Innovative and accomplished athletics administrator Miriam Merrill will lead Pomona-Pitzer Athletics into its next era after being selected as director of athletics following a national search.
Merrill, currently the associate director of athletics at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, also served as interim director of Hamilton’s NCAA Division III program for four months in 2019. She starts at Pomona-Pitzer on July 1, and also will be professor and chair of the Department of Physical Education at Pomona College, overseeing the joint athletic department’s activity classes, faculty/staff fitness and wellness program, intramural/club sport and recreation programs and academic offerings.
“Miriam is a collaborative and inspiring leader, and I’m confident she has both the vision and the experience to help take Pomona-Pitzer athletics to the next level,” said Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr.
Merrill brings broad experience in athletics and academia to Claremont. She earned a Ph.D. in the psychology of human movement at Temple University in 2019, and previously has served as an athletics director at Richard J. Daley College, a Chicago community college, and as head coach of women’s track and field at Robert Morris University in Chicago. As an athlete, she was an NCAA Division I All-American in track and field for the University of Cincinnati in 2001 and was inducted into the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
“I enjoyed my time at Hamilton and was not really in a rush to leave, but I knew when I did it was going to be for something special: The similarities with high academics, high-achieving student athletes, a competitive athletics department that is continuing to get better, that certainly was of interest to me,” Merrill said.
Merrill’s work frequently has focused on themes of student wellness, in addition to diversity of opportunity in athletics for women and people of color.
At Hamilton, she taught a physical education course called Mental Health Support Skills and Strategies. Hamilton also offered a physical education class taught by the college’s director of counseling and another on meditation in the outdoors.
“We’ve pivoted some of our physical education courses. Before, it’s always been movement-based, whether it be aerobics, spike ball, bocce, yoga, all of those things,” Merrill said. She also created Hamilton’s first Peak Performance Symposium for student athletes, with topics including mental health and nutrition, and has worked to establish supports for athletes with eating disorders.
“Having a degree in sports psychology, I think that certainly grounds me and I’m more attuned to those types of topics because I’ve spent so much time understanding them during my doctoral process,” she said.
Merrill’s focus on equity issues led her to establish a Student Athletes of Color Initiative for 120 student athletes at Hamilton. She also has overseen Title IX compliance in regard to gender equity in athletics and has studied the reasons women do not hold more top administrative positions in sports. Her doctoral dissertation looked at the surprising reticence of many women to pursue athletic director jobs.
“What I found through my interviews was that a majority of the women, about 70%, were not interested in becoming athletic directors. I wanted to understand what internally might be keeping women from pursuing these positions,” she said. “Are we internally saying, ‘No, I don’t want to be an AD because all of these outside messages are saying we can’t?’”
Merrill will arrive at Pomona-Pitzer as colleges and athletic teams navigate the challenges of returning after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which caused the cancellation of competition across the country this spring.
In addition, she’ll be leading Pomona-Pitzer during the period of final fundraising and eventual construction of the new Center for Athletics, Recreation and Wellness, which will replace the Rains Center. She’ll also manage the department’s transition during construction, which is expected to take 18 months once it begins after being delayed because of the pandemic.
“Understanding that there’s going to be a new facility on campus that will support athletics, physical education, club and intramural sports and wellness in general says a lot about the passion of the institutions and what they deem important for students,” she said.
Merrill will take the department reins from Jennifer Scanlon, Pomona-Pitzer’s women’s soccer coach, who will have served as interim athletics director for more than a year after the departure of Lesley Irvine. During that period, the Sagehen men’s cross-country team won its first NCAA Division III national championship and Scanlon’s team reached the Final Four of the NCAA Division III women’s soccer tournament for the first time.
Competing as the Sagehens, the shared athletics program of Pomona and Pitzer colleges fields 21 varsity teams in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in the NCAA’s Division III. Pomona and Pitzer are both members of The Claremont Colleges, a unique consortium of five undergraduate and two graduate institutions in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Sagehen Athletics’ rich history dates back more than a century.