By ASHLEIGH GRIM
“I want to make the student’s time as enjoyable as possible,” said JJ Santagata, the new Graduate Assistant for sports and outdoor recreation. “I want to make them feel comfortable to come to me, feel that they have a source to look up to, someone that they can rely on.”
Although he seems to be fitting in well, Santagata came a long way to fill his new position. He grew up in Long Island, New York and was heavily involved in sports his entire life.
“I grew up there for basically my entire life. I didn’t spend too much time on the island, I was always playing hockey so my weekends were in different states or different parts of the island. I was an athlete my whole life” said Santagata.
His role in hockey led him to Rider University in New Jersey. There he would go on to graduate with a Bachelors in communications and experience in journalism and sports writing.
“I went in my first year knowing I wanted to do journalism. I took a journalism course my senior year of high school and I really liked it. Me and my friend in the class were in sports,” said Santagata. “I was a hockey player, I followed sports my whole life. I carried that on into my first year of Rider.”
The transition from Rider University to Mary Washington was not as easy as his decision about communications and journalism. While Santagata loves sports writing and journalism, he knew that it was not a career that he wanted to pursue professionally.
“I love it but I can’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life, so I need to find other areas in my life that I can maybe do because hockey isn’t going to be my career. I can do it, coach it, which I do now, but I can’t do it for my whole life,” said Santagata.
From there, he explored other areas of the sports environment and found Campus Recreation.
“I jumped into Campus Recreation and from there I got the opportunity to be a Vice President of Sports Club Council. With that, you oversee all of the sport clubs, basically what I’m doing now just in a non-professional role. I really enjoyed my time with Campus Recreation,” said Santagata.
Santagata credits a lot of his decision to his former boss, Dianna Clauss, for pushing and supporting his decision to be involved in campus recreation and to choose Mary Washington. He had a couple of other schools in mind and turned down four of them in hopes of obtaining a role at Rider.
“I interviewed for two jobs as a graduate assistant and I didn’t get them so that’s when I came and talked to Mary Washington. I went to NIRSA, which is a campus recreation conference, and saw Mary Washington has posted a job, Grad Assistant, club sports and outdoor recreation, so I emailed Kelly Shannon, the director of Campus Recreation” said Santagata.
From there, the two of them had a phone interview, skype interview and emails back and forth for about a month. Santagata was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement from the people of Mary Washington and how they opened their doors to welcome him in.
“I realized they have a good major for me, what I want to do is really awesome,” said Santagata. “This would be a good time for me to grow as a professional, as a person, and really just step outside of my comfort zone. This is going to benefit me greatly in the long run so I’m going to make the most of it, run with it and whatever happens, happens. I’m really enjoying my time here.”
The good part of this transition is that most of Santagata’s work is fun and games. He oversees the intramural sports which are teams of just UMW students. He schedules their games, oversees their officials and staff, budgets, and makes sure the students and staff are comfortable and having fun.
“I like to get to know my staff on a personal level and really just building relationships and making connections is probably the best part,” said Santagata.
Santagata also oversees the club sports, which is student-based. He manages the everyday things such as concussion testing, keeping up with forms and making sure they are actually competing. He also oversees the outdoor recreational program and the staff they have there. He plans trips and makes sure that local trails and places are willing to host UMW students.
Santagata is in the College of Education Masters program. His goal is to be involved in school administration as a principal or vice principal and even as a university administrator. He loves the environment of those positions and hopes to build those personal connections outside of the university.