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Game Plan

It took Michelle Walsh ’98 five years after graduation, but she decided that following her passion was much more important than pursuing a career related to her engineering major.

“The joke that I use,” Walsh says, “is that I didn’t wait for mid-life to have a crisis.”

A four-year member of Swarthmore’s field hockey, women’s basketball, and softball teams, Walsh was working at an automation consulting firm and then an industrial supply company in central New Jersey before taking time off to figure out what it was that she really wanted to do.

“I liked my job and the problem solving-aspect of engineering,” Walsh said. “But I just didn’t have that passion when I got up every day to go to work that I had when I was involved in team sports.”

In 2004, she enrolled at Smith College to pursue  a master’s degree in exercise and sports studies. She received that degree in 2006 and took on her current position in July of 2015: director of athletics and physical education at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

“It’s about understanding that we all start over so many times in our life,” Walsh said. “How you approach it and whether or not you see it as a challenge and opportunity determines the outcome.”

From the time she earned her master’s degree until landing at Vassar, Walsh worked as the head golf and assistant basketball coach at William Smith College, the facilities coordinator and head women’s basketball coach at Lawrence University, the senior woman administrator at Fitchburg State, and as the associate athletic director at the State University of New York at Geneseo.

“Identifying where I needed to get better, putting in the work to get better, and choosing the right jobs led to this opportunity at Vassar,” Walsh said. “But I think part of it was my time at Swarthmore. Having that experience of being a student-athlete at an academically rigorous institution was key.”

Walsh recalled a time when she showed up to Professor Faruq Siddiqui’s engineering class for a five-hour long pressure sensor lab wearing her field hockey uniform. She did as much of the lab as she could, left in the middle to play her game, and returned later to finish.

“I understand just how difficult it can be to balance athletics and academics—I’m a resource for the students at Vassar,” Walsh says. “That helps me relate to them better.”

Walsh became a captain of all three sports she played during her senior year, and holds College records in each. Her softball .451 career batting average ranks first, her 191 career steals for the women’s basketball team are seventh, and her 14 career field hockey assists are 10th. In 2016, she and the rest of Swarthmore’s 1996 field hockey team were inducted into the Garnet Athletics Hall of Fame.