CORVALLIS — In 2010, former Oregon State University wide receiver Taylor Kavan-augh walked into Marianne Vydra’s office and presented the senior associate athletic director with an ambitious proposal: He wanted to coordinate an international service project for student athletes at OSU.
The project — Beavers Without Borders — would require extensive planning and fundraising, but Vydra responded the way she typically does whenever a student approaches her with an idea:
Since then, dozens of OSU student athletes have ventured to diverse regions of the world — including Ethiopia and Macedonia — to build houses for families in need.
“If a student has energy, you get out of their way,” Vydra said.
Beavers Without Borders is one of several projects in which she has played a significant role since 1998, when she accepted her job as associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator.
Other projects have included leadership initiatives within the Everyday Champions program, which helps to prepare student athletes for post-graduation success, and the Title IX Parade of Champions, which celebrates accomplishments of former OSU female athletes every five years.
The programs receive statewide attention. But for Vydra, who is the highest-ranking woman in management of OSU’s athletics program, the job isn’t about attention, it’s about fostering success.
“We think young people have the ability to change the world,” Vydra said.
A native of Springfield, Mo., she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology. She received a master’s in education from the University of Maine, where she worked with the men’s basketball and hockey teams.
Although Vydra’s association with sports dates back past her college experience as a volleyball setter, she never anticipated holding a management position in athletics.
“I call it my accidental career,” Vydra joked. “I didn’t know this is what I wanted to do.”
But the position turned out to be a remarkable fit.
“I get to solve all sorts of problems. My position is a problem-solving position,” she said.
Vydra’s responsibilities as senior associate athletic director include strategic planning meetings and overseeing the budget. But she emphasizes student success.
“I bring the student-athlete piece to the table,” she said. “This is the part that, once people tap into it, brings a lot of meaning.”
As a former athlete, Kavanaugh agreed.
“There was always that culture in the Athletics Department, Marianne especially, in taking an interest and investment in making sure athletes are well taken care of,” he said. “Marianne is someone who makes things happen.”
Beaver football games attract more than 40,000 spectators and bring millions of dollars to the university, but Vydra sees student athletes in a larger context.
“Teams are going to win and teams are going to lose — that’s a given,” Kavanaugh said. “But it’s seeing light in the fact that, after you’re a student athlete, if that’s all you do you’re in real trouble. That’s why Marianne is so widely respected.”
She has found that spreading the stories of an athlete’s journey through school and career through programs such as Everyday Champions is invaluable to their success.
“We have to figure out a way to highlight the other being,” she said.
Vydra’s empathy for student athletes was evident to her colleagues even before she took on the role as associate athletic director, while she still was serving as an academic counselor.
OSU’s Director of Athletics Bob De Carolis chalks up Vydra’s success to “the genuine caring that the Athletics Department can make a significant impact in the lives of all student athletes.”
She brings “boundless energy and is totally optimistic on all fronts,” De Carolis said.
Vydra called tapping into a student athlete’s academic and professional potential “shepherding the investment.” And athletes are different from other students, she said.
“Student athletes are good at failing,” she said. “They get right back up and go on.”