Colorado Mesa University makes history with new athletic director hire

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Garfield Hall on the Colorado Mesa University campus in Grand Junction on Friday, August 27, 2021.

One day in June, Kimberly Miller picked up her ringing phone to hear the voice of Colorado Mesa University president John Marshall on the other end. He was calling to offer her a job as the school’s athletic director, a position she’d interviewed for a few days before.

She was so overjoyed to achieve her lifetime goal that she couldn’t answer right away.

“I said, ‘Hey, um, let me think about it and give you a callback,’” Miller recalled. “And me ‘thinking about it’ is me running around my place, yelling and screaming, like, ‘Oh my God!’”

It was a victory for the school as well.

Colorado Mesa University
Kimberly Miller is the new athletic director at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. She is the first woman of color to hold that position at a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference school.

“Dr. Miller is the person we have been searching for,” Marshall said in a statement. “She’s intelligent, experienced and driven, and we’re thrilled to have someone of her caliber to continue CMU’s winning tradition and great culture.”

Miller, who is Black, is the first woman of color to be hired as an athletic director in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, an organization of 16 schools ranging from Utah and New Mexico to South Dakota.

But the pioneering nature of her hiring is secondary to Miller, 44, who is just happy to have found what she considers a dream job.

“I mean, it’s always a privilege and honor. However, I look at it as being the right person for the job,” Miller said. “Mesa is just a place that embraces everyone, regardless of background, ethnicity differences, and I’m just happy to be a part of Colorado Mesa.”

A love of sports since childhood

The Waxhaw, N.C. native played softball beginning at age seven. So in love with the idea of becoming an athletic director some day after playing college softball, she got a doctorate in education with an emphasis in sports management from North Central University. 

A few weeks ago, she moved to Grand Junction from South Dakota, where she was deputy athletic director, director of compliance, and senior woman administrator at Augustana University in Sioux Falls.

Staying in a furnished on-campus house until her belongings arrive from an in-transit moving truck, she spoke in a telephone interview this week, describing her duties and her enthusiasm in her new role. 

Since starting at the beginning of the month, she’s been oriented by colleagues about all things CMU sports, gotten professional photos taken, and begun familiarizing herself with the school’s 26 NCAA Division II programs, two varsity programs and more than 700 student athletes.

As athletic director, she will supervise all the coaches and teams, do fundraising, make policies and procedures, keep CMU in compliance with gender equity practices, and hire coaches for a few open positions. 

“Just basically that point person for the entire department,” she said.

She will also travel to big games with the teams, as she has done in her previous role.

“You can’t be in a leadership role and not go to competitions with your teams and support them,” she said. “I am going to very much enjoy and love watching our student athletes compete.”

Making a home in Grand Junction

Outside of the job, she is looking forward to making a home for herself in Grand Junction, which reminds her of home in North Carolina, a town with one stoplight and one train track, she said.

“I love the scenery,” she said. “It’s just beautiful out here. You see mountain ranges; you see the wildlife; you see just a great community of people that care about a university.”

She said her new environment offers everything she was hoping for. 

“The best thing about being in Grand Junction is I can come to the city and enjoy shopping, dining and fun activities,” Miller said. “But if I go a couple miles outside of Grand Junction, I’m right back in the country that I grew up in, so it’s the best of both worlds.” 

In the early stages of her job, she said she doesn’t have any specific pet projects to dive into, because she wants to learn her role first. At the same time, she said, she wants to get her own softball game back up after not playing since before the pandemic.

“I tried to play softball a couple of days ago with our alumni team, and it did not go over really well because I haven’t played in four years,” the self-described “great ball of energy” said with a laugh. “So my goal now is to find a team here and start out recreationally and move from there.”