Six months into her job as Grand Rapids Community College Athletic Director, Orletta Caldwell is taking on all challenges and loving the campus environment.
Caldwell, a Detroit native, earned her bachelor’s degree in public affairs from Wayne State University and then went to Cardinal Stritch to earn a master’s degree in business management.
Caldwell worked as an intern for Schoolcraft Community College before she took the job at GRCC in 2014 as the AD. She also teaches all of the office administration courses for the business department.
A big reason why Caldwell liked GRCC before coming here was all of the academic labs for athletes to use.
“The way that we resource our students with the labs is unheard of,” Caldwell said. “That is the one thing that really sold me, the we have a business lab, a writing lab, and all of the other sources we resource our students with are things you don’t find often in other places.”
Nikki Gewirtz, 20, is a student athlete who runs cross country for GRCC. She takes full advantage of the tutoring services.
“I use them all of the time, the writing and math labs are very helpful,” Gewirtz said. “I have to get at least six hours a week for cross country, but I probably get somewhere close to 12 hours a week.”
So far, there have been a lot of challenges for the first-time AD, but her strong relationships with the students and staff have made adjusting easier.
“I like it a lot, I love the athletes and the staff, ” Caldwell said. “We have had our challenges but we are really starting to see things gel together.
“I can definitely see everyone coming together more and more with time spent together.”
One of the main challenges that Caldwell has faced is people not involved with college athletics not understanding what being an athletic director is all about.
“Basically what people misunderstand about being an AD is that I’m not a coach,” Caldwell said. “I do all of the background business stuff. It’s more handling all of the rule books and laws and it combines with sports so it works well with me.”
Caldwell’s focus right now is to make sure that being a student comes first with athletes so they can move on and earn a degree while playing their sport at a four-year school.
“We are really working on the academic piece, because we have good coaches that will give them the help they need in their sport, I just want to see students succeed not just on the field or court, but in the classroom as well,” Caldwell said.
Kirk Brown, 19, is another student athlete who will be playing his first season on the baseball team this spring. He believes that it’s not just the coaches, but the players care as well.
“I think that the labs here are very useful and our coaches are always making sure we get our time in the library every week,” Brown said. “My teammates do focus very hard on their grades and keep up in the classroom so they can play on the field.”
Caldwell said she believes sports are a huge piece to making a difference in students lives, especially at a community college.
“We can use sports as an avenue for kids to move on somewhere bigger because they earn more credits and higher grades so they can play their sport,” Caldwell said. “A lot of people don’t realize all of the study hours and the minimum of 12 credits students have to take for the NCAA to be eligible to play.”
“It takes a lot of work and we work hard to get these kids where they need to be and it can truly give them an opportunity they may not of had without being in athletics,” she said.
The love of sports and business are the two main reasons Caldwell loves her job, and even though it has been challenging at times, she enjoys it all together.
“Seeing kids really learn how to manage their lives is a big part, in my opinion, of what college sports do,” Caldwell said. “ A lot of them work while being a student athlete. It has been challenging at times but a lot of fun working with our students and staff.”