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(Oct. 29, 2018)

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE– Nearly 13 months have passed since the University of Virginia announced that Carrie Heilman would, on New Year’s Day 2018, officially succeed Carolyn Callahan as its faculty athletics representative.

An associate professor in UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, Heilman has a bachelor’s degree from Holy Cross College and a Ph.D. from Purdue. Her education continues in her newest role at the University.

Heilman, who’s in her 16th year at UVA, remembers the first meeting of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s faculty athletics representatives she attended last October. She shadowed Callahan, who served as Virginia’s faculty athletics representative for two decades.

“The lingo, the personnel, the rules, everything was new,” Heilman said in her office in Rouss & Robertson Halls. “I felt like I had been dropped in a foreign country and had to learn a completely new culture. Now that I have almost a year under my belt, I’m feeling a bit more sure of how everything works.”

Every NCAA institution has a faculty athletics representative. Heilman represents UVA’s faculty in matters involving the ACC and the NCAA. She said she’s charged with “making sure that for the proposals we vote on as an institution for the ACC and the NCAA, that there’s a voice from the academic perspective, as well as making sure that the voice of the student-athlete, with respect to academics, is heard.”

Also, Heilman said, she serves as “a liaison between the coaches, athletics staff and student-athletes, and the rest of the University, from the faculty all the way up to the President’s office.”

Heilman said: “I think sometimes when you yourself have a perspective, you assume those around you share that perspective. Before I took over this role, I would have said that most faculty understand and appreciate the student-athlete experience. But now that I’ve met more and more people around the University, I realize that a lot of them don’t.”

She’s still figuring out how best to have the most impact in her new role. To that end, Heilman said, she spent her first year understanding and getting to know as many people as possible in UVA athletics, particularly the student-athletes.

Heilman said she’s been asking, “What are their experiences? What are some things they’d like to see improved or changed? What are their pressure points, and how can we not only as an athletic department, but as a faculty all the way up to the president’s office, help make that overall student-athlete experience better?”

She works closely with UVA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), among other groups, and attends Student Athlete Mentors (SAM) meetings when her schedule permits.

Each of the 27 varsity teams at Virginia has at least two representatives on SAAC, which is essentially a “student council for student-athletes,” said academic coordinator Dan Jacobs.

Heilman is “our biggest advocate,” said SAAC president Chesdin Harrington, a pitcher on the Virginia baseball team, “and it’s nice to have somebody who can vouch for us not only with the athletic department, but in the greater University community.”

Callahan remains a resource for Heilman, as does Craig Littlepage, whom Carla Williams succeeded as Virginia’s athletics director in December.

“Both of them have said, ‘Whatever you need, just let us know,’ ” said Heilman, who lives in Crozet with her husband and their four children.

When Heilman took over as faculty athletics representative, Teresa Sullivan was UVA’s president. Jim Ryan succeeded Sullivan on Aug. 1. He’s a veteran marathoner who played rugby in college and often talks about the role athletics has played in his life.

“I don’t know if everyone knew, but President Sullivan was a pretty big sports fan herself,” Heilman said. “And, yes, President Ryan has been very outspoken about how important sports has been for him.”

“I’ve heard him tout the mental health benefits of exercise.  That’s why he still runs, and any of us who exercise or participate in sports appreciate that. But he also knows firsthand what collegiate athletics can do for providing a young person an education, as well as all of the life skills that it teaches: time management, discipline, sacrifice, and learning how to lose, which I think are all great life lessons.”

Heilman, who grew up in the Chicago area, played basketball at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., from 1989-93. That experience informs her work as faculty athletics rep.

“As a former student-athlete, Carrie has a unique perspective that allows her to relate to our student-athletes as well as convey the student-athlete perspective in a clear and concise manner,” Williams said. “As an accomplished faculty member, she has a tremendously valuable perspective that certainly assists me as we work to make sure our student-athletes can excel in the University community beyond their sport.”

Much has changed for student-athletes since Heilman’s days as a hoops standout at Holy Cross.

“The first thing that comes to mind is the presence of social media,” she said, “but speaking more broadly, the inability of student-athletes to lead a private life.”

With social media, Heilman said, student-athletes “now have control over how much or how little they want to let their fans know about them. But at the same time, people can exploit that or take advantage of it. So that certainly was not part of anything we had to deal with when I was a student athlete.”

UVA’s athletics department reminds student-athletes at the start of every school year that “anything they put out there is out there forever, and is a reflection of who they are,” Heilman said. “I think young people today don’t appreciate that as much as they should. They grew up with it; it’s just part of their lives.”

“Additionally, everyone owns a phone and has a camera on them at all times, so pictures can be snapped, posted and taken out of context. Student-athletes at a big program like Virginia live under a microscope. They simply have to be smart and careful, as do all young people today.”

Steve Swanson is in his 19th season as head women’s soccer coach at UVA. Over the years, he’s had multiple players who missed class time while competing for national teams, sometimes in FIFA World Cups.

“All those things are difficult, and you have to work through those issues, but it allows you to say in the recruiting process, ‘You’re going to have a university that’s flexible, that’s going to work with you,’ ” Swanson said. “You have [abide by] the policies and procedures of the University, but at the same time we’ll try to make this work, so you can pursue your dreams.”

Swanson has worked closely with Callahan and, since January, with Heilman to ensure those players have remained in good academic standing at UVA.

“Carolyn was so flexible and so easy to deal with, and Carrie’s been great in that regard, too,” Swanson said.

Heilman chairs UVA’s Athletics Advisory Council (AAC), of which Harrington, as SAAC president, is a member. The AAC is charged with reviewing policy issues involving UVA athletics and advising Ryan and Williams about them.

Her work with the AAC has been enlightening, Heilman said. She remembers a discussion for which she had “gathered some information about the time demands of the various spring and fall sports,” Heilman said.

“I shared that information with [the rest of the committee], and even that group, which is pretty knowledgeable about the student-athlete experience, was surprised at just how demanding the schedules are of these young people. So I think it’s important that more faculty appreciate that, because while these student-athletes gain a lot from participating in collegiate sports, they also give up a lot, and it requires a great amount of discipline and sacrifice.”

UVA is a longtime member of the ACC, which has a SAAC consisting of four representatives from each school. Heilman is the lone faculty athletic rep for the conference’s SAAC, and she reports on the group’s work to her counterparts around the ACC and the athletics department at UVA.

It’s all part of her ongoing education.

“I knew I needed to learn as much as possible and start building relationships before I could form my own opinions, be more vocal, and even make suggestions for change,” Heilman said. “So it’s gratifying to now feel like I understand how things work.”