In this on-going series, we’ll get to know the names, faces and stories making news off of the court around Portland sports…this week we catch up with the new Athletic Director over at Portland State University, Valerie Cleary.
Congratulations on being named the new AD at Portland State…who did you first call with the good news after accepting the new job?
Thank you! I am very excited about returning to the Vikings! After meeting with President Wiewel, I called one of my best friends who has supported me personally and professionally through this journey.
You officially began your position on January 1. How would you describe these first few weeks and making the transition from Willamette?
The first few weeks back at Portland State have been very busy! The first week was spent reconnecting with folks I worked with here a couple years ago, and introducing myself to the new staff. The Portland snowpocalypse in week two put a glitch in “hitting the ground running”, but allow some time to reflect on the new information. This past week was my first full week in the office – much of the time is spent in meetings regarding the Viking Pavilion project.
What did you learn the most from your time at Willamette?
Willamette University is truly a special place with so much potential to continue to grow. During my time there, I learned that the role of the Director of Athletics is to truly make decisions in the best interest of the entire department on behalf of the university. Often times, the decision is not easy to make. My philosophy is to always keep the student-athlete experience at the core of our decision making.
Back in 2014, you served as interim AD before PSU hired Mark Roundtree. Were you interested in the AD position back then or did you feel like you were not ready? How have you grown over these last 2-3 years?
During the time we were in a national search for a new AD, my role was as the Senior Associate AD/SWA and Interim AD. My goal was to help get the department on strong footing prior to a new AD coming arriving. At that point, I knew we needed a new, fresh, outside perspective to breathe energy and excitement back into Viking Athletics. We were so fortunate to find Mark! He was able to garner so much support on campus and the community for our sport programs.
Over the past couple of years, I have learned more about the overall operations of an athletics department. Before I was focused mainly on the internal operations. As the AD it is important to keep a 30,000 foot view on the entire operation and support the staff responsible for focusing in on specific areas.
Does it ever get old when people knock PSU for being a “commuter college”? How do you distance yourself from that stigma or do you just accept it and focus on ways to build a loyal fanbase regardless?
I like to embrace Portland State for the amazingly, unique place it is! We are very fortunate to be situated in one of the nation’s best cities with a diverse student-body. We enjoy the challenge of trying to find the winning formula to engage the student body, and the Portland community. On the flipside, we are grateful for our loyal fanbase and generous supporters who have stood by Viking Athletics for many years!
How will and can Portland State alumni help support you and the program as you begin this new adventure as AD?
Our greatest advocates are Portland State Alumni! They experienced first hand the fantastic academic and social opportunities the university has to offer. Furthermore, our student-athlete alums can speak to their experience as a Viking to aid in recruitment and community support.
Favorite part about getting to campus every morning?
I love interacting with my co-workers and student-athletes. There is never a dull moment in athletics – working with great people makes coming to work fun!
Go to café and/or lunch spot around PSU?
There are too many to choose only one! The food carts around campus are amazing!
How excited are you about the Viking Pavilion and what will your role be in helping bring this project to life?
The Viking Pavilion will be a true game changer for Portland State Athletics. We are about a year out from having the building complete, and the excitement can be felt all over campus. The Pavilion will be a large portion of my day-to-day work for the next year. We will continue to work with our partners in the Portland State University Foundation office to raise additional funding to create a premier facility for athletic competition, academic programming and special events.
So much has changed for student-athletes over the years, especially in regards to social-media…what not to promote and/or even avoid commentary on in some cases. Does the University or athletic department have a policy on social media conduct? Or what responsibility do student-athletes have when using social media channels?
Social Media is the way of the world today, and it is often hard to keep up with all the new methods. In our student-athlete handbook and related compliance meetings, we talk to our student-athletes about the public nature of social media content. We respect their freedom of speech and encourage them to represent themselves, teammates and university appropriately.