Maisha Kelly, the new athletic director at Drexel University, is coming home. Kelly grew up in West Mount Airy, can tell you about sledding down to Lincoln Drive -- “not the safest thing in the world.” She started running track at C.W. Henry School, moved on to Gwynedd Mercy Academy, then St. Joseph’s, where she was a captain on the track team, graduating in 2000.
None of that, of course, explains how Kelly got this new job. More recently, she’s been on the radar for Big 5 schools hiring athletic directors, working in Bucknell’s athletic administration since 2010, most recently as senior associate athletic director.
She talked about always looking to challenge herself -- “the natural progression became being an athletic director.”
She didn’t come up on the coaching or marketing side, more directly dealing with athletes, first as an academic counselor at Vanderbilt, after teaching sixth grade locally at Waldron Mercy Academy, adding a master’s degree from Temple. Her stops along the way included working at NCAA headquarters as an assistant director of championships for a couple of years.
“It roots me in student development and student welfare and investing holistically in student-athletes,” Kelly said in a telephone interview Wednesday about her path, adding that competitive athletic success isn’t outside such priorities.
Kelly, a member of the NCAA Division I Council in recent years representing the Patriot League, talked about this being a time of evolution for college athletes, the landscape changing on all sorts of issues.
“We have to navigate through that, preserve tradition, but we have to evolve,’' Kelly said, noting that such issues aren’t foreign to Drexel.
“We’ve had a really successful year,” Kelly said, already talking in the first person. “I think that points to a culture of grit and perseverance.”
Continuing that success, and also reaching out beyond the doors of the DAC, is part of the job.
“How we brand what is Drexel athletics,” said Kelly, who had recently taken on fundraising responsibilities at Bucknell. Safe to say, that’ll be an immediate priority on Market Street.
Hiring an athletic director from the Patriot League suggests the Patriot is a model that is attractive to Drexel, whose president, John Fry, graduated from a Patriot school, Lafayette. The last big athletics hire from the outside was men’s basketball coach Zach Spiker, and Spiker came from the Patriot League, from Army.
“Maisha is a proven, high-energy leader who no doubt has an ambitious vision for Drexel Athletics,” Fry said in a statement. “She has a demonstrated ability to work with all campus constituencies and understands the vital importance of nurturing student-athlete leaders. We are honored to welcome her to the Drexel community.”
Navigating through the current climate, especially at a school that fights for its place outside the confines and traditions of the Big 5, might even feel at times like a sled ride toward Lincoln Drive traffic.
“Drexel was just an amazing fit,” Kelly said.