Chancellor Tom Harden announced today (Thursday, Oct. 17) that Mary Ellen Gillespie has accepted his offer to become the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s new director of intercollegiate athletics.
She will begin her duties Dec. 2. Gillespie currently serves as associate athletics director for external relations at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.
“I am delighted to have Mary Ellen join this University in this key leadership position,” Harden said. “She has a great track record and experience in athletics, fundraising and higher education. She is a relationship builder, someone who has been highly successful in attracting support for her institution.”
There is no news conference today in connection with the announcement. Instead, Harden said, Gillespie is traveling this week on business for Bowling Green. She will be available for in-person media interviews at UW-Green Bay when she next visits — which at this point appears most likely to be Tuesday morning, Oct. 22. The University also expects to arrange a meet-and-greet reception open to campus and community members at that time.
In a written statement, Gillespie said earlier this afternoon: “I am honored to have the privilege of serving as the Director of Athletics at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. I want to thank Chancellor Harden, Provost Wallace, Dan Spielmann and the members of the search committee for their confidence in me to lead this great team. I am so excited to be joining the Phoenix family and look forward to working with student-athletes, coaches, and the campus and Green Bay communities. I’m extremely eager to get started.”
Lou LeCalsey, a member of the search and screen committee who also serves as president of the UW-Green Bay Foundation, Inc., said Gillespie’s energy, expertise and successful fundraising background stood out during the interview process.
“Phoenix Athletics is going to benefit from her enthusiasm and vision, and she will be very well received in the community,” said LeCalsey, a former Phoenix men’s soccer coach. “I think she is a great addition to an already solid program. As we look to increase financial support and continue to better position ourselves against the Horizon League competition, her strong fundraising background is a great positive.”
Gillespie has spent the last seven years with Bowling Green, a Division I school of about 20,000 students located in far northwest Ohio, just south of Toledo. She joined the program in 2006 as director of major gifts for intercollegiate athletics and was promoted to assistant athletics director for development in 2007. She was promoted to associate athletics director for external relations in June 2010.
In her current position she oversees an external relations staff of 30 and a budget of $7 million with primary responsibility for image and revenue including fundraising, marketing, promotions, game-day atmosphere, corporate sponsorships, ticket operations, rights fees, licensing, concessions, merchandising and athletics communication. She managed the fundraising campaign to build the $36 million Stroh Center on campus and helped achieve a 300 percent increase in annual giving to Falcon Athletics over her tenure.
In addition, Gillespie’s duties at Bowling Green include direct responsibility for overseeing men’s and women’s cross country and the women’s track and field team, including hiring and supervising coaches and approving budgets and schedules. She assisted the BGSU athletics director with searches for football, basketball, soccer and hockey coaches, and chaired universitywide search committees including leadership hires in Multicultural Affairs and the Student Union. She designed the curriculum for, and helped team-teach, a leadership course for freshman and sophomore student-athletes at Bowling Green.
During her interview presentation at UW-Green Bay, Gillespie screened her program’s fundraising and donor recognition video “Stroh Center Rap.” The irreverent three-minute piece celebrated the new arena and its primary philanthropic supporters with a catchy rap beat, clever lyrics and distinguished major donors in gym shorts bouncing basketballs. It went viral, earned coverage on ESPN, and won top national honors with a Grand Gold Award in the 2012 Circle of Excellence from The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
Gillespie’s experience in higher education also includes positions in academic fundraising and student life.
She was previously director of development for Purdue University’s Schools of Nursing and Health Sciences (2005-06). She was vice president of advancement for the North American Intrafraternity Conference, based in Indianapolis (2000-05). This followed experience as an assistant director of student life at the University of Iowa (1998-2000) and at Plattsburgh State University of New York as a coordinator in the office of the dean of students.
Julia Wallace, UW-Green Bay’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, and a member of the search committee noted Gillespie’s strong background in student affairs.
“It was evident throughout her interviews that she is student-centered and will uphold our high-achieving standards for our scholar-athletes,” Wallace said. “She is a great fit for this university.”
Gillespie earned her bachelor’s degree in speech communication from Plattsburgh State in 1994 and her master’s in counseling-student affairs practice from the same institution in 1997. She also completed a certificate in fundraising management from the Indiana University Fund Raising School in 2002.
Gillespie will be the eighth person to hold supervisory responsibility for intercollegiate athletics in the history of the UW-Green Bay program. The others were Donald Makuen (1969-70), Dean Austin (1970-73), Bruce Grimes (1973-82), Donald Harden (1982-85), Daniel Spielmann (1985-94), Dennis “Otis” Chambers (1994-2001), and Ken Bothof (2002-2013). Bothof left the Green Bay program this past summer to accept a similar positition at Northern Kentucky University.
The UW-Green Bay athletics director oversees a program that boasts a 44-year history (the last 32 in NCAA Division I), 16 intercollegiate sports, access to top-notch facilities in the Kress Events Center on campus and the Resch Center community arena across town, and membership in the Horizon League. The program has made NCAA tournament appearances in men’s tennis, men’s soccer, volleyball and women’s softball over the last decade, and has a perennial NCAA tournament team and Top 25 contender in the UW-Green Bay women’s basketball team. In the classroom, Phoenix student athletes annually rank among the Horizon League’s best, highlighted by a recent No. 1-in-the-nation GPA ranking for women’s basketball.