In the two years that Maya Ozery served as the primary liaison for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the program increased in size more than six-fold. New leadership and career-development programs were implemented, and events such as the Spidey’s awards ceremony for student athletes were revamped.

The SAAC and the University of Richmond athletic department are getting ready to launch a national search for Ozery’s replacement as the director of leadership and development for UR athletics. 

Ozery held the position for two years, until taking another opportunity at Georgetown University this March, said John Hardt, vice president and director of athletics at UR. 

When he joined the UR staff four months ago, it became evident right away to Hardt that Ozery had made a tremendous impact in her many areas of responsibility, and he hopes to use this new hiring opportunity to build on the great work she did with the SAAC, Hardt said.

SAAC is an organization made up of student athletes from each of the UR sports teams. These students communicate with athletic administrators and staff to advocate for important issues and initiatives for athletes, and they act as a voice for the student athletes at UR to improve overall student life.

Lexie Gilbert, a sophomore who is a member of the UR swim team and serves as the secretary reporter for the SAAC, said Ozery had acted as a guide and mentor for her and other student-athletes.

“She was really great about connecting the teams, and she came in and helped us identify how everyone is a leader on your team," Gilbert said. "Whether you’re outspoken or you’re quiet, you have a purpose on the team. So she worked a lot with teams in that aspect, which made her so loved.”

Ozery taught the athletes that they all had something important to contribute and that everyone was a leader in an important way, Gilbert said. She also helped connect teams through organizing large tailgates, where all the athletes would come together to support another team. The athletes gathered for a tailgate to support UR soccer in the fall and another for the track team this spring.

Two years ago, when Ozery first arrived at Richmond, the SAAC had about 10 members, and now it has around 60, Gilbert said.

Student-athlete leadership development has made significant strides in the last two years as well, including the start of leadership institutes, in which student athletes are nominated by coaches and selected to take part in a weekend retreat of intensive leadership training, Gilbert said. 

Ozery was also involved in the establishment of new “red events,” which are development events student-athletes are required to attend, such as resume workshops and interview preparation.

The members of SAAC's executive board met with Hardt last week, and the search for Ozery’s replacement was among the topics discussed, Gilbert said.

“We both vocalized that it’s important that the [executive] board be a part of it [be]cause we found so much value in Maya’s position,” Gilbert said. “I think the great thing about her is that she was genuine and authentic, and she kind of let us learn on our own but guided us and pushed us along the way, which is what I think everyone loved so much about her.”

During the meeting, Hardt told the executive-board members that he intended to make the job of director of leadership and development a bigger position, and possibly even a part of his senior management team, Hardt said. He also agreed that the executive board should be involved in the hiring process. He was not completely sure how exactly this involvement would play out, and he said the logistics were still being discussed.

“I would envision that that would involve having student athletes involved in the actual interviewing process,” Hardt said, "whether that’s as a group or individual sessions, in person or utilizing technology.”

One possible obstacle to the process was timing, Hardt said, because the national search would most likely not be launched until the end of the academic year. However, he was given reassurance from the student athletes he met with that a significant number of them would be on campus for academic or other programs over the summer, he said.

Hardt said he hoped the new director of leadership and development would have a skill set and past experience that would help him or her relate well to student-athletes and coaches.

Bruce Matthews, director of athletics and academics, agreed that the new director of leadership and development would need to be able to relate to student-athletes and understand their struggle with time and the balance of academics and athletics. Matthews also hopes he or she will be able to effectively partner with coaches and students, as well as with other campus offices, such as career services, to convince them of the value of participating in leadership and career development programs for athletes, he said.

Contact copy editor Sara Schuham at sara.schuham@richmond.edu.

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