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UNI Director of Athletics Megan Franklin ushers in Legacy Era of Panther Athletics

CEDAR FALLS - Megan Franklin has begun her tenure as UNI's Director of Athletics. A formal media conference was held in the McLeod Center on Tuesday to introduce Franklin to campus.

CEDAR FALLS – Megan Franklin has begun her tenure as UNI’s Director of Athletics. A formal media conference was held in the McLeod Center on Tuesday to introduce Franklin to campus and the Cedar Valley. Franklin unveiled a bold vision she titled the “Legacy Era” of Panther Athletics.

“The Legacy Era of Panther Athletics will see championships won, careers celebrated, facilities built, and great fun engaging alumni, donors and fans,” said Franklin. “I invite you to be there with us as we celebrate the pride for place at the University of Northern Iowa, cheering on student-athletes competing as their best selves, coaches mentoring through love of team, competition, the game, and the university and administrators still striving in their passions. We are going to have so much fun when we’re doing this and cheering together. Go Panthers!”

The first woman to hold the AD title at UNI, Franklin also honored some of the many women who have impacted Panther athletics, from Sandra Williamson who was the first senior woman administrator at UNI to Marilyn Bohl whose $5 million donation to the UNI-Dome remains the largest private donation to UNI Athletics.

In his remarks, President Mark Nook recalled interviewing Franklin for the role. She immediately stood out, not only because of her answers to questions but, more important to Nook, the questions she asked.

“Her questions were probing,” said Nook. “They were deep, and it showed a deep commitment to our students, to the athletics program, to the university, and to the community in which we live and grow and build. She understands that synergistic relationship between UNI, Waterloo, Cedar Falls, the rest of the Cedar Valley, and her questions really opened that up. I found a leader that had a great deal of integrity in the way that she approached the problems that she was asked to solve.”

The celebration of Franklin’s addition to the Panther family continues during Panther Caravan. Just hours after the introductory pep rally, UNI fans and donors were able to meet Franklin at the Tuesday night stop in Waterloo before additional stops in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids during the week.

Franklin, a Lincoln, Nebraska native, previously served over a decade as Senior Associate Athletics Director – Strategic Initiatives and External Operations/Senior Woman Administrator at Drake University. She was selected for the role of Interim Athletics Director at Drake in 2017.

Franklin earned her bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education at the University of Nebraska and later received a master’s degree in Educational Administration specializing in student affairs from Nebraska. She owns a PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Virginia Tech.

REMARKS AND Q&A

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to the McLeod Center. I’m Pete Moris, the Director of University Relations here at UNI. Thank you, everyone, who has joined us today and is also watching online. At this time I would like you all to point your attention to the tunnel, and let’s give an enthusiastic UNI Panther welcome to our new Director of Athletics, Megan Franklin.

Now it is my distinct pleasure to introduce the President of the University of Northern Iowa, Mark Nook.

MARK NOOK: It is an honor and pleasure to be with you, and I have never been to a place that I saw two better-looking purple jackets than we have sitting up here today. Finding one is hard enough. To have two it’s really great. It is a pleasure to be with you and to introduce Megan Franklin as the next Director of Athletics here at the University of Northern Iowa. I do want to recognize a few people before we get started. It’s a pleasure to be joined by Jeff Jackson, the Commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference with us, as well as Brian Hardin, the current AD at Drake University, and Christina Roybal, the Athletic Director at Northern Kentucky and former Senior Women’s Administrator here at the University of Northern Iowa.

I do have to say thank you to Bob Bowlsby for his work as the interim here at the University of Northern Iowa. Thank you very much, Bob, for everything you’ve done.

It is a historic time at the University of Northern Iowa. There are so many changes going on. As we think about our Our Tomorrow campaign that we’re in the middle of, we’re really looking at our future. The new academic programs that are leading to increases in our enrollment. We are renovating buildings in our academic core from the applied engineering building to our beautiful Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, and we’re renovating and constructing new buildings within our athletics program.

From the renovation of the UNI-Dome, which we hope to start next summer, to raising the funds for a court sport practice facility and, in particular, a wrestling training facility here on our campus, much-needed.

As you can see, there’s an innovative esprit de corps here on our campus, a real forward-looking vision for this university. It’s a great time to be looking towards our future and the legacy that we will leave behind at this time on our campus.

It is really a pleasure to introduce Megan to all of you and to have the opportunity to talk just a little bit about her. The outpouring of support that we’ve received when she was named just last week from athletic directors to presidents across the country and a particular call from Marty Martin, President at Drake, conversations with him and Brian Hardin and others around the country for what a great selection it is and how proud they were that we were able to land Megan and get her to come here and serve as our next AD.

Megan really brings a wealth of experience to us with all of her background at the various roles she’s had at Drake University and at Virginia Tech as well as the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. We’re excited for what she will bring to this campus as she takes on the reins of the Athletic Director for Panther Athletics.

For the last 12 years Megan has served as the Senior Associate Athletic Director at Drake University for strategic initiatives and external relations. She’s overseen marketing and communication. She’s been in charge of several of the athletic teams over her 12 years at Drake and for a period of about five months served as the Interim Athletics Director.

She spent nine years at Virginia Tech serving in various roles within the administration. First starting out as the Director of Student Life for Athletics and moving into other roles within the university.

She started her career at the University of Nebraska as a student. She is a native of Lincoln, Nebraska. Went to school, I heard just the other night, for a little bit at St. Olaf in Minnesota before transferring to the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, graduating from there with a degree in community health and then a master’s degree in student life. She also holds an Educational Doctorate in EdD from Virginia Tech in educational leadership and policy studies.

The thing that impressed me the most as we were interviewing the various candidates about Megan, the thing that I look for is not necessarily how they answer my questions, but the questions that they ask of me. Nobody asked deeper, more thoughtful questions in that interview than Megan. It’s through those questions that I understand how they think and how they approach problems and how they will take this job on and wear the mantle of leadership here at the University of Northern Iowa.

She was deeply engaged and excited about the opportunities here, but she was asking questions about how athletics fits in the role of the university. Where is the university going? How can athletics help that? What’s the role of the community here within the university? How can she help build better connections between the university and our community, the Cedar Valley, and the greater community that is the State of Iowa that we as a region institution serve?

Her questions were probing. They were deep, and it showed a deep commitment to our students, to the athletics program, to the university, and to the community in which we live and grow and build. She understands that synergistic relationship between UNI, Waterloo, Cedar Falls, the rest of the Cedar Valley, and her questions really opened that up. I found a leader that had a great deal of integrity in the way that she approached the problems that she was asked to solve.

She was in the middle of what I refer to as the Drake Renaissance, and I think Drake may start to use that term, but it really has been fun to watch what Drake University has done over the last several years, and Megan played a critical role in helping that roll out and that process happen.

So it is my deep pleasure, my honor to welcome Megan to the University of Northern Iowa, and it’s my pleasure to introduce to all of you the next Director of Panther Athletics, Dr. Megan Franklin.

MEGAN FRANKLIN: Thank you. Good afternoon. Thank you, President Nook, for your kind remarks. I’m thrilled to be invited to serve as the next Director of Athletics at the University of Northern Iowa.

I’m grateful to President Nook for believing in my vision for Panther Athletics. I look forward to joining Mark and Cheryl in the stands. I’ve long admired your support of the athletics programs, and you’re there, and I’ll be with you.

I would also like to acknowledge Dr. Elaine Eshbaugh, Professor of Gerontology and Faculty Athletics Representative. She served as the search committee chair, and she certainly was dedicated to the best interest of the coaches, student-athletes, and staff as she went about finding the next leader for Panther Athletics. She had their heart in mind. She also has been a colleague and impassioned of service of the student-athletes as faculty athletics reps, and I truly believe the NCAA has a model in you in what you do for Panther Athletics as a Faculty Athletics Liaison.

As I considered the opportunity to lead in this next era of Panther Athletics, the first attribute that came to mind was that of the people. You hear that a lot when people talk about place, but it’s true here. It’s truly a signature. I learned early on that the coaches and staff members that I met as a member in the league with them were trusted, and their vision was where we needed to be and to go, and they became friends.

A few years ago there was a Power Index that the D1 ticker put together for every conference in Division-I athletics, and it looked at eight attributes about a strong athletics department. Northern Iowa led the Missouri Valley Conference in these areas, and I’m going to share them with you because I think they’re important to know: In facilities, in donor support, leadership alignment, brand perception, men’s basketball success, football success — and in this case they looked at the MVFC institutions — non-revenue success, Power 5 AD potential, and quality of life.

When you think about that, I still agree, as I was looking at the position, Northern Iowa can lead in that pack, and I believe in that truly. As I was learning more about the department in the review and considering what my role could mean in the next leadership era, I thought of a conversation I had with Dr. John Creswell, who is a qualitative methodologist, world-renowned, and a family friend out of Lincoln. We were discussing writing a comprehensive report, and we were talking about how do you even go about such a thing. He said, Start with the title.

Now, maybe academic faculty members know these things, but I didn’t. So I thought, Well, that’s interesting. You haven’t even written the book. What chapters are they going to be? So I’ve carried that with me over the years. As I was considering this role and what my leadership vision would be, I was looking through that index and those different attributes, and I thought legacy just kept come to mind and legacy and legacy. I came up with a title.

So I’m calling this next era of leadership the legacy era of Panther Athletics. So I’ll tell you a little bit about those chapters we’re going to write together:

First, it’s the signature, people. When you think about legacy, we start with the student-athletes. We were just in this arena a few days ago for graduation, and those diplomas were being handed out, and that is truly a legacy for those families and those students that were receiving that diploma, and we will be tilling that passion, the stories, the legacies of those young people as they consider what career paths, what they want to learn about while they’re at Northern Iowa, and to do that well. A diploma is that step.

Coaches and student-athletes will also be engaged in the community, and we will build a legacy of community service and citizenship in our student-athletes. So when they do graduate and find their homes that they will be active in what they know to be true to giving back when they get there.

We’ll also think about philanthropic legacy for students. When we know that we want to invite new alumni, new donors in, what better way than to already know how to do that? So teaching philanthropic practice in college is something we would like to think about as well.

We also have such a wonderful coaching staff. I believe Commissioner Jackson that this coaching cohort is truly a Hall of Fame-worthy cohort. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the country that can brag about the winning success of Panther coaches than we can here at Northern Iowa. Individually and collectively, what an amazing and awesome group. To be able to help them each think about their collective and individual legacies, how awesome is that to get to do?

Administrative staff, we want to work with them on their passions and their drives and their professional development. What is it that they want to do and love to do while they’re at Northern Iowa? What is it they want to be able to dream about? Do they want to be an Athletics Director someday like I did when I was a new professional, and how do we get there, and what opportunities can we give them while they’re here? We know that they’ll be trusted leaders for the coaches and student-athletes, and we want to till that for them.

Along with the people, we will be able to celebrate significant milestones over this era. We will have the culmination of the Our Tomorrow campaign, and that is going to be a wonderful day, won’t it? We’ll also be celebrating 50 years of volleyball next fall, so we’ll celebrate the history of women’s sports at Northern Iowa, notably volleyball, and the University of Northern Iowa will be celebrating 150 years in 2026. So in and through those milestones, athletics will be right there and a part of it.

President Nook already talked about the facilities. They are legacy buildings that will be built and renovations to be done. I know in the vision of the Dome when it was built, they knew that that building would last longer than those that were imaging it then, and we are doing the same with the court sport practice facility and the wrestling facility and getting that Dome renovation project done, and that will be done while we’re working together.

Finally, we want to engage the fans, alumni, and donors in that legacy. We know you all have an opportunity to engage with us in writing your legacies. Scholarships are a beautiful way to do that, and so we’ll encourage those kind of engagement opportunities. So are the facilities projects.

But we, too, want to know what you want to give, what you want to participate in, what inspires you, and we will steward those gifts with the trust and integrity that you would imagine.

Those are the four chapters we get to write together. I’ll work with you, and we’ll work together on writing that titled book. It will take all of us to get it done.

I stand here today as the first woman to serve as the Director of Athletics at the University of Northern Iowa. I’m not, however, the first woman of impact to have worked at the University of Northern Iowa.

We will celebrate the contributions of women and their legacies in this era. Women, like Dr. Elinor Crawford, who blew the first whistle in field hockey in 1968 or Dr. Sandra Williamson, a beloved administrator and coach who served as the first senior woman administrator at Northern Iowa when that position was created by the NCAA, or philanthropist Marilyn Bohl, who she was a 1962 graduate who gave $5 million to the Dome renovation, the largest private donation to UNI Athletics.

I also honor my own family legacy wearing family heirlooms today. My great grandmother’s locket inscribed with the year 1909 and wearing a ring with a Nebraska agate rock inspired from a ring my maternal grandmother — excuse me, goodness gracious. I will honor all the strength and vision of the women who have come before me as Director of Athletics.

I would like to introduce you to my legacy in Will Franklin. He’s my big boy over there now, 10 years old, fourth grader. Loves math. Looking sharp today, yes. I also have an older stepdaughter, Jada Franklin, and her son, Zeke, who are in Des Moines. Joining us today is my mom Barbara Bartle and my stepdad Bob Bartle from Lincoln, Nebraska. Unable to attend today, my dad and stepmom in Davidson, North Carolina, and I have siblings living coast-to-coast from L.A. to Denver to the Charlotte area.

I’ve been fortunate to learn from incredible leaders in my career. I’m grateful to each of my supervisors in leadership. My first athletics job doesn’t show up on my résumé, as it was my high school student athletic training experience under the tutelage of Julie Buck at Lincoln Southeast High School. I know my two first athletics colleagues in Gina and Abby are watching today.

Keith Zimmer and Dennis Leblanc gave me my first full-time opportunity at the University of Nebraska Athletics in the Academic Counselor position under the leadership of Bill Byrne.

My first athletics leadership role was at Virginia Tech as Director of Student Life. The late Jim Weaver and Jon Jaudon were trusting me to lead as they were transitioning the Athletics Department from the Big East to the ACC. They never knew how much I was watching them at that time.

Sandy Hatfield Clubb hired me at Drake as the Senior Woman Administrator, expanding my leadership lens and conference leadership responsibilities. Marty Martin invited me to serve as Interim Athletics Director followed by Brian Hardin trusting me in leadership to contribute to his vision of athletics at Drake.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with visionary leaders at the Missouri Valley Conference in Doug Elgin, Patty Viverito and Jeff Jackson, and I’m pleased to continue to work with Patty and Jeff with UNI.

I’ve also had many mentors in various capacities in my career from current colleagues to leaders in the field. I’m grateful to my colleagues at Drake, Missouri Valley Conference staff, and senior woman administrators. My 2015 NCAA Pathway Program colleagues and 2019 Women Leaders Executive Institute sisters.

In addition, individuals who have been impactful and listening ears throughout my career include my dear friend Christina Roybal, currently the Director of Athletics at the University of Northern Kentucky; David Harris, Director of Athletics at Tulane; Michigan Athletics Director, Warde Manuel; my mentor in the Pathway Program, former Florida Gulf Coast University Athletic Director, Ken Kavanaugh; Bud Peterson was also my presidential mentor in that program. He was former President at Georgia Tech and then NCAA President of the Board of Governors. And legends in the field Patti Phillips, Mike Alden, and Bob Bowlsby.

Bob has been a source of support during this transition and promises to continue to work on Zoom with me a little bit and answer the calls, so thank you. I’ll appreciate that.

I was working at Virginia Tech on April 16th, 2007. I’ll never forget the 32 lives lost that day. I’ll hold their families close all these 17 years later. In June 2007 I was asked to serve the university by then Dean of Students to support the students who were physically injured in the shootings and were returning to campus. I worked for three years in the office of recovery and support until the last student graduated.

In thinking about those, I’ve learned from many in my career. I think about the physically injured students who are now alumni, those 27 men and women who are leaders in their families, careers, and communities. They serve as mentors to me in their bravery and in the face of the greatest adversity. My heart will always have part of me in Blacksburg connected to my colleagues who I now consider family and our students lending and leading in their legacy eras.

The legacy of Panther Athletics will see championships won, careers celebrated, facilities built, and great fun engaging alumni, donor, and fans. As I think about a thriving athletics department, I harken back to the 7-year-old me in Cozad, Nebraska, cheering on my cousins on the football field and basketball courts with the stands packed. It was my favorite place to be.

As a child I saw my friends. We sat in the section with our principal, Mr. Wright, and our parents were enjoying the games with their friends. The student section was packed. The students were cheering for their friends that were playing on the team. There was nowhere anybody else wanted to be in town than in the gym in the town because we knew that our team needed us as much as we needed them.

In this legacy era I invite you to be there with us as we celebrate the pride for place at the University of Northern Iowa cheering on student-athletes competing as their best selves, coaches mentoring through love of team, competition, the game, and the university and administrators still striving in their passions. We are going to have so much fun when we’re doing this and cheering together. Go Panthers!

THE MODERATOR: Members of the media, questions, please.

Q. Welcome, Dr. Franklin. The changing nature of college athletics that President Nook mentioned in his comments, what would you tell the most passionate, educated Panthers fans about their serious and fair concerns about the demand for fundraising in this era?

MEGAN FRANKLIN: Absolutely. I think what is important is that it’s going to mean that we have engagement from our fans and alumni and our donors in helping us navigate this time in college athletics. It’s exciting, and it also offers opportunities for engagement. Again, thinking through the legacy pieces of different interests people have and when they want. That’s nice. They have a full menu for sure these days. It isn’t like sometimes it used to be where it was scholarships and facilities. Now we have more diversity and what opportunities they can gauge and what they’re interested in doing.

We also want to make sure that we’re defining what we’re doing, and so people really understand our targets and what we’re after and what we’re wanting to do to accomplish what we’re doing.

Q. When going through the interview process, what concept, what idea of support from the university side of things did you get would be there for the Athletic Department when you took over?

MEGAN FRANKLIN: I have been talking to President Nook about as a potential candidate what you’re looking at, and I think for me watching the commitment to the facilities, that is important. So that is a sign from both the president and the board that they’re willing to invest in that way and commit to the support in that way. That is an exciting news story that I noted as well coming in.

Then in talking with the president through the interview process and with senior leadership team, one, they really understand that athletics is integral to the mission of the institution. So really knowing that when we’re thriving, we’re all thriving together.

Q. What do you feel is your chief responsibility in this role?

MEGAN FRANKLIN: My chief responsibility is to support the coaches, student-athletes, and staff to be their best self. Really understanding what it is that they need, how I can be a resource, and if there are roadblocks and challenges they’re facing, what is that? It’s really so relationship-driven, but it’s all about helping other people thrive.

Q. What would you point to that you think will be most productive about Bob Bowlsby’s presence as an Interim Athletic Director and what I would imagine your ability to really start in a way in a manner in which you would as a result of his presence?

MEGAN FRANKLIN: Well, that was another exciting announcement for sure. When that announcement happened, I really thought that was another signal of the university’s seriousness about athletics, continuing momentum, and moving through an interim process.

As I said earlier today in a meeting that he has brought really wonderful engagement and momentum across the institution, the community, and our donors and fans. I want to just grab that baton and keys and get to work and following his wonderful footsteps.

Q. (Off microphone). What were some of those early campaign discussions like with President Nook? I assume it wasn’t just, I would like this job.

MEGAN FRANKLIN: That’s right. Some of the questions that I was considering and wanting to hear from — Yes. The question was, what probing and fascinating questions did I ask President Nook in the interview process?

For me it was important to hear about the focus and what did he see as the goals for athletics? How does he see athletics integrated into the mission of the institution? What leadership opportunities do I have? Again, I’m on the senior leadership team, which it’s not like that everywhere. So the opportunity for engagement with the senior leadership team at the university as well.

Being able to just get a little bit of understanding of his thinking on different levels of the university I wanted to hear.

MARK NOOK: But she did say she wanted the job (laughing).

Q. What kind of leader do you strive to be, and what tops your priority list as a leader at UNI?

MEGAN FRANKLIN: I like to be a leader that hires experts in the field. That they come to me with solutions, and then they’re as driven or more driven than me. I like to hear creativity and problem solving.

I also will make sure that we’re leading with love and motivating through love and we’re having a good time. I do like to hear from the experts in the field. So winning coaches who like to problem solve in this era. We need that creativity and strategic mind.

Q. My question is, what attracted you the most about coming to the University of Northern Iowa?

MEGAN FRANKLIN: I keep going back to this, but really the people. Over the 12 years I’ve been at Drake, we have been able to look to really wonderful leaders at the University of Northern Iowa across sports and across administration. So I have known the family, I would say, here for a long time.

When you know that you’re going to be coming into a family atmosphere, that is a great way to start. I also know quite a bit a few people, so they know my heart as well. I like to win. I like to be competitive, and I like to do it the right way. I know I can help support that here.

Q. You spoke on your experience and some of the projects you’ve been a part of. I’m curious what you’re most proud of? What project are you most proud in your career, be it from Drake, Virginia Tech, even early in your career as an athletic trainer? What project have you been a part of that you’re most proud of?

MEGAN FRANKLIN: I think what you always want to talk about is graduation, and I think that’s always a starting point. When you see student-athletes graduating and the students I talked about earlier graduating, that’s a really special moment. You know it is in their lives, and you know what they’ve been through.

Especially now when we’ve been through COVID and what these student athletes have persevered through, that’s been a really tough time, so these are really special graduations to go there.

I think, too, when you see the championships and when you — winning is a culmination of a whole lot of hard work and a lot of staff and everyone who has worked around the programs. When you get to cut down the nets, that’s a pretty special moment.

Really it’s not about me in a project. It’s usually celebrating the work that’s gone together to see the culmination of a lot of work of a lot of people that have found that day.

Q. You look at the coaching staff that you alluded to a few times. There’s some unprecedented for this level of seniority on this staff. You look at football, men’s basketball, wrestling, women’s basketball, volleyball. How did that maybe help attract you to this position, and does that create some challenges knowing the fact that a lot of these people have been around here a long time?

MEGAN FRANKLIN: Well, one fun thing I want to mention is Doug Schwab and I worked together at Virginia Tech. He was on the staff when I was on staff, and Tom Brands was the head coach, and then Kevin Dresser came after that. I’ve gotten to work with all three of them during my years at Virginia Tech.

What I would say is it’s very exciting. What I’ve found in these conversations through the interview process and through my early time here is that they are all hungry. So regardless of the years, regardless of what that win and loss record says, which has a lot of good things to say, they’re still hungry. They want to know what is that legacy going to be, and how are we going to continue to grow that?

What I like about it is that they’re still hungry. There’s no one resting on their laurels. That’s what’s exciting about it to me is that, boy, what a wonderful group to work with and to learn from in leadership while also supporting what they want to do in this next era.

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