks so much for your time today. I think our audience will really enjoy hearing your story and your experience and wishing you the best of luck at UW Plattville.
Dr. Kristina Navarro: Okay, you too. Thanks a lot!