Academic-Athletic Fellow Spotlight – Karen Jezierny

Karen Jezierny is always smiling. Her energy level alone is probably enough to light up Lourie-Love Field for night games. She likes to call people “hon.”

In short, she’s the perfect soccer mom.

So why limit herself to just her 10-year-old daughter Dana, who plays for the Montgomery Lightning?

Instead, Jezierny has also adopted another 25 or so soccer players. Jezierny, the University’s Director of Public Affairs, is in her second season as an Academic Athletic Fellow for the Princeton women’s soccer team.

“It’s been a great experience,” Jezierny says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know a great group of kids.”

The Academic Athletic Fellows program was adopted by Director of Athletics Gary Walters 10 years ago to give Tiger athletes somebody to turn to discuss any range of issues, from athletic to academic to social to anything else that comes up. He had no way of knowing it at the time, but the program is a perfect match for the vivacious Jezierny.

“It gives the kids somebody else at Princeton to help them navigate the environment,” Jezierny says. “For athletes who jump right in in the fall of their freshman year, they have to start full speed ahead. I think this program helps them to fill in some of the gaps that they would have discovered if they were able to move at a more leisurely pace. It helps cut to the chase when they don’t have the opportunity to take their time. Kids come with all kinds of interesting ideas and questions. One wanted to start a student organization on campus and asked to do that. Another came to talk to me about majors. It’s some academic stuff and some non-academic stuff.”

Jezierny herself was a swimmer when she was younger, and her husband Gregg Smith, whom she first started dating when they were students at rival high schools in Connecticut, was a football and baseball player in high school and college. Her introduction to soccer came with her daughter, whom she took to a few games at Lourie-Love each year before getting involved with the program on a more official basis last year. Now, she attends almost every home game.

Jezierny’s first year with the team corresponded with John Gager’s last as Academic Athletic Fellow. Gager, who retired last year after 35 years as a religion professor at Princeton, was universally adored by the women’s soccer team.

“He was an icon for those students,” Jezierny says. “He’s the epitome of the academic-athletic fellow who did it right. There’s a nice little network now for athletic fellows. When I had a question that I couldn’t answer, I consulted Bill Gleason, an English professor who works with the baseball team.”

Jezierny went to UConn as an undergrad and then earned a master’s at Harvard’s Kenndy School of Government. She spent four years working for the New Jersey state assembly and then first came to Princeton in 1986 as Director of Community and State Affairs. After leaving that position to become assistant state treasurer when James Florio was governor, she retuned and spent 10 years working in the Woodrow Wilson School before moving on to her current post. She spends her time working on state government relations and with the University’s many communications offices.

“I spent 10 years there, and I saw students all the time,” she says. “I really missed the interaction with the students. The only sports I knew anything about were swimming, because I had been a swimmer; football and baseball, because Gregg played; and soccer because of Dana. For Dana, these young women are great role models. They’re fabulous athletes, terrific students and delightful young women. Who else would you want your 10-year-old to be exposed to?”

As for your 18-22 year old, they could do a lot worse than Karen Jezierny.

~ By Jerry Price, Office of Athletic Communications

Members of the women soccer team recently showed their support and appreciation of Karen when they participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in her honor. Please click here to read the story.