By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was probably a bittersweet day for Leveda Dexter as she was preparing for her latest transition. On the one hand, she was getting set to take over the role of Tech's Assistant Athletics Director for Academics and Student-Athlete Welfare, replacing Dr. Lance Jasitt, who retired in June.
But on the other hand, as she prepared to pack up her office in Tucker Stadium, as members of the Golden Eagle football team greeted her when they were making their return to campus, wishing her well in the new position, it probably made it tough to leave.
Though, as head football coach Dewayne Alexander reminded his players, Dexter isn't going anywhere – she's now overseeing the academic progress of every student-athlete at Tennessee Tech.
In her two-and-a-half years as a senior academic advisor, primarily assigned to Tech football, the program had a marked increase in its academic performance, helping ensure not only their success in the classroom, but helping them forge their paths into their post-academic lives.
"I told them I'm just moving two buildings over," Dexter said, with a laugh. "They just have to walk a little farther from practice to see me. Being in the Roaden University Center is going to be nice because it is centrally located – even if they're running from one building to another, they can stop in."
Now, in her new role, following in the footsteps of past standouts in that position -- Jasitt and Delores Wheatley -- may seem like a daunting task, but it's one she's excited to take on.
"I definitely have some big shoes to fill," Dexter said. "Everybody knows Dr. J was incredible, so I'm so thankful for as many years as I've been able to work under him and learn the process. I'm so excited – it's what I've been working toward for a long time now.
"Mrs. Wheatley, Dr. J – if 10, 15 years down the road, our student-athletes are speaking as highly of me as they are spoken of, then I will feel like I've accomplished something, because those are the two names they talk about when they come back. Yes, they talk about their coach, absolutely; favorite professor, probably; but their academic advisor is someone they always want to go see."
Dexter continued, "I'm blessed and lucky to be among those names and I hope I have the same impact they had on student-athletes."
Of course, the primary goal for any Tennessee Tech student-athlete is a diploma in one hand and a championship ring on the other. Where the coaches are focused on getting student-athletes the latter, it's up to Dexter to make sure they get the former.
"Absolutely," Dexter said. "As a part of this role, we speak to a lot of recruits, and I can honestly say speaking to recruits is not hard to me. I just tell them what we do. We're very honest – we're not trying to sell them on something to get them here and not meet those expectations. We tell them what we want them to achieve from an academic perspective. We want them to leave here with a diploma, with a championship ring – those are our ultimate goals. It's my role to help them achieve that academic part."
Dexter has built a great rapport with the faculty and staff across campus, and with those connections, it should make for a smooth transition as she continues to strengthen that bond.
"I'm looking forward to expanding those relationships and getting to know them more," she said. "Just being more involved on campus, in general, and going to as many events as I can so I can introduce myself to more faculty members. That is such a critical component of what we do by having conversations and communication with faculty members. They are very supportive of student-athletes and what we're trying to accomplish here. I just look forward to continuing that relationship that Dr. J has worked so hard to build and adding to it."
Dexter also has a fantastic staff to help shoulder the demands of the office.
"They're amazing," Dexter said. "Ashlee Kiser, Virginia Lewis, Marilyn Borch-Jensen – we have an amazing staff in place. We'll be looking to hire another advisor in the coming weeks, but you couldn't ask for a better staff than what's already in place. We already know what's going on, we know each other. I really anticipate it being a seamless transition and spending more time with them."
At this point, Tech is home for Dexter. The former Leveda Birdwell earned her bachelor's degree in marketing from Tech in 2008, then worked as a graduate assistant in the athletics corporate sales and marketing department for two years before earning her MBA in 2010.
She also met her husband, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations Matt Dexter, here, marrying in 2013.
Dexter later served as an athletic academic coordinator and as the director of corporate sales and marketing.
But that feeling of Tech as home is one Dexter would love to pass on.
"I take great pride in everybody who comes to school here," she said. "I want them to have a really great experience from an athletic perspective, but I also want them to have a really great overall college experience, because I was blessed enough to have that. To be able to share that with our student-athletes is really special."