By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- Mika Costello (Jr., Nipomo, CA/Nipomo HS) from the Willamette University women's swimming team is a member of the executive board of the WU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). She's also a member of the NCAA Division III National Student Athlete-Advisory Committee (NSAAC), and will be meeting with other National SAAC members at the NCAA Convention this week in Orlando, Florida. She first attended the NCAA Convention last year, and will also attend the 2020 and 2021 NCAA Conventions.
Costello is a freestyle swimmer for the Bearcats. On the National SAAC, she represents the Northwest Conference (NWC) and the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC).
The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on each college campus is a liaison between student-athletes, the athletics department and the college or university administration. The Willamette SAAC is active in organizing and promoting community service activities, fund-raising for charity, and creating fun events for students and athletes. In addition, the SAAC provides a way for student-athletes to work with the athletic department staff and the university to sponsor special events, bring in motivational speakers, or involve multiple teams in the same community project. At Willamette, the SAAC sponsors the annual career night for Bearcat student-athletes.
At the national level, Costello and other SAAC representatives have the opportunity to be heard by the NCAA regarding issues that impact student-athletes across the country. The National SAAC also maintains and organizes the partnership between NCAA Division III and the Special Olympics.
Much of Costello's time this week will be in meetings of the National SAAC.
"NSAAC will have their meetings starting on Tuesday and we will be discussing what each of us has been involved with since the last meeting." Costello said. "Almost all NSAAC members are also on another committee or working group in the NCAA where they can branch out and be involved with other things that interest them. I am a member of the NCAA Division III LGBTQ Working Group and I will be giving an update on what the working group has accomplished with the 'ONETEAM' campaign and policy template guides."
Willamette's SAAC group will be represented at the convention by Costello and Associate Athletics Director Leslie Shevlin, who is WU's senior woman administrator and SAAC co-advisor for the Bearcats. Other Willamette administrators will be in attendance. Costello will focus on the NSAAC meetings. Shevlin will attend the NCAA administrative sessions.
"I know that I am looking forward to attending my first NCAA Convention," Shevlin said. "Mika has worked very hard with the NCAA DIII LGBTQ working group," Shevlin commented. "I am interested in hearing how the student-athletes felt the fall campaign went and what more we can do to support our current student-athletes."
In addition to committee reports, those in attendance at the NSAAC meetings will talk about ways to improve various aspects of being NCAA Division III student-athletes as it relates to personal well-being, athletics, academics, co-curricular activities and community projects.
"During this time, we will also be discussing ways we can help student-athletes dealing with mental health issues, discrimination, and other roadblocks that may prevent them from performing at their highest potential on and off the field," Costello explained. Due to the legislation that was passed at last year's convention, each NSAAC member has an NSAAC associate member from their partner conference who helps them with communication, legislation, and many other tasks. I have been working closely with my associate member to have better communication between the national committee and both the NWC and SCIAC."
As the meetings progress, NSAAC members will begin to get ready for the NCAA Division III Business Session, where member institutions vote on proposed NCAA legislation. Members of the National SAAC are able to speak on the main floor of the convention to express their thoughts regarding the proposals in front of college and university presidents and athletic directors from throughout the nation.
"In the latter half of the meetings, we will mostly be discussing legislation and preparing for the Division III Business Session on Saturday with the new associate members," Costello noted. "Before the business session, I will be meeting with the NWC and SCIAC athletic directors and presidents to discuss what the student-athletes of their conferences, respectively, and the NSAAC think about the legislation in order to give them a holistic view of what student-athletes believe across the country."
Not all of the time will be spent in meetings. A key event away from the convention center will be an opportunity for NSAAC members to play sports with athletes from Special Olympics.
"I am most looking forward to the Special Olympics event that Division III hosts at every convention. We invite local Special Olympics athletes to play games like soccer, bocce ball, and basketball with Division III student-athletes who are in attendance. I always enjoy seeing the athlete's faces light up when they get to play games with college student-athletes. They enjoy it so much, and it is a great way to spend an afternoon after being in meetings for a couple of days. I love the partnership Division III has with Special Olympics, and I am ecstatic that I get to be a part of it with going to this event and being on the Special Olympics subcommittee for NSAAC. The Special Olympics event is certainly my favorite part of the NCAA Convention."
"Like Mika, I am looking forward to the Special Olympics event. It will be a great chance to interact with local Special Olympics athletes as well as our student-athlete leaders from across the country," Shevlin said.
In general, it will be an exciting week for Costello and other members of the National SAAC. Its a great opportunity for them to see the NCAA in action, and to participate in their own meetings, the NCAA business session and outside events such as the game day with Special Olympics.
"During the meetings, I am most excited to hear about the incredible progress that my peers have made during their time on NSAAC, and to learn how I can help make Division III better," Costello said. "I cannot wait to hear about how the "ONETEAM" campaign has done on other campuses. While Willamette University does a great job with being inclusive, I know that is not the same for other institutions. I am ready to know more about how it has been for other schools and how my working group and myself can make it even better."