University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Director of Athletics, Carla Wilson (B.S. ’88) has a vision and focus on service to athletics and student-athletes that has put her, and UMKC, in the national spotlight.
In 2017, Wilson was elected as the third vice president of the Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association and appointed to the NCAA Division I Council. She was also chosen to serve on the Executive Committee for the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association. The first female and minority leader of athletics at UMKC — and one of only a few female athletic directors among the NCAA’s 351 Division I institutions — Wilson was named Division I Administrator of the Year in 2012 by the Women Leaders in College Sports and one of the “Top 25 Women in Higher Education” in 2015 by Diverse magazine.
In 2016-17, Wilson led the Roos to five Western Athletic Conference (WAC) championships, five second place finishes and two third place finishes. UMKC student-athletes also excelled in the classroom, earning a program-record cumulative grade point average of 3.34, with 122 student-athletes earning All-WAC academic honors. Wilson is active on a number of community boards including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kansas City Sports Lab Advisory Board, Women’s Intersport Network for Kansas City (WIN for KC) and the Chancellor’s Advisory Board for the UMKC Women’s Center.
Because of Wilson’s focus on service to athletics and student-athletes that has brought national recognition to her, and to her alma mater, the UMKC Alumni Association will present Wilson with the 2018 UMKC Spotlight Award.
Wilson recently discussed her career achievements with UMKC:
You’ve worked at UMKC for nearly three decades. What is your favorite thing about the university?
The people. Through the years I have interacted and formed relationships with a lot of students (and parents), staff and faculty, that I still keep in touch with today. For those who have been working at UMKC as long as I have, we have a really strong bond, sense of pride and loyalty to UMKC.
What’s the biggest change its undergone?
The growth of the campus. For example, the addition to Swinney Recreation Center, Oak Street and Johnson Residence Halls, the Health Sciences Building, Bloch Executive Hall, Durwood Soccer Stadium, parking structure, etc. If my 18-year-old self was placed on this campus right now, I wouldn’t recognize it!
UMKC student-athletes have excelled in the classroom under your tenure. Why is that so important to you, and what does the UMKC Athletic Department do that helps drive academic achievement?
I came to UMKC on an academic scholarship. That scholarship was instrumental in me being able to get my degree at UMKC. I know that I have been able to achieve much more than I imagined because of my college education. I want our student-athletes to be in that same position, and it starts with taking their academics seriously now.
Academics and education is the first pillar of success in the Athletics Department, and we lay the foundation for what is expected early in the process. On their recruiting visit, before they even say “yes” to be a student-athlete at UMKC, we stress they will be students first and therefore, academics are always first before athletics. We remind them what a privilege it is to get a college degree, while participating in the sport that they love, at the Division I level. We are flexible around their academic schedule and encourage them to pick the major of their choosing. We stress that if they don’t do what they are supposed to do academically, they won’t be on the playing fields. The goal is for the student-athletes to walk across the stage, with a valuable degree in hand that will propel them through the rest of their lives; where athletics is a part of their experience, but not the end of their story.
You’re the first female and minority leader of athletics at UMKC, and one of only a few female ADs among the NCAA’s 351 Division I institutions. How does it feel to be paving the way for others? Do you see yourself as a role model?
I feel very blessed and honored to be a director of athletics, especially at my alma mater. Although I don’t think of myself as a role model, I am mindful that others are taking notes and looking to me as someone who is in the AD chair, where they would like to be, and someone they would like to learn from. In addition to 10 or so speaking engagements a year, I typically take on two or three mentees a year, so that I can provide feedback both globally and one-on-one. I see myself as a person who wants to share any and all of what I have learned, and the experiences I have had, to help prepare others to move up in athletics administration. I owe it to the female athletics administrators who came before me and paved the way for me, to pay it forward to others. As the number of female and minority leaders in athletics continues to grow, I cautiously smile, knowing we have a long way to go, but knowing we have also come a long way.
What advice do you have for those who’d like to follow in your footsteps?
Do what you are passionate about. If you do that, it won’t seem like work, but instead you will feel extremely blessed that you have the opportunity to do something that you love. Let people know what you want. People can’t advocate for you or help you navigate the path you want, if they don’t know your desires. Never stop learning. Take time every day to listen. It’s hard to listen and not learn something! Be yourself. Follow your instincts and stay true to your values.
Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes individual alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Wilson and other outstanding alumni at the 2018 Alumni Awards Event Friday, June 15, on campus. The reception is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. In the last decade, the Alumni Awards event has garnered more than $1 million in scholarships and immediate aid for students.