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It will not be until July 1 that Dr. Charles Small, Ed.D, can commence any comprehensive action as the new Director of Athletics.

But Small’s first action will simply involve engaging to the Valparaiso Athletics community.

“I think the first phase is just listening. I need to do as much as I can, download as much information [as I can], talk to people, listen and learn the culture here,” Small said during his press conference.

Starting in July when he gets to campus, Small will invite members of the athletic community to participate in listening days, where Small will engage with them and figure out the current landscape of Valpo Athletics.

“The great part about listening days is you are able to implement some of those recommendations and suggestions,” Small said.

During his introductory press conference held on Thursday, May 19, one of the points that Small made early in his speech was on mental health.

The former University of Pittsburgh athlete worked in the discipline at Iowa State University as a coordinator for mental health and educational enrichment. With mental health being such a critical topic, Small wants to understand what resources are being provided.

 “I think I need to learn what we are currently doing,” Small said. “When you look at mental health, you start by understanding, ‘do student athletes have the support to flourish and meet their goals?’”

 For the coaches that attended the press conference, this need for mental health awareness is critical, given how active societal pressures have become recently.

“Mental health has always been an issue with college athletics because of the pressures of being a student and an athlete and having to perform,” said Mary Evans, women’s basketball head coach. “I think that it's only been heightened with social media and I think that it's only been heightened more with the pandemic. I think having somebody that is going to make that a priority for our student athletes is going to be huge.”

For Valparaiso University President José D. Padilla, mental health was one of the first initial topics of conversation that Small brought up during his interview. While Small does not have an initial schematic on what services he will provide, exploring the extensiveness of the services will be his priority for the foreseeable future. 

“Fortunately, we are in the summer where our players aren’t in season, so he will have time to get a lay of the land and how we can use and harness whatever services we have here and use whatever campus services we have as a force multiplier,” Padilla said.

For board members involved with the interviewing process, there was a positive response to having an interviewee stress a pillar of importance for student athletes.

“I think it resonates greatly here at Valparaiso University, and I think that’s always been the ethos of the athletics program within the university that you are part and partial,” said Carolyn Femovich, member of the Board of Directors.

Another question asked towards the Detroit native regarded equality within all Valparaiso teams. He worked as Iowa State’s Interim Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion during the fall 2021 semester after an appointment by the institute’s President Dr. Wendy Wintersteen.

 “Every program has a role,” Small said. “What we will do as a department is we will look departmentally how we are competing in our conferences.”

 

Although he understands that certain programs provide more financially than others, clarity on every program’s role for the overall department is a priority going forward.

“We just need to understand how these pieces come together and we need to invest so that all of our student-athletes will have a great experience,” said Small.

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