For Libbie Randolph, soccer is more than a game. The sport has allowed her to connect to her family legacy—both her father and grandfather played at the collegiate level—and, when she was a young player, the “beautiful game” helped develop her leadership and teamwork skills. But when Randolph first began McIntire’s M.S. in Commerce Program, she had no idea that the sport she loves would become an integral part of her professional pursuits of educating and empowering young women across the globe.
Leadership through Sport
No stranger to seizing leadership opportunities through sport, Randolph helped build a team at her Christchurch, VA, high school, assisting in the process of recruiting players when the school failed to yield a program. As an undergrad at Denison University, double-majoring in Spanish and Communication, the lifelong soccer player was a vocal leader on the varsity squad’s defensive line each of her four years there.
It was during her time at Denison that Randolph first learned about a volunteer opportunity with Soccer Without Borders, a nonprofit organization that serves underprivileged and marginalized youth by providing them with an inclusive environment that promotes educational, professional, and personal growth through the sport of soccer. (Because of its popularity and affordability, soccer is often the sport of choice for sport for development nonprofits such as Soccer Without Borders.)
Running daily drills with 8- to 16-year-old girls while serving with the organization in Granada, Nicaragua, during her senior-year winter break, Randolph realized the lasting impact she could have on young female athletes.
“One of the primary goals of sport for development is to provide a safe space to start the conversation about social challenges that different communities face,” she says. “In my opinion, sport and active play have a unique ability to create this type of trusting environment to help foster tough conversations.”
Gaining a Global Perspective
Upon completing her undergraduate studies, Randolph explored her interest in working internationally. Drawn to the M.S. in Commerce Program’s focus on the global context of business, and seeking to round out her bachelor’s degree “with tangible experience to build from,” she made the decision to apply to the McIntire graduate program. “The fact that it’s a one-year program and also requires a Global Immersion Experience sealed the deal!” she says.
The experience ultimately provided Randolph with a platform to personally explore opportunities on a global scale. Her own Global Immersion Experience (GIE) took her to Turkey, India, and the United Arab Emirates, helping her to identify a passion for international education and sparking her desire to pursue it as a career.
“I gained a lot from my time and experiences at McIntire, from an incredible network that led to my first job with Industry Dive, to a business acumen that provided a unique complement to my liberal arts and humanities background,” Randolph says. “The skills I developed throughout the courses were integral to my success in the marketing and ad sales field, and without the GIE and my Graduate Assistant position with Ellen [Rozan, Director of Global Programs], I don’t think I would have identified international education as my desired career path. Much of what I learned through the GIE is extremely relevant to my career, and having international business knowledge provides me with a more well-rounded perspective.”
Leveraging Purposeful Play
After gaining additional real-world business experience working for three years in marketing and advertising sales, Randolph enrolled in The George Washington University’s Master in International Education and Human Development degree program, focusing her studies on educational programming outside of a formal classroom.
While pursuing her studies, she serendipitously learned about an opportunity to volunteer with another nonprofit organization, Coaches Across Continents (CAC), which, like Soccer Without Borders, stimulates conversation and learning among youth through sport.
“I happened to be refereeing with someone who worked for CAC while I volunteered at a youth soccer tournament in Washington, DC,” Randolph explains. “We got to talking about CAC, my grad school plans, and my interest in sport for development. Becoming a CAC Global Citizen sounded like a great opportunity to further my experience during my grad program.”
She jumped at the chance to participate in a monthlong CAC purposeful play program in Africa (three weeks in Kenya and one in Malawi), serving as a Global Citizen coach, working with a team of fellow coaches and staff to create games within the game—while encouraging conversation among the program participants about gender inequality in the workplace.
“Using games to illustrate concepts such as gender and racial equality offers a unique learning approach because those participating in the game can more easily visualize and feel the lesson or learning objective,” Randolph says. “Also, sports can be a lot of fun! I’m a firm believer that having a fun learning environment can make conversations around tough topics less intimidating.”
Ready to Return
Randolph’s month in Africa only fueled her desire to serve as an advocate for underprivileged girls by using sport as a mechanism to educate, empower, and inspire them to seek leadership roles traditionally held by men within their respective communities.
Excited to resume her favorite sport and to continue her work with young female athletes there, Randolph has returned to the continent as a Women’s Sports Corps Fellow with Moving the GoalPosts, a sport for development organization that uses soccer-centric programs to promote gender equality and female empowerment in coastal Kenya.
“After this fellowship, my goal is to continue my career in the sport for development field and work on ways to make international development more successful and sustainable,” she says. “I am eager to get back on the field.”
By Kristine Hojnicki