Competing in collegiate athletics opens a number of unique opportunities, not all of them on the field. Franklin grad Olivia DiGiacomo got to experience one of those opportunities last week, when she attended the annual NCAA convention in Anaheim, Calif. as part of the Div. III Immersion Program.
DiGiacomo, a junior outfielder on the Johnson & Wales University softball team, was nominated for the program by her softball coach Kim Camara-Harvey and director of athletics Dana Garfield. She was one of 40 Div. III student-athletes selected from thousands of nominees nationwide to join the program and attend the convention.
“My coach and my athletic director looked at me as a leader and someone who can bring back a lot of information and knowledge back to campus,” said DiGiacomo after she got back from the convention. “It was absolutely a gratifying experience to be recognized.”
The DIII Immersion Program was created in 2015 to give ethnic minority student-athletes who have an interest in coaching or administration an inside look into how the convention works and to build their personal networks. Each year, 40 student-athletes are given a fully-paid trip to the convention, attend workshops, and interact with professionals in the field.
DiGiacomo, who is Hispanic/Latino, and the other student-athletes spent a week in meetings, networking sessions, and listening to influential speakers from around the world of college athletics, including the likes of ESPN college basketball commentator Dick Vitale.
It was also a chance to meet with other athletes from around the country who have similar interests. In addition to this year’s crop of attendees, DiGiacomo said that they were also introduced to the student-athletes from the last several years, giving them access to nearly 200 connections.
“It was really cool,” she explained. “All of us came from very different backgrounds and from all around the country. It was really cool to interact with all those different people and those are definitely long friends and connections that I will have the rest of my life.”
As one of the leaders of the JWU softball team, and someone who is already showing an interest in coaching, DiGiacomo was an obvious choice for Camara-Harvey.
“I knew this experience would give her the opportunity to learn more about what it takes to be successful,” she said. “I also knew that she would represent our University and softball program at an elite level in all of her interactions with other professionals and students at the conference.”
Camara-Harvey added, “I hope she takes away a passion for athletics and understands what an impact it can have on students, coaches and administrators.”
DiGiacomo coaches softball during the summer, working with youth players who are looking to get recruited by college programs. At the convention, she learned ways to turn that experience into a career. She said, “Definitely being confident in what you believe and having your own core values – being kind, don’t judge, and then be loyal to everyone.”
One of the core values that DiGiacomo and the program share is promoting diversity and inclusion in DIII athletics.
“At the Div. III level there are so many walks of life and different people that you run into and can encounter in your life,” she said. “We need to be able to accommodate that and be empathetic to that and understand people in their many walks of life and be considerate of that.
“Coming to Johnson & Wales, in a city that’s very diverse, freshman year was like, ‘Woah look at all these different people coming from all these different walks of life.’ My parents raised me to be kind and not judge and to value every person for who they are and coming here I was able to make friends with all kinds of different people.”
The program promotes leaders off the field, but DiGiacomo has also demonstrated leadership on the diamond as well. A second-team all-conference selection last spring, she is one of only a few upperclassmen for JWU this season and, once she returns from injury, is hoping to guide a young team back to the top of the conference standings.
“Definitely at Franklin I tried to be that leader that people could go to and talk to and be open with everybody,” DiGiacomo said. “In college, I was definitely recognized as a leader and chosen obviously to come to this convention but also to step up on and off the field and help underclassmen. Coach has definitely seen me as a leader and it’s something that I fully embraced and accepted.”
Not only has leadership been part of her playing career, but DiGiacomo and the other student-athletes that attended the NCAA convention in the DIII Immersion Program will hope that leadership also becomes a part of their professional careers as well.