Shanda Ness assumed the position of athletic director for Occidental College March 11 following the departure of previous athletic director Jaime Hoffman. Before coming to Occidental, Ness served as the athletic director for Thomas College in Waterville, ME, where she oversaw 16 varsity sports. Ness also worked at Cornell College of Mount Vernon, IA for 11 years as an interim athletic director, assistant athletic director, senior women’s administrator and the women’s softball coach.
Hoffman left the position Fall 2018 after filing a lawsuit against the college alleging harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation and disability; intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress; failure to prevent, investigate or remedy discrimination, harassment or retaliation; and wrongful termination.
Following Hoffman’s departure, the college initiated a nationwide search for candidates. A committee led by Dean of Students Rob Flot and Professor of Kinesiology Marcella Raney ’01 considered a broad pool of candidates and hosted open listening sessions for students to meet potential candidates before choosing Ness to succeed Hoffman as athletic director.
“I am very excited and honored to have the opportunity to lead Oxy Athletics,” Ness said via email. “My time as a coach and administrator has allowed me to gain insight and appreciation into the student-athlete experience and how it can positively impact the future of those involved.”
Tyler Webb (junior), a sprinter on the track and field team and a student representative on the search committee, said Ness stood out from the other candidates by appealing to the needs of both students and faculty.
“[Ness] really seemed like she knew how to handle any situation,” Webb said. “When she came on campus, the faculty and the students liked her. There were some candidates that the faculty liked but the students didn’t and vice versa. So she was well received on all ends.”
According to Webb, the open search considered more than 100 candidates before narrowing down to four candidates who visited campus Fall 2018. Of those candidates, both students and faculty concluded that Ness best fit the role of athletic director for Occidental.
Since beginning her new job March 11, Ness has worked to interact with students and faculty in order to act as an informed leader in the community.
“My focus since arriving at Oxy has been to listen and learn which will allow me to make informed decisions moving forward as well as form relationships within athletics and the rest of the campus community,” Ness said via email. “I have met with the leadership of SAAC [Student-Athlete Advisory Committee] and I am looking forward to working with our student-athletes involved along with in (sic) the near future provide other leadership opportunities for our student-athletes.”
Webb noted that Ness has been a visible presence on campus since she assumed the role of athletic director.
“She’s committed to being a visible, transparent, athletic director as we would hope because that was definitely how she interviewed,” Webb said. “It’s good to see that she’s around.”
Joshua Greaves (junior), quarterback of the football team, agreed with Webb.
“She’s going to sporting events,” Greaves said. “Like, baseball guys were saying, ‘Oh, she was at our baseball game.’ So they see her, she’s going to our different games.”
For Greaves, Ness’ presence on campus has proven reassuring. According to Greaves, Hoffman rarely appeared during practices or games, which proved discouraging to the team.
“It’s cool to see our athletic director … saying ‘hi’ to everyone,” Greaves said. “That was definitely really cool. So she’s visible. She’s transparent.”
Greaves also said Ness has been proactive in addressing the needs of student-athletes. During a meeting between himself, Ness and football team member Harrison Wakefield (junior), Ness impressed Greaves with her knowledge of current school issues and her plans to address them. According to Greaves, Ness already knew of an issue regarding the lights on Patterson Field and sought to rectify the problem.
“She already knew [about the lights] when she came in her first day,” Greaves said. “She said [the lights] was one of the first thing she noticed. So stuff like that, where she knows what [student-athletes] need. She’s that type of person that’s going to take action.”
For Ness, addressing practical issues such as the lights plays into her greater goal of raising the quality of the student-athlete experience.
“Occidental is a beautiful institution with an outstanding academic reputation in which I believe we can offer an amazing student-athlete experience,” Ness said via email. “It has been my goal to lead an athletic department that is rooted in excellence and is an an example (sic) to other NCAA Division III institutions and I am confident that goal will be accomplished at Occidental.”
Flot declined to comment.