HAMPTON — Hampton University athletic director Keshia Campbell has yet to settle into her office — the same office (with the same carpet) that she occupied as HU's associate athletic director for administration in 2006. Looking around the space, crammed with trophies and plaques and shaken once every few minutes by muffled sonic booms from the weight room below, she says, "If I were to leave here today, I would grab my purse and that Germ-X," indicating a bottle of hand sanitizer on her desk. "That's it. I came in and literally just started working and just haven't let up at all."
Campbell returned to Hampton in late July, hired away from the University of Texas-Dallas, where she'd worked since 2009 as the school's director for business affairs and special projects. A native of Bennettsville, S.C., and the 1987 valedictorian of Blenheim High who carries bottles of Blenheim spicy ginger ale in the trunk of her car to offer to the uninitiated, Campbell is the first female AD in Hampton history. The historic stop is the latest in a life devoted to athletics for Campbell, a 2006 inductee into the South Carolina State University Athletic Hall of Fame who led the school in scoring and rebounding and was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference player of the year as a senior in 1991.
Campbell coached girls high school basketball before leading her alma mater for seven years, earning MEAC women's coach of the year honors in 2001. Transitioning into administration, she came to HU in 2004, leaving two years later to join the NCAA, where she worked as assistant and associate director of championships.
Now back at a place both familiar and new, Campbell disregarded a constantly ringing phone long enough to answer a few questions from the Daily Press.
Q: What's it like to be back at Hampton?
A: It definitely has its advantages, just knowing the culture, in any program. In dealing with the people, a lot of the same faces are here, and a lot of the players are still in key positions and key roles. … There have been a few changes, but for the most part, it's been pretty much the same.
You said, when accepting the HU job, that you wanted to get back into the athletic side of administration. Why?
Ever since I was in second grade, playing basketball with a schoolyard full of boys during recess, I have always been drawn to different sports and athletics. And having played several sports in high school and then basketball in college, I've just always had that desire to do something that was in the athletics realm. Until I started working at UT-Dallas, I had always been, in some form or fashion, in athletics. I was a physical education teacher and also a girls basketball coach when I was in South Carolina and then coached basketball at South Carolina State, then came here as an administrator in athletics, and then went to the NCAA and worked with various championship. So just getting back into it and back into culture of collegiate athletics was very important to me.
That said, how did your time working with the financial side of things at UT-Dallas better qualify you for this job?
We constantly have to look at our expenditures and find ways, especially in this economic climate, to maximize our funding. I definitely look at that very closely and try to make certain that our coaches and our budget administrators of various programs are mindful of that as they spend and travel and do things for their programs. I like to try to be as cost-effective as possible and pool resources as often as possible. … I understand the culture of being a coach and being a student-athlete. When I was a student-athlete, of course, I didn't have to worry about where the money came from. I just went out and played. But being a coach, you're constantly — if you're given this budget and you have to operate within that budget, then you make the adjustments as necessary to make certain that you are able to be in the black at the end of the budget year. And I will say that, over the seven years that I was head coach, I was in the black every year.
What has been keeping you busy since your arrival at HU?
Football scheduling has definitely been one of the main priorities that was just pretty much waiting for me. We have several contests — even in 2012 — slots that we have to fill yet. I'm trying to schedule as far out as possible. We have our conference schedule out through 2019, so I'm trying to go ahead and get the non-conference games in there as much as possible. … I've been so busy, with football and basketball kind of running together and of course volleyball running concurrently with football and several other sports being in action as well, and the women's cross country team winning a (MEAC) championship, and bowling getting started up … (I'm) just trying to make certain, when they're in the area if at all possible, that I can let them see that the AD is there and is concerned about their competitions as well.
How do you decide where and when to put in appearances?
Football, I knew that there was a game every week. With basketball, I have to carry that little pocket (schedule) and (say), 'Wait a minute. OK, the men are playing here and the women are playing there and then who comes back tomorrow night?' I try to plan out as far as possible. If it's close by, or if it's a (tournament) like the (men's basketball) team just played in New York, I wanted to make certain that we were able to get up there. But then I came right back for the women's game (the next) night.
One of the things you mentioned when taking the job was improving HU's APR (academic progress rate). What steps have been taken in that direction?
A lot of the success of the program is the recruiting piece and making certain that we're getting the right student-athletes in place, and also that those student-athletes get really good coaching. We want to make certain that we're getting academically sound student-athletes in. … We're looking at procedures for different things that we do in athletics. Right now, I'm harping on the student-athlete services that we provide. How are they assessed initially? How are their transcripts reviewed, and what are the steps that are taken there? And then how is it that they receive their books? How is it that they return their books? … It's important to me to know what goes on, because then I can have a sense of it. I just don't like having to say, 'I don't know what's done there.'
HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) have struggled with APR (which measures, among other things, graduation rates). In the 2009-10 reporting year, 33 of the 103 penalties were incurred by teams at HBCUs. Is there a way to address this disproportionality?
It has a lot to do with the resources. There are lots of programs that have lots of resources, both financial and human, that they can put into their programs. (HBCUs) were the available option to people of color when they could not go to other institutions. Those schools were established or founded years before (widespread integration) for the purpose of providing places of higher learning for people of color. The makeup, for the most part, at a lot of the institutions is pretty much still the same.
With Hampton, you can see a good mixture, especially with the curriculum offerings that we have here, with pharmacy and nursing and the graduate school offerings. Students can take the classes in the evening. I think it's developing like that at a lot of institutions, but as far as APR is concerned, you do still have a lot of institutions that are not quite able to get over the hump to be able to provide the type of resources that are necessary.
… Resources would address it right away. If you have a small staff of (academic support) people who are responsible for helping the student-athlete, the expectation can't be 8 a.m. in the morning until 11 o'clock at night, or midnight. That's unrealistic. But just to have the ample staffing and the facility to provide a quality learning space … I think it would be ideal to have a living learning situation for athletes. A lot of people will pause and say well you can't just have a whole building for them, but there are some campuses, BCS schools, that have those types of places. That would definitely be ideal, to be able to accommodate the student-athletes' schedules.
Does the historical significance of your being Hampton's first female HU ever cross your mind?
It really doesn't, until people remind that that's the case. I just feel like this is something that I'm doing. I really don't think about it too much. I know when I've gone to different events, whether it be a football game or the other day with the Big Apple Classic basketball game, I'm meeting Hampton alumni who are like, 'Oh, this is awesome. You're the first female (AD),' and they want opportunities to take pictures. It makes me feel really good, but at the same time, it's not been something that I really focused on, as far as OK, I'm the first female in the position. I know that anytime you're first of anything in any position, you're putting much setting the table for the future, so I'll definitely do my best for the ladies out there who are aspiring to become an athletic director.
What has been the most notable thing about your new post?
Giving up my free time, the weekends. The past couple of years in Dallas, I had the flexibility of my weekends. I knew this was coming, but it's just kind of pounced on me. It's been fun, though, because I'm actually watching student-athletes compete — especially now with basketball, and that being my sport of choice as a student-athlete and a coach. I've been really enjoying it.
Do you think you could still suit up?
Oh, my gosh. I probably wouldn't make the cut out there with those girls.
Do you ever get some shots up in the gym?
I think it was when the guys were getting ready to play William and Mary. I stepped out there with my boots on. We had a football game that day, so I came from the football stadium with my boots on. I was checking to make sure I wasn't scuffing the floor. But yes, I did get some shots in. I was telling the guys, there was a time when the women's ball was this size, when I was in high school. It didn't get small until I went to college, and you know there wasn't a 3-point line when I was in high school. If there was a 3-point line when I was in high school, my point average would have gone up. I kind of gave them a little history lesson.
So how did you shoot?
I had to take my glasses off, and when I do, the depth perception gets a little mixed up. I did OK. I made a couple of shots. They gave me a couple of misses back.
What is the most important part of your job?
The most important part of my job is making certain that our student-athletes and our coaches can compete at high levels, and be provided the types of resources that are comparable to the schools which they are competing against. … Our teams do not have to go out and get guarantee games like a lot of institutions of our size do. With that being said, I feel that my role is to make certain that our teams are able to compete at an even or a better playing field than their opponents.
I also want to make certain that all of our student-athletes who enter Hampton University leave here with a Hampton University degree. That is very important. I was able to see a few former student-athletes in New York at the Big Apple Classic, men's basketball players who are doing very well right now. We actually invited them to come back and speak to our student-athletes so they can see that everybody is not going pro — as the NCAA commercial says, going pro in something other than sports. This one guy's working for Nike and is doing very well in New York. There's another student, he's not an athlete but he works for Madison Square Garden. They were very excited about Hampton being there. But just making sure that the student-athletes are graduating and they're thinking career and developing professionally. We want to make certain that we give them all of the tools necessary and all of the opportunities necessary to advance in their careers after they leave the university.