For the first time in school history, a UTD student athlete was chosen to participate in a program designed to help minority students pursue careers in collegiate athletics.
Sara Navarro, who graduated in the fall with a bachelor’s in business administration, was one of 40 students and recent alumni picked to join the NCAA Division III Immersion Program. The program is in its second year and runs during the annual NCAA convention. Participants are typically from an ethnic minority background and have a strong interest in coaching or athletic administration.
Navarro, who was a softball infielder for four years at UTD, intends to pursue a career in coaching. One of her goals is to coach softball at a collegiate level.
“I’ve always been interested in coaching,” Navarro said. “I’m so passionate about it.”
She was nominated by one of UTD’s assistant athletic directors, Angela Marin. Navarro’s excitement and desire to have a job she loved were things that stood out to Marin when it came to nominating her.
“Sara has been a role model student athlete,” Marin said. “She’s just a great person and I know she’ll be a great influence on up and coming student athletes as they go through the process.”
Navarro’s communication skills and passion for softball make her a good candidate to be a coach in the future, Marin said.
“She’s so well respected within her community that I think that will carry over quite seamlessly to a coach or eventually hopefully an administrative position,” she said.
Marin suggested the program to Navarro after they discussed her interest in coaching on numerous occasions. During their conversations, the pair talked about Marin’s personal path to success.
“Through that discussion, I wanted to emphasize that there is no right or wrong way to do this,” Marin said. “Your path could look very different from mine. The end goal, however, I believe is the same. The qualities needed to be successful are the same. That’s where I want to help her grow.”
When Navarro found out about the opportunity, she was drawn to the personal road map the program gives students.
“What I really look forward to is finding out everything that I need to do. I think I’m more on the driven side. If you just tell me what I have to do, I’m going to go do it,” she said.
After being nominated, applicants go through a lengthy process.
“The NCAA Division III really wants to make sure that they’re picking the student athletes who are genuinely interested and want to take full advantage of the opportunity,” Marin said.
The goal during the convention is to get experience working with athletic administrators. While there, the selected applicants are paired with mentors, typically with the same degree.
“It’s a lot of networking and teaching you how to be a good executive,” Navarro said. “You’re learning all of the ins and outs of being in administration at the Division III level, which I would love to do and be a part of.”
Marin was a mentor during the 2016 convention and has kept in contact with two people who she mentored. A lot of mentorship is based on asking and answering questions, she said.
“They’re completely immersed within other athletic departments, athletic directors and assistant athletic directors,” Marin said. “They get the big grand picture of how the NCAA works.”
Mentors also help introduce their mentees to other people in the same field so they can start networking.
“It’s a really cool process to see it all evolve, because they walk in the first day almost scared to death and they leave a week later and they’re excited,” Marin said.
Navarro wasn’t aware of the extent of the program before applying, but she said she’s enjoyed getting her itinerary and other information as the convention approaches.
“Initially, I didn’t know how big of an opportunity it was, but I’m really excited,” she said.
Navarro also didn’t know she was the first student from UTD to be chosen until after it happened.
“It’s a really cool blessing that came out of nowhere,” she said. “It’s definitely a cherry on top.”
After graduating in the fall of 2016, this opportunity came along at the best time for her.
“When you’re in school, you’re just grinding along and you’re thinking about your classes,” Navarro said. “You don’t really think that much about afterwards.”
With school behind her now, Navarro is looking forward to starting her career after the program and hopes to be able to stay involved in softball.
“I think how fun would it be to impact people’s lives and be out on the ball field, so hopefully that’s in my future,” Navarro said.
Marin will continue to work with Navarro to reach her goals after the program.
“She’s young and she’ll have a lot to learn,” Marin said. “Hopefully I can help her, but she has a solid foundation and she loves what she does, and that’s the most important thing.”