Nationally recognized head of Penn athletics M. Grace Calhoun to lead athletics and recreation at Brown

A varsity student-athlete who graduated in Brown’s Class of 1992, Calhoun will serve in a newly elevated role of vice president of athletics and recreation, beginning April 19, 2021.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — M. Grace Calhoun, the current director of athletics and recreation at the University of Pennsylvania, will lead athletics at Brown University as vice president of athletics and recreation, beginning April 19, 2021. Calhoun graduated magna cum laude from Brown in 1992, having competed in track and field as a varsity athlete.

Calhoun is regarded as a national leader in collegiate athletics with nearly three decades of experience strengthening programs for student-athletes and steering national discussions around the future of college athletics. She will supervise Brown’s NCAA Division I program consisting of 34 sports, a club sports program of over 30 teams, and a fitness center and program that serves the entire Brown community. Reporting directly to President Christina H. Paxson and serving as a member of the president’s cabinet, Calhoun will be responsible for strategic planning, fiscal management, and oversight of personnel, facilities and operations for Brown Athletics. Calhoun was selected as part of a national search.

“Grace is a proven strategist, collaborator and leader who stood out as an exceptional choice to lead Brown Athletics into a new era of excellence,” Paxson said. “She has the experience and drive to fulfill Brown’s vision for improving the competitiveness of varsity athletics teams, enhancing the strength of club sports and upholding Brown’s commitment to providing equal opportunities in athletics for women and men.”

The head athletics role previously was a director position, reporting to the Division of Campus Life. The decision to create a cabinet-level position demonstrates a commitment to elevating the role of athletics and recreation at Brown, Paxson said.

The University has articulated the importance of ensuring that Brown has an athletics and recreation department that fully reflects the goals and values of the University’s strategic plan, Building on Distinction. Launched in 2014, the plan emphasizes the pursuit of excellence within a culture that prizes innovation, appreciates the power of collaboration among individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and aspires to serve society by preparing students for lives of purpose and leadership.

“President Paxson has outlined a bold vision for athletics and recreation at Brown, and I am excited to lead a broad-based collaborative effort to ensure the Department of Athletics and Recreation is fully reflective of the overall excellence of Brown University,” Calhoun said.  “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a profound impact at my alma mater — to use my transformative Brown experience to transform the lives of others.”

A record of excellence in athletics

Calhoun is completing her seventh year as the T. Gibbs Kane, Jr. W'69 Director of Athletics and Recreation at the University of Pennsylvania. In this role, she leads the University’s 33 varsity athletics programs, 38 club programs, and broad-based intramural and recreational offerings for students, faculty and staff.

During her tenure at the University of Pennsylvania, all-sport performance in regular-season and championship competition has been some of the best in Penn’s history, ranking as one of the top-75 Division I athletics programs in the country. Penn teams have won 27 Ivy League or conference championships in 16 different sports, three individual national titles and three national runner-up team finishes. Calhoun has strengthened the competitiveness of Penn athletics even as she has held national leadership positions guiding decision-making for intercollegiate sports.

“Grace is a well-respected leader, as evidenced by her national leadership roles, including her election as chair of the NCAA Division I Council, where she has guided the Division I membership through unprecedented challenges during the pandemic,” said Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League. "With her experience at three Ivy League schools — as a varsity athlete and athletics administrator — Grace is deeply familiar with and committed to succeeding and leading consistent with Ivy League values."

Calhoun developed a strategic plan for Penn Athletics that focuses on partnership between athletics and academics at the University. These include the Wharton School to build leadership opportunities and a program in sports performance with Penn Medicine, as well as a civic engagement program in conjunction with Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships. She also has been committed to diversity, inclusion and anti-racism, commissioning a racial justice task force devoted to this work for the Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics at Penn.

Aligned with Brown’s goals of strengthening its club sports program, Calhoun has a record of success building the prominence of recreation and club sports as an integral part of campus wellness. Penn has provided high-level opportunities to more than 1,500 club-sport student-athletes and more than 6,000 intramural participants. Calhoun oversees the Pottruck Center, the No. 2 ranked fitness center nationally, and the Fox Fitness Center, which combined have provided more than 5,000 recreation classes per year, with more than 875,000 annual visits to these facilities. 

“I have had an amazing seven years at Penn,” Calhoun said. “I have treasured working with talented coaches and colleagues to build something special. It will be extremely difficult to leave my Penn family; however, the pull to my alma matter is incredibly strong.”

Calhoun said her pursuit of engineering at Brown “taught me how to be a critical thinker, problem solver and builder. The Rothenbergs (former track and field coaches Robert and Anne Rothenberg) and Brown track taught me the value of hard work, setting high goals, resilience through adversity, and how a strong team makes everyone better. It feels right to bring that back to Brown.”

"I am excited to lead a broad-based collaborative effort to ensure the Department of Athletics and Recreation is fully reflective of the overall excellence of Brown University. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a profound impact at my alma mater — to use my transformative Brown experience to transform the lives of others.”

M. Grace Calhoun Incoming Vice President of Athletics and Recreation

Calhoun brings her perspective and vision to Brown Athletics with personal insights into the Brown student-athlete experience, said Eileen Goldgeier, Brown’s vice president and general counsel who co-chaired the national search to fill the head athletics position. Goldgeier is a Brown alumna who was a two-sport varsity athlete.

“It is great to welcome Grace back to Brown,” Goldgeier said. “Grace has a proven track record in her career, having succeeded at every level of athletics administration. Her pursuit of excellence is unmatched in the Ivy League. She is the right leader at the right time for Brown.”

During Calhoun’s tenure at Penn, the Division of Athletics and Recreation grew in varsity sport competitiveness, innovative programming, strong campus collaborations and the positioning of recreation as a cornerstone of community wellness.

“Grace Calhoun is a nationally recognized leader who cares about the holistic experience of student-athletes and the important contributions they make in competition, the classroom and the community,” said Eric Estes, vice president for campus life and the other co-chair of the search committee for the athletics vice president. “I look forward to partnering with her as she creates a strategic vision for excellence in athletics at Brown.”

Calhoun said she is eager to work with and learn from Brown’s student-athletes, coaches, athletics staff, university partners and alumni community “to leverage Brown’s strengths to build something special.”

“I look forward to University-wide collaboration as we work to design, build and implement a high-caliber Department of Athletics and Recreation that is characteristic of the overall excellence of Brown University.”

About M. Grace Calhoun

Calhoun began her career in athletics administration in 1993, innovating and strengthening athletics programs locally while influencing and steering national discussions around the future of college athletics. She has served as chair of the NCAA Division I Council since June 2019 and currently serves as the vice-chair of PHL Sports Advisory Board.

Calhoun was inducted into the 2020 class of Game Changers: Women in Sports Business by the Sports Business Journal in recognition of her national leadership. She also was recognized with the 2019 Under Armour Division I FCS Administrator of the Year Award by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and the 2017 Division I FCS Administrator of the Year Award by Women Leaders in College Sports.

Calhoun arrived at Penn from Loyola University Chicago, where she was director of athletics and assistant vice president, credited with setting in motion Loyola’s men’s basketball Final Four run in 2018. Prior to Loyola, Calhoun served as associate athletic director and senior woman administrator at Indiana University, associate executive director of the Patriot League conference; and associate athletic director at Dartmouth College. She began her athletics administrative work serving four years at the University of Florida and two years at St. Francis University.

Calhoun graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1992 with a degree in electrical engineering, where she competed on the track and field team. Calhoun later earned a master's degree in exercise and sports sciences and a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Florida, and an MBA from Lehigh University. Calhoun and her husband, Jason, a PGA golf professional and head men’s golf coach at Penn, have four daughters.

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