From under- and misrepresentation of women’s sport and sportswomen, to underrepresentation of women leaders in sport, to participation disparities, gender-related inequities are commonplace in athletics.
For nearly 30 years, scholars in the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, a world-renowned thought leader and catalyst of systems change housed in CEHD’s School of Kinesiology, have worked diligently to raise awareness of disparities and drive positive change in a myriad of ways. One of those ways is through its Gender Equity Summer Internship Program.
Rich history and unwavering mission
Solution-based research, translation of knowledge, educational opportunities, and engagement in community outreach are cornerstones of the Tucker Center’s mission. The groundbreaking center, founded in 1993 by Mary Jo Kane, professor emerita of sport sociology and Tucker Center director emerita, was the nation’s first interdisciplinary research center focused on girls and women in sport. Nicole M. LaVoi, senior lecturer in social and behavioral sciences of physical activity, became its associate director in 2005 and director in 2019. The two colleagues share a passion for evidence-based, multidisciplinary research that highlights the inequities faced by girls and women in sport.
Internship program takes flight
In 2007, LaVoi received a call that sparked inspiration and led to the inception of the Tucker Center’s Gender Equity Summer Internship Program, now in its 15th year. “I love working with students,” LaVoi says. “A student called and asked me if we had a summer internship program. I said, ‘No, but we could!’”
Kickstarted by a generous donation from the Live to Give Foundation, the Gender Equity Summer Internship Program has since grown substantially and produced 37 interns—nearly all of whom have gone on to receive advanced degrees in a variety of disciplines. Former interns have pursued careers ranging from clinical psychology to gender equity law to higher education to public health, and all are having an impact in their respective careers. The internship emphasizes collegial mentorship, a collaborative research experience, and deep exposure to the many facets of the research process. As an added and purposeful benefit, the program empowers interns to discover their passion and unique role in how they personally impact gender equity issues in sport and beyond.
The summer intern cohort of 2021 was the Tucker Center’s largest yet. LaVoi emphasizes that to effect social change, a critical mass is needed, and this group of eight interns fits the bill. Together, the interns represented diverse geographic locations, educational levels, identities, and athletic backgrounds, and was comprised of the following women: Ramira Ambrose (Wayzata High School, Wayzata, Minnesota); Jacque Davis (University of Minnesota); Anna Goorevich (Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania); Mahi Jariwala (Monte Vista High School, Danville, California); Cecelia Kaufmann (Macalester College, St. Paul); Liz Kim (Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana); Sophia Liles (Scripps College, Claremont, California); and Maxine Simons (University of Minnesota). While different individually, the group shared a passion for girls and women in sport and a desire to utilize research to create social and structural change.
Meet the interns: Maxine Simons
“Being a competitive athlete, there are so many stories I can tell. Frustration and wanting to change the culture of the sports world so female athletes are treated seriously,” says Maxine Simons, a Brooklyn, New York, native and collegiate lacrosse player. Simons says she ultimately chose to enroll at the University of Minnesota for its competitive sport management program and the urban-based, yet campus-like feel of the community. But there were other reasons, too. “I have a very keen interest in women’s gender equity and sport. The fact that there was an institution like the Tucker Center was a huge draw. The University of Minnesota had the values I care about and the degree I care about,” she says. Simons is currently a junior majoring in sport management with a double minor in political science and business law. She has stayed on to work with the Tucker Center during the academic year. “Finding the Tucker Center was an incredible way to meet people who share my passion and want to make impactful change,” she says.
Meet the interns: Liz Kim
“The Tucker Center internship was a catalyst and energizer,” says Liz Kim, a collegiate golfer and senior at Ball State University. “Everything I learned in the Tucker Center, I’m going to use in my career path.”
Kim, who had no prior connection to the University of Minnesota, learned of the Gender Equity Summer Internship Program through her Ball State mentor, Head Coach Katherine Mowat, who had previously collaborated with Tucker Center scholars.
Kim’s path to the internship wasn’t unusual, according to LaVoi. “The most common way applicants find us is word-of-mouth. Most apply because someone in their network encouraged them. The people that seek our internship apply for the right reasons: They care about gender equity; they care about girls and women; and they’re not looking for just any internship,” LaVoi says.
Due in part to Kim’s work with the Tucker Center, she is poised for leadership—the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) recently offered her a full-time position as the tour operations administrator.
Meet the interns: Anna Goorevich
“Collaboration is at the heart of everything the Tucker Center does. It was one of my favorite parts and where I experienced the most growth,” says Anna Goorevich. Goorevich, who hails from the Washington, D.C., area, played collegiate soccer for Franklin & Marshall College and was an active member of its Student-Athlete Leadership Council Executive Board. “It’s so rare to come across a group of women who are intelligent and passionate about the same thing, and who come from such different backgrounds,” she adds.
Goorevich says her interest in gender equity in sport was sparked during childhood by watching her hometown team, the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington Spirit. This led to an interest in the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s 2020 equity pay lawsuit, which called for a resolution to the unequal pay between the U.S. women’s and men’s teams.
“I became passionate about trying to solve the injustices that female athletes face. That inspired a huge intellectual passion of mine,” says Goorevich, who is currently at the University of Stirling in Scotland studying sport management as a Fulbright Scholar. Goorevich will join the School of Kinesiology and Tucker Center as a PhD student and recipient of the Provost Enhancement Fund Fellowship this coming fall.
Annual report card aims to drive change
Tucker Center interns learn how research can create systemic change when disseminated widely. While each intern has the opportunity to develop their own unique research interests, all are involved in the Tucker Center’s annual Women in College Coaching Report Card (WCCRC). The annual report is a passion project for LaVoi that has garnered national attention for assigning a grade to institutions, conferences, and sports based on the percentage of women head coaches of women’s teams. “The WCCRC has stimulated national dialogue, held decision makers accountable, and provided a baseline to track changes over time,” says LaVoi. “A” grades, which are far fewer than “F” grades, are publicly lauded by the Tucker Center.
“We feel it is important to celebrate success and excellence in the recruitment and hiring of women coaches,” says LaVoi about the report. “For the past 10 years, I have been encouraging women to enter into coaching and help retain the women coaches we have because girls need same-identity role models.”
This is why we give
In her 12 years as head coach of the U of M’s women’s basketball team, Pam Borton racked up a 236-152 record, making her the winningest coach in the history of the program. That would be enough to cement her place in the upper echelon of inspirational leaders. But she wasn’t done. She is also the founder of TeamWomen, a professional development organization focused on mentoring, leadership, and networking, and of Empower, a leadership academy for girls in grades five to 12.
To recognize Borton’s commitment to encouraging women and girls to reach their full potential, the Pam Borton Endowment for the Promotion of Girls and Women in Sport Leadership was established at the Tucker Center in 2014.
“We chose the Tucker Center because of its purpose, mission, and the people,” says Borton’s partner, Lynn Holleran, currently the deputy director of athletics at Penn State and former director of the McNamara Academic Center for Student-Athletes at the U of M.
Borton adds that they also wanted to support the future generation of leaders who are doing great work. “We are inspired and motivated to helping and supporting female leaders move forward in their careers, and it has been rewarding to see what many of them have done and are currently doing,” she says.
The Borton Fellows, as they are known, are CEHD graduate students who are studying kinesiology and pursuing research in conjunction with the Tucker Center related to leadership, sport, and gender, or research that examines the mechanisms, role, and impact of sport on leadership development among girls and women.
“There are so many people who have given to this endowment because they have believed in us, our purpose, and how much it means to us,” Holleran says. “We thank everyone who is part of this endowment. We also want to thank Mary Jo Kane and Nicole LaVoi, who have done such an amazing job in supporting women and girls through the research of the Tucker Center.”
Borton says she and Holleran believe in giving back because they are grateful to so many people who helped them along the way and made a difference in their lives. “Giving back is part of our wellbeing and resilience,” she says. “It is something that makes us feel good and something we are excited about.”
Borton Fellow leads intern team
Closely tied to the Gender Equity Summer Internship Program is the Pam Borton Fellowship, established in 2014 to honor then-Gopher Women’s Basketball Head Coach Pam Borton and her dedication to empowering women and girls to reach their full potential. The fellowship is awarded to graduate students who are working to advance the Tucker Center’s education, research, and community outreach mission while pursuing research in leadership, sport, and gender.
The Borton Fellow’s responsibilities include leading the Gender Equity Summer Internship team to produce the WCCRC. Sport sociology doctoral student Courtney Boucher, the 2019, 2020, and 2021 Borton Fellow, led the summer 2021 intern cohort in partnership with LaVoi.
Building a community of athletes, researchers, and advocates
The Tucker Center interns mention countless takeaways from their participation in the program. The two most cited are the Tucker Center’s mentorship and the opportunity for direct interaction with thought leaders in the field of sport and gender equity. Besides working with LaVoi and her graduate students, the group also had the opportunity to speak with and learn from a groundbreaking luminary in girls and women in sports research, Mary Jo Kane.
“For me, that was the most memorable part,” shares Simons. “[Kane is] such an incredible scholar and expert in her field. Her knowledge and advice were really profound. It was an impactful experience.”
The interns collectively cite becoming part of a community of researchers and scholars with a shared passion for equity in sport as another major takeaway.
“Learning from others, hearing about their experiences and the challenges they faced, and putting our different backgrounds to work in this jigsaw puzzle of how we can advance gender equity issues in sport,” says Goorevich. “I had never been surrounded by women like that before, and I felt inspired every day.”