PNW Pridecast: A Conversation with Athletic Director Rick Costello
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Hello, Purdue Northwest colleagues!
We’re happy to bring you one more PNW Pridecast episode before the end of the fall semester to share the latest faculty and staff news.
I’m your host, Kale Wilk, and for this concluding fall semester installment we opened the floor to Rick Costello, Director of Athletics, to share his reflections on the great strides the PNW Pride has made in recent seasons, the value of the student-athlete experience, how faculty and staff can best support these students, and more.
A Conversation with Rick Costello
Rick Costello is in his 12th year as Director of Athletics for Purdue Northwest. When he arrived, there were approximately 100 student-athletes and 10 teams. Today, there are approximately 450 student-athletes and 20 teams competing at the NCAA Division II level in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC).
Sports added to Pride Athletics have included baseball, softball, ice hockey, esports, and indoor and outdoor track and field. Next season, a STUNT team will join the Pride.
The list of individual and team achievements continues to grow as well.
Costello: “Last year was a historic year. We had a two-time All-American (in softball), Selena Michko, from Lake Central High School. We had our first three GLIAC champions: Alex Bishop won the men’s GLIAC individual championship in golf, and JC Ramirez won two GLIAC championships in indoor and outdoor track and field. Christina Shaginaw won three cross-country races. Our hockey team finished in the top 20 in the nation. Softball had their most-ever victories with 33.
This year, our esports program hosted the UNIFIED Gaming Fanfest at the Westville campus. That’s tremendous to bring that activity to our university. This fall, it won the Battle for Indiana, which is really cool because that means we beat Ball State, Purdue West Lafayette, and Indiana Bloomington, so just a real high mark. We have probably one of the best esports teams in the country, so it will be exciting to see how they develop.
This fall our volleyball team shattered the record book and had the most all-time wins. This past weekend was a highlight for the university as our men’s soccer program won its first ever GLIAC team championship. It was a thrilling event and an amazing turnout by students, faculty, staff and the local community.
So, the record book is just constantly being rewritten and our student-athletes are truly history-makers. The GLIAC is, if not the best, one of the top NCAA Division II conferences. It has been really encouraging to see the Pride of Purdue Northwest continue to evolve and become more competitive with each season.”
It has been really encouraging to see the Pride of Purdue Northwest continue to evolve and become more competitive with each season.
The student-athlete experience is unique in that these students have the opportunity to compete in their game at a high level while also earning a high-quality college education. There are valuable lessons they are learning on the court or field as well as inside the classroom to make them incredibly well-rounded professionals. Ten percent of the Pride includes international student-athletes, who also see the experience as a big draw.
Costello: “We are in the leadership business. Students come to us and we guide, develop, mold and shape them. The lessons we often teach are about resiliency, persistence, adversity and navigating your way through that.
It is amazing to see when these students come to us as freshmen, and they graduate years later, how they have changed and how this experience, they will often reflect, was one of the best of their entire time at Purdue Northwest and their entire life. A lot of the credit goes to the outstanding coaches we have, as well as what I like to call ‘the team around the team,’ whether it is our academic support folks, strength and conditioning, NCAA compliance, athletic trainers, and then the great on-campus partnership with the staff and faculty that just create this high-touch, amazing experience, which leads to a retention rate of 97%.
At the NCAA Division II level there is great balance between being a student and pursuing your interest in athletics. I like to say students first, athletes second, and we are certainly seeing those results in the classroom. We have had seven-plus years consecutively of over a 3.0 GPA. I am most proud of our graduation rate, which is 83%. Our career-placement rate is 82%. Our students are coming here, they are having amazing experiences in the classroom, experiential learning, internships, and now they are out there six months after graduation, 82% of them have jobs or are in grad school, it is just tremendous to see that happen.
I like to say ‘team’ is ‘together everyone achieves more.’ You are going to learn that here. You are also going to learn grit. You are going to find those solutions to those challenges that confront any organization. That work ethic and that grit is an unbeatable combination if you are an employer looking to hire a student to come in and impact your organization.”
With such great success on the field, court, and more, Pride Athletics has grown as an identity in Northwest Indiana and beyond for local and out-of-state athletes and their families to support. This is evidenced in consecutive successful PNW Day of Giving results, Corporate Champion sponsorships, and growing fanfare for the Pride.
Costello: “We love Day of Giving because we are very competitive by nature. Athletics finished first two years ago in total dollars raised and total number of gifts. This past year, to my chagrin, we finished second in total dollars raised, but we were first in total number of gifts. It has just been remarkable.
We receive all kinds of external support. Our Corporate Champions, like Laborers Local No. 41, RUSH Physical Therapy, Purdue Federal Credit Union, NIPSCO, Wintrust, they are just a few of the outstanding champions that support the athletics program that come up big on Day of Giving. Yours truly is a full-time fundraiser, 24/7, 365. The alums, these individuals have outstanding jobs out there and they have become more and more generous every year.
If we look back at the men’s soccer GLIAC tournament game, there were so many top high school players there at the game from Valparaiso, Lake Central and Crown Point. Our brand awareness is growing across many segments in Northwest Indiana and Illinois. Ten percent of our student-athletes are international. Not only do we have international students, we have students from Alaska, California, Nevada, Florida, New York, you name it. We are casting a wide net, and that unbeatable combination of academics and great athletics by Chicago has proven very effective.
Three of our top student-athletes in recent years, Chad Patrick (baseball) from Hebron is now in the minor leagues; Dash Shaw from Crown Point just scored her 1,000th point for women’s basketball; and Selena Michko (softball) was a two-time All-American from Lake Central. We are recruiting the best athletes from Northwest Indiana and they are staying home here at Purdue Northwest.”
Our students are coming here, they are having amazing experiences in the classroom, experiential learning, internships, and now they are out there six months after graduation, 82% of them have jobs or are in grad school, it is just tremendous to see that happen.
Finally, we closed out our conversation with Rick Costello by asking how faculty and staff can best support our student-athletes.
Costello: “No. 1 what they do is the great partnership between faculty and staff with the student-athletes in the classroom every day, academic advising, that has been just wonderful.
No. 2, coming to games is a great way to support the students. If you are out there and you are playing, you want to see the stands full, and it is great when you see those familiar faces that you recognize on campus.
No. 3, wear the gear. Wear the black and gold out into the community, at the games, on campus, and just create that amazing feel at a university that separates us from other institutions. That way we are recruiting students and we are competing in the recruiting process, whether that is student-athletes or general students.”
We thank Rick Costello for his time and the great information shared with faculty and staff. And, of course, you can visit pnwathletics.com for all the latest information.
Recent and Upcoming Items
Let’s close out with a couple recent items:
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) recently granted PNW final approval to begin offering a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) applied doctoral program. The program intended to prepare students as both practitioners and scholars to address local needs for mental health resources in Northwest Indiana. A Master of Science (MS) in Psychology will also be added to the PNW curriculum. Coupled with this announcement was the HLC’s approval of a change in student body and updating PNW’s status as a doctoral level institution.
- PNW has welcomed back two-time alumna Darien Thompson to serve as the new director of African American Initiatives. Thompson will play a role in recruitment, retention, professional development, community engagement and belonging for Black and African American students at PNW. Over 11% of PNW’s undergraduate population self-identifies as Black or African American. Thompson earned her bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management and Master of Business Administration from PNW’s College of Business. She also scored over 1,000 points as a member of the women’s basketball team. Before coming to PNW, Thompson served as associate director of Diversity Initiatives at Purdue West Lafayette’s Daniels School of Business. She also served as director of the Dr. Cornell A. Bell Business Opportunity Program and sits on the board of directors for the Purdue Black Alumni Association.
- Veera Gnaneswar Gude, NiSource-Meyer Charitable Foundation Professor of Energy and the Environment and director of the PNW Water Institute, was recently honored during the eighth annual Distinguished and Named Professorship Ceremony at Purdue West Lafayette. The ceremony celebrates midcareer, distinguished, and named professors and administrators across the Purdue system for their accomplishments and successes. Honorees were presented plaques and medallions for administrative appointments, becoming named or distinguished professors over the past year, or if they received Rising Star recognitions.
- Nicky Ali Jackson, professor of Criminal Justice and director of the Center for Justice and Post-Exoneration Assistance (CJPA), is named as the 2024 honoree for the Visionary Impact Award by Indiana Minority Business Magazine and Minority Business Review. Jackson’s award is one of 20 people and entities recognized in the 17th annual Champions of Diversity Awards. The awards and recognition dinner recognizes individuals, companies and organizations that have exhibited a high level of commitment to diversity in Indiana. Jackson’s selection as recipient of the Visionary Impact Award reflects her “tireless efforts to advocate against wrongful convictions and the need for criminal justice reform in Indiana and beyond,” the nominating committee said.Jackson and other Champions of Diversity honorees will be formally recognized and celebrated in January 2024 during an awards dinner in Indianapolis, Indiana.
- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Indiana State Conference was recently hosted at The Great Hall Events and Conference Center on the Westville branch campus. Following the conclusion of the conference, Ashley Gerodimos and Events Management staff members Michael Purchla and Todd Hill were honored with “The Corporate Award” for the team’s support, flexibility, exceptional service and professionalism. Barbara Bolling-Williams, president of the NAACP’s Indiana State Conference, says this is the first time the organization has recognized a venue or service provider during its awards ceremony.
- Tony Sindone, clinical associate professor of Finance and Economic Development, was elected as a new board member to the Regional Development Company, based in Valparaiso, Indiana. The RDC administers U.S. Small Business Administration 504 loans to small businesses in Northwest Indiana and the south suburbs of Chicago. RDC president and executive director Erica Dombey noted Sindone is a valuable addition to the board because of his knowledge in trends and forecasting as an economist.
- Ashok Raja, assistant professor of Cybersecurity, recently joined the 18th annual Business Expo of the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce for a panel discussion titled Cybersecurity: Challenges for Small and Large Businesses. Raja and fellow panelists discussed how the landscape of cyber threats will evolve over the next five years and the impact on cybersecurity created by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing. The panelists additionally provided their perspectives on how small and large scale businesses can create awareness and educate employees on cyber threats.
- Fall commencement exercises will take place on Saturday, Dec. 9 with two ceremonies at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Ceremonies will take place inside the Fitness and Recreation Center on the Hammond campus. Candidates for graduation from the colleges of Business and Nursing will be recognized during the morning ceremony and candidates from the colleges of Engineering and Sciences; Humanities, Education and Social Sciences; and Technology will be honored during the afternoon ceremony. In case of severe weather, the back-up date is Sunday, Dec. 10.A total of 674 candidates are eligible for graduation this fall, including 522 baccalaureate candidates and 152 master’s candidates, who completed plans of study in summer and fall 2023.Two elected state representatives, 15th District Rep. Hal Slager and 12th District Rep. Mike Andrade, will deliver the morning and afternoon keynote speeches, respectively.For more commencement information, including day-of information, student spotlights, and more, please visit pnw.edu/commencement.
With that, I’ll go ahead and bid “talk to you later!” Thank you for listening along during this fall semester, and we look forward to sharing more PNW faculty and staff news when we return for the spring semester. Again, all this and more can be found at pnw.edu/pridecast.