College of Health and Human Performance

Empowering Women in Athlete Development

Symposium Moves Online

Empowering Women in Athlete Development

by Erika E. Nelson – April 14, 2020

In light of recent concerns surrounding the coronavirus, HHP’s Laboratory for Athlete Development and Research (LADR), along with co-host Hilliard Solutions, moved quickly to transform their Women in Athlete Development Symposium and Networking event (WiAD) into an online platform which was held April 5-6 via Zoom and UF e-learning. More than 80 professionals and students from the U.S., Australia, and Korea participated along with 16 speakers and special guests who shared valuable industry knowledge and insight. This event proved not only to be informative, but in the words of many of the participants: empowering. 

The keynote address was given by Dr. Tamica Smith Jones, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, University of California, Riverside. Dr. Jones reflected back on her days as a student athlete, the challenges she faced and the importance of graduate school.

“Learn all you can and get connected with as many people as you can,” said Dr. Jones. “Those two years put me on a path that has been very impactful, and today I am still telling that story to student athletes.”

In order for the transition to an online format to run smoothly Melissa Weinsz, UF Sport Management Ph.D. candidate and research assistant at LADR, worked behind the scenes with Dr. Janice Hilliard of Hilliard Solutions to develop educational content and objectives for each session and to ensure speakers were comfortable with the online format. Laura Barnes, UF Sport Management MS candidate and research assistant at LADR, created videos to aid the participants, as well as the speakers, in their preparation for virtual networking during the symposium.   

The two-day symposium featured nationally respected women leaders, expert practitioners and researchers in the field of athlete development. There were four interactive panel discussions, as well as opportunities for “speed” networking and mentoring. 

“Rather than choosing to cancel this event, our team decided to try to offer the same experience in a virtual format with our confirmed talent and participants,” said Michael Sagas, Ed.D., professor of Sport Management at UF. “Our goal was to allow athlete development professionals and students from around the world that aspire to work in this growing field an opportunity to stay connected to an intellectual and supportive community during this difficult time.”

"We could not have produced this impactful and engaging event without our partner, HHP's Laboratory for Athlete Development Research (LADR). Dr. Sagas and his team helped us to create a new online model of professional development. Future event partners will have big shoes to fill." —Dr. Janice Hilliard, CEO at Hilliard Solutions.

“I cannot thank you enough for the WIAD Symposium today — absolutely fantastic! I am looking to attend UF for grad school, and it is great to see such a fantastic professional atmosphere there!” —Ashley Ackerman, Undergraduate at Baldwin University

"Wow. Thank you for all of your hard work to make the WiAD a huge success. I am so grateful to have been able to attend and network with the incredible women who were both panelists and attendees. I am already looking forward to next year and hopefully being able to attend in person." —Blake Johnson, student enrolled in the UF athlete development specialist certificate course

For more about the symposium, visit

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