Other Mothers of College Sports, part 3: Academic Support Mom

This is the third of a three part series highlighting the “other mothers” working in college athletics.  Coach Moms are not the only women in the Athletic Department managing the challenges of work/family balance. 

Read Joan’s bio

Fast Facts: I have been in my current position at UMass since 2006.  I oversee the academic progress of UMass’ 500-plus student-athletes, as well as six full-time staff members.  Prior to UMass, I spent 20 years as the Coordinator of Student-Athlete Academic Success at Eastern Kentucky University.  But I actually got my start in college athletics as a student-athlete and a coach.  I swam at Penn State and then coached varsity swimming at Lehigh and Northern Michigan.  I have two daughters, Karen Hopkins and Kristin Rusboldt, a son-in-law, Sean Rusboldt, and a new granddaughter, Sloan Elizabeth Rusboldt.

The most challenging part about being an Academic Support Mom has been… balance.

I was a college swimming coach for nine years and my daughter (Kristin) was born in my last year of coaching.  She became the team mascot, because sometimes she would be with me on the pool deck in her car carrier (totally sleeping through all the noise) and then I would jump into the pool with her after practice and play.   She loved the water from an early age and became a college competitive swimmer like her mom.

I was very lucky to have worked at a university for 20 years where my children could attend a school that was right on campus.  When my girls were old enough, they could come to my office after school, but most of the time they were in after-school activities.  They really got to see what mom did for a living.  Of course, I was and am a big fan of all the sports teams. In academics, you know all of the student-athletes and I love watching them compete because I know them personally.  That has been so much fun over the years.  (And my Facebook is filled with former athletes from my coaching career and from my academic career!)  So if mom went to the athletic events, so did my kids!  We started out with Kristin in her huge snowsuit as a 1 year old at Northern Michigan University football games and she would again sleep right through the noise!   At EKU, our family events centered around football and basketball games, which my girls always attended with me as well.  An interesting story is that one of the graduate students who was with me for two years at EKU just recently hired my daughter in an Academic Advisor position at the College of Charleston.  She was 11 years old when he was working for me. I kid him constantly about it.  At that point, could he ever have imagined my 11 year old would be working for him?  :)

The best part about working in college athletics is… It is fun and it is never the same – This is my 38th year in college athletics and I still love it as much as I did the first year.  I love the student-athletes and the coaches and the athletic staff members and the golf outings!

My kids think my job is… My oldest, Kristin, has been always been more interested and excited about my job than my youngest, Karen.  Kristin became a swimmer and loved it, Karen did it because mom wanted her to.  She was good at it as well, but did not love it.  Karen became a dancer and excelled at that.  Kristin loved going to the college athletic events with me, Karen never did.  But I think they both are really proud of their mom and what she does for a living, so I am very happy about that.  Kristin decided she was going to get her Master’s Degree in history, but after doing so, she took a good long look at what she enjoyed and it was tutoring the student-athletes as an undergraduate and graduate student – and joined my profession a couple of years ago!  She was the head of the Student Development program at the University of Memphis and now is an Academic Counselor/Student Development Coordinator at the College of Charleston.  Just 4 months ago she and her husband had a beautiful baby girl!   We just got back from our national convention (N4A) and we were the only mother/daughter team in our business attending the conventions.   My other daughter, Karen is the Casting Producer/Development Assistant at a television production company in NYC – Departure Films.    I am very proud of both of my daughters!  They survived growing up with a set of divorced parents, who both worked full time and they became wonderful young women!

When my family and I have free time, we like to… Vacation together!  We are big Disney fans and NYC/Broadway fans.  It’s the best when I am near either of them geographically  for college tournaments!  I can see them and watch our teams compete – best of both worlds.

What advice would you give to Coach Moms, Academic Support Moms or other moms in college athletics? Take care of yourself first –physically and mentally.  Your kids need you and your job needs you and you must understand that you are best for all when you are your healthiest.  College athletics working hours can be crazy- we all know that.  But you are the main one who has control over your balance in that area.  Make time for family.  Find a mentor in your department.  Someone who you trust and admire and learn from them.  He/she will be your sounding board some days and your best friend on others.  I have been so lucky to have had three wonderful women mentors in my career!

Like mother, like daughter… Joan’s daughter Kristin (left) is following in her footsteps as an Academic Support Mom at The College of Charleston.


Other Mothers of College Sports, part 2: Athletic Trainer Mom






Other Mothers of College Sports, part 1: Sports Information Director Mom







Erika Lambert

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