Associate Athletics Director Nnenna Akotaobi Talks Career, Mentors
Nnenna Akotaobi competed with her older brothers relentlessly while growing up in Thornton, Colorado.
In any pursuits they chose, she was not far behind: When Akotaobi’s brother Uzo joined the city’s summer track program, his sister refused to be outdone. She ran right after him – and in the process caught the eye of Thornton High School teacher and basketball coach Michael Granderson.
Today, the former NCAA Division I student-athlete is the associate director of athletics and senior woman administrator at Swarthmore. And, just five years removed from her student-athlete days, she is already a member of the Division III Management Council. When asked how she got where she is, Akotaobi points to those childhood experiences.
“I was definitely a late bloomer in basketball, but my development was so quick that it wasn’t just something I did on my own,” says Akotaobi, who turned that training and hard work into a full athletics scholarship to compete as a forward at the University of Denver, where she became the first student-athlete in the program’s history to play in 120 games. “I owe all of that to what coach Granderson saw in me and how he developed me into a basketball player, a leader, an athlete and a captain.”
“There was an associate position specifically for diversity and community relations,” she says. “It really affected us to see a person of color as an administrator, but also somebody who really cared about making quality experiences for us as students of color.”
As she approached graduation, Akotaobi searched for career opportunities that combined diversity with intercollegiate athletics. Finally, the right position opened in Division III’s Midwest Conference. Akotaobi knew nothing about Division III, but five years later she considers taking the position to be the best decision of her career. While working at the conference office, Akotaobi developed a broad knowledge of the division. That experience led her to Grinnell in 2010, where she worked as coordinator for diversity and achievement in athletics and assistant coordinator for athletics facilities and event management. She left in 2012 to take her current post at Swarthmore.
“I look at our student-athletes and their experiences – getting to study abroad, pursuing other interests outside of sports, but still having a strong athletics identity – and I love it, that balance,” she says.