Q&A with Claire VeNard, newly appointed Dartmouth Athletics chief of staff

Claire VeNard reflects on how her past as an athlete and administrator at Notre Dame have prepared her for the role.

by Caroline York | 8/18/23 1:05am


Courtesy of Dartmouth Athletics

The Dartmouth sat down with Claire VeNard, newly appointed Dartmouth Athletics chief of staff, to discuss her career path and her hopes for the new role. After competing for four years on the Notre Dame women’s soccer team and graduating with a national championship win under her belt, she earned a J.D. as well as a Master’s degree in higher education administration and public policy. VeNard discussed how her past experiences as a student athlete and in higher education affect how she approaches her work at Dartmouth.

In 2004, you and your teammates on the Notre Dame women’s soccer team won the national championship. How did you work together to achieve that victory?

CV: That’s almost 20 years ago now, which is crazy. I think one of the critical elements of the success that the team had is that we were totally committed to our goal, which was to compete for a national championship. The level of personal sacrifices that everybody made throughout the season in order to be disciplined and prepared was unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of since. We truly loved each other. So, when you’re doing something really hard with people that you really respect and care about, it’s really inspiring, motivating and a lot of fun.

Before working in the athletics department at Notre Dame, you received a J.D. as well as a Master’s degree in higher education administration and public policy. How did your background in law and education lead you to work in athletics?

CV: I really have always had a passion for athletics and believe in my own experience. Athletics is such a powerful teacher in terms of the ways in which you can learn about yourself in the world. I don’t think I fully — at the time — understood or appreciated what it actually could look like to work in sports until I was out of school and in the working world. My J.D. was a really amazing opportunity because I learned how to think critically about complicated topics and figure out the best way to move forward. Even though I’m not practicing law anymore, it’s been this amazing skill set that has really helped me in every role I’ve had since then. My decision to get the Master’s was really motivated by wanting to be in a space that I felt really connected to from a purpose perspective. Higher education is just one of the most interesting industries to be a part of, and I love how college-aged students are figuring out who they are and who they want to be. I think both of those educational opportunities really positioned me well to then go into college athletics and student development in particular, which is where I started, but they also helped me move into other areas of athletics administration over time.  

You most recently worked as the Senior Associate Athletics Director for Strategic Initiatives at Notre Dame. How was that job the same or different from your new role as Dartmouth Athletics chief of staff?

CV: I’d say it’s similar in the sense that I’m positioned within the department to really be looking up and out. I’m tracking the different variables that are happening industry-wide and helping both the athletics department and the College be cognizant of and also proactive in preparing for whatever changes may be coming. The difference really is the scope and the breadth of the work that I’m doing at Dartmouth. Compared to what I was doing at Notre Dame, I was mostly focused on the name, image and likeness initiatives and activity. That will be a piece of what I might be touching on at Dartmouth, but ultimately, it’s an opportunity for me to support athletics director Mike Harrity in all the different ways that he’s trying to elevate the department.  

You also worked with athletics director Mike Harrity at Notre Dame. How will that influence the way you both work together here? 

CV: I had the good fortune of working with Mike at Notre Dame, and he gave me that opportunity to really get back into student athlete development for the first time. The scope of the work that we did at that time was fairly narrow because we were really focused on student athlete development specifically. The scope of what we’ll be doing here is much broader. We’ll be talking about how we can help elevate all the areas of the department as best we can. I’ve had a pretty good understanding of who Mike is and what he’s trying to accomplish, and I want to position myself as somebody who can advise and support and help him execute his vision. I think there is a really awesome value alignment between him and myself. I know that he cares deeply about the student athlete experience. I know that he’s incredibly competitive and brings this amazing sense of urgency to try to improve things. I’m excited to be able to work with him on all of that moving forward.  

According to the Dartmouth Athletics article that announced your hiring, your job responsibilities are to focus on  “emerging issues and efforts in support of the Director of Athletics and Recreation.” What are some examples of these emerging efforts?

CV: One of the things that I think is happening broadly in college athletics is a lot of different institutions are responding to some NCAA changes in policies and trying to figure out how they want to be organized, and what is the relationship between the athletic department and the institution. For example, three years ago, the NCAA started changing their policies about whether or not students could commercialize their name, image and likeness. That started this period in college athletics that’s been really dynamic and has created a lot of changes that institutions are trying to grapple with.

Some of that is also coming from lawsuits that are making their way through different aspects of the court system. Several of those are asking the question of whether or not student athletes should be employees, and what does that relationship look like? And if they’re not employees, should they have access to revenue sharing? It’s really just keeping a pulse on what big, hairy questions are being asked, so that Dartmouth is really well positioned to be thinking about how might this apply to us. 

In recent years, the majority of Dartmouth’s sports teams have had losing records. What strategies will you use to boost these records?

CV: That’s to be determined. I’m two weeks in at this point, and so I think my understanding is that there’s lots of potential at Dartmouth. I’m just really excited to get to know the people and to understand the strategies that are currently in place. Over time, it will be a work in progress to figure out how we can make an impact.  

What are you most looking forward to in your new role at Dartmouth? 

CV: I’m really excited about the energy in the department. Mike has some bold visions for what Dartmouth athletics can be, and I think he’s spent the last year starting to create waves of change. The energy and the excitement around the potential for the department and our different teams, our student athletes and the staff are most exciting to me so far.  

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.