Nearly 200 Ohio State female student-athletes and staff gathered in the Fawcett Center Monday night for espnW’s Campus Conversations. The second Big Ten school to host the program, Campus Conversations is a forum for discussions that support, educate, and inspire female student-athletes during their collegiate careers.
Seven Buckeye alumnae were welcomed back to campus to lead an engaging panel conversation followed by interactive breakout sessions. Panelists included Candace Axline ‘98 (Softball - Attorney and Senior Tax Manager at KPMG), Rebecca Best ‘11 (Gymnastics - Air Traffic Controller for the Federal Aviation Administration), Stephanie Hightower ‘80 (Track & Field - President and CEO of the Columbus Urban League), and Katie Smith ‘96 (Basketball - Head Coach of the New York Liberty).
Moderated by ESPN’s Cari Champion, the panel focused on the former Buckeyes’ experiences reflecting on their time as student-athletes, their mindsets heading into senior year, and transitioning into the real world. Each panelist provided words of wisdom and advice for current student-athletes as they navigate their collegiate journey. Common remarks included the importance of networking, developing confidence, and remaining authentic.
“It was nice having such different voices and variety on the panel,” said Stephanie Mavunga, a women’s basketball player pursuing a master’s degree in Sport Management. “They each provided a unique viewpoint, with ways of bettering our lives both in the workforce and on our fields of play.”
Buckeyes were able to engage more closely with alumnae through four unique breakout sessions. Topics included Lift As You Rise (supporting and empowering other women), Sorry Not Sorry (how to be strong and assertive while addressing stereotypes associated with female confidence), Look At Me Now (focusing on lessons learned), and Women in Sports Media, Marketing & Beyond (careers in the sports industry).
“I went to the Women in Sports Media session and it solidified that I’d really enjoy linking my passion of communication and marketing with my passion for sports,” said Karrington Pettiford-Winters, a junior on the track & field team.
In addition to engaging with Champion, Smith, and Carol Stiff - ESPN’s Vice President for Women’s Sports Programming - Buckeyes practiced elevator pitches while discussing the value of internships, job search strategies, and career readiness.
Local alumnae Karen Alsbrooks (Volleyball - Executive Director for Organizational Development at Ohio State’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion), Caity Matter Henniger (Basketball - Co-Owner of Rogue Fitness), and Emily Johnson Widman (Spirit - Owner of three Central Ohio Pure Barre locations) joined as breakout session leaders.
“The event was really inspiring and I learned answers to questions I didn’t know I had,” said Pettiford-Winters.
Three current Buckeyes served on the planning committee, shaping the breakout sessions to include both personal and professional development topics of interest. Mavunga, Gaby DeSantis (Tennis), and Taylor White (Softball) were the voice of their peers and helped select alumnae participants, dialed in to weekly conference calls, and assisted with event planning tasks.
In all, Buckeyes walked away feeling empowered and inspired, knowledgeable about how to embrace their strengths as student-athletes & women, and confident leveraging their unique transferable skills to the next place life takes them. New connections and a helpful campus resources sheet will ensure they continue engaging in personal and professional development opportunities throughout their careers.
Photos Courtesy of espnW and photographer David Heasley