NCAA Student Immersion Program Gives SAAC President Candelaria New Perspective on Post-Playing Career Life

Kristen Candelaria (far right) was one of 40 student-athletes selected nationally to attend the NCAA Convention as part of the the DIII Student Immersion Program.
Kristen Candelaria (far right) was one of 40 student-athletes selected nationally to attend the NCAA Convention as part of the the DIII Student Immersion Program.

Written by David Henne for SJC OnCampus

Kristen Candelaria has a voice for athletics.

As a team captain for SJC Brooklyn women's basketball, Candelaria shouts plays and defensive formations. As goalkeeper on the campus' soccer team, she yells commands to help shape her defensive backline against oncoming wingers and strikers. And as SJC Brooklyn's SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) president, Candelaria uses her voice to ensure her fellow student-athletes are heard on the campus, conference and national level.

"I'm always the hype one. The very enthusiastic one," Candelaria, a Jamaica, Queens, native said. "We could be down by eight runs or 20 points. I'll be like yelling 'Defense!' I'm always the one trying to get my girls going."

Earlier this January, Candelaria was selected as one of only 40 student-athletes from across the country to participate in the Division III Immersion Program in Nashville, Tennessee. Held annually in conjunction with the NCAA Convention, the program brings together ethnic minority students to learn more about its governance process, and encourage a further interest in Div. III coaching or administration, in an effort to ultimately diversify the division.

"We are thrilled that one of our students had the opportunity to attend this event and get a behind-the-scenes look at many of the aspects that come together to create experiences at NCAA institutions," remarked Director of Athletics and Recreation James Lally. "Kristen was a tremendous representative for St. Joseph's College for this program. We are excited to work with her, SAAC and all of our student-athletes on maximizing their experiences at SJC Brooklyn, and creating memories and developing skill sets that will last a lifetime."

The opportunity to participate in NCAA legislation and meet such star athletes as former great Grant Hill was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for Candelaria. "I got to meet a medal of honor recipient [Captain Florent Groberg]. I met an Olympic gold medalist from the Rio Olympics. I have their signatures in a little book at home. Just meeting those people, hearing their stories, was so inspirational."

But it was the camaraderie of the fellow 39 student-leaders present that stood out the most.

"That helped me speak up. It was like having a group of captains in one room — I've never been in that situation before," she said. "They all had some type of strength. They commanded the room, the way they talked. We were all leaders."

A Provost Scholar, Candelaria knows the benefit of good leadership. A senior basketball/soccer/softball/cross country standout, she has participated in nationals; traveled to Colorado, Florida and Puerto Rico to compete; and participated in four collegiate sports. But it's the Immersion Program trip that got her thinking about a future in athletics after college.

"Seeing legislation happen, how everybody votes, speaks on the floor — that was pretty awesome," Candelaria said, as well as "how national SAAC student-athletes had a voice on the floor, and how the higher-ups wanted to hear their voice."

As part of the Immersion Program, students interact and meet, attend workshops and discuss potential alterations to NCAA regulations. Among like-minded students of diverse backgrounds, Candelaria had no problem making new friends. Many of whom she's traveled to see compete at their home colleges, and who will visit her as she finishes her career in collegiate athletics.

What's next for Candelaria? As she looks forward to her first summer as an SJC graduate, a potential SJC internship is shaping up with the athletics department. Through her criminal justice major's department chair and faculty athletics representative, Joseph Pascarella, Ph.D., and Lally, Candelaria is seeing what options are available to her. But the more she participates as a senior student-athlete, the more she knows SJC was the right choice.

"I took the NYPD exam, so I'm waiting on that. I work at a habilitation center for developmentally disabled adults and hopefully working with the athletic department. After this convention, I realized I don't think I can leave sports ever. I'm going to find a way to stick around sports somehow."