RIT's Historical Athletic Director
by Rylan Vanacore | published Nov. 20th, 2021
Recently, RIT history was made with the appointment of Jacqueline Nicholson as the new Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, taking over from Lou Spiotti Jr. after his lengthy 47-year run. Nicholson is not only the first female athletic director at RIT but the first Black one as well.
A former collegiate student athlete herself, Nicholson used to run track and field for Virginia Tech.
Nicholson did not start in athletics, however. She originally had plans to become a civil engineer, but after taking her first class she decided that civil engineering wasn't for her. Nicholson did not start in athletics, however. She originally had plans to become a civil engineer, but after taking her first class she decided that civil engineering wasn't for her.
Following her decision with engineering, she took an interest in social work. A summer internship with her friend’s parents showed her that occupation wasn’t for her either.
It was not until she talked with her advisors that the topic of a career in athletics was brought up.
“I got into athletics in kind of a back way through my athletic Academic Advisor on campus,” Nicholson explained. “Virginia Tech introduced me to athletics. I had an opportunity to stay at Virginia Tech for a year and work in academic support with football there.”
This changed her career trajectory. She decided to stay in school and get her masters in Higher Education and Student Affairs.
“I did a lot of work with [Virgina Tech's] Student Affairs during grad school but then ultimately ended up back in athletics,” Nicholson said.
After graduating, Nicholson went on to work for a variety of different athletic positions at colleges. Some institutions were Norfolk State University, the University of Texas and Albany State University.
"I've kind of been used to being up to the challenge and showing people that I'm capable of doing the job."
Becoming an Athletic Director was always Nicholson's main goal, ultimately leading her to RIT.
“The search firm reached out to me and asked me would I be interested in applying for the position,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson’s induction is a historical moment for RIT.
Coming into the athletic department as a young female in a male-dominated field, she faced a lot of challenges.
“People really didn't believe in me when I was first starting,” Nicholson expressed.
Before coming to RIT, she struggled with gaining the respect of her peers. She was constantly having to prove people wrong.
“I've kind of been used to being up to the challenge and showing people that I'm capable of doing the job,” Nicholson said.
Her induction is also important because of the way it opens doors for other young Black women. She is paving the way for those who will come after her.
“Having the ability to open up the doors for future coaches and administrators in this department, I think it's a big thing for me,” Nicholson said.
She has made an especially strong impression on RIT's female athletes.
Jordan Marchese, a fifth year masters student on the women’s hockey team, has been working closely with Nicholson.
“It's been a really great change,” Marchese said. “I feel that having Jackie here, and just knowing her for like the last couple of weeks, she's been such a bright light.”
Between a male-dominated institution and a male-dominated field, some female students may struggle with being able to express themselves, or be more comfortable. So having a female Athletic Director can help build this almost isolated experience. irector can help build this almost isolated experience.
“As a female, seeing another female as athletic director, that's definitely a place where I feel that I have more of a connection with her,” Marchese expressed.
“As a female, seeing another female as Athletic Director, that's definitely a place where I feel that I have more of a connection with her.”
Plans for the Future
Nicholson has a lot of plans for the future of RIT Athletics. For one, she is currently focusing on the renovations to the university's current facilities. She is also working on a strategic plan for the athletic department.
"We are trying to determine what is our mission, vision and values and what our trajectory will be over the next five years for athletics," Nicholson explained.
She wants to have a clear plan for what the coaches, student athletes and administrators will be doing in the following years.
Nicholson emphasized that she wants to build strong relationships with RIT's student athletes. To start, she has been working closely with seniors like Marchese.
Since COVID-19 ruined the previous year of RIT student's athletic careers, she wants to improve their last. She also wants their insight into how things can be improved for upcoming students.
She has also made an effort to personally talk with each of the sports teams at RIT. She has been going to games with them and visiting their locker rooms afterwards.
The way Nicholson goes out of her way to establish these relationships has left a strong impression on people.
“I feel that she is trying to actually get to know us personally,” Marchese said. “She asked me about my family, so she’s definitely making a great effort at knowing getting to know our student athletes.”
Nicholson is trying hard to make things special for the student athletes. She really wants them to get the most out of their college athletic career.Nicholson is trying hard to make things special for the student athletes. She really wants them to get the most out of their college athletic career.
“As a former student athlete, I had a really great experience,” Nicholson said. “I want to make sure our student athletes have that same great experience here.”
The future looks bright for RIT athletics, and after having a rough year due to COVID-19, things are changing for the better. Nicholson is a step in the right direction and has big plans that will shape the future for student athletes and the institution as a whole.