WNE Found an Ace in Jenn Kolins, Director of Athletics and Recreation

Western New England University Athletics prides itself on three pillars of success: integrity, respect, and commitment. These are qualities that Director of Athletics & Recreation Jenn Kolins practiced long before she stepped foot on the WNE campus. Now, as a member of the Golden Bear community for more than 24 years, it is easy to see how Kolins not only embodies those pillars but truly bleeds blue and gold.

Over the past 30 years, the world of sports, especially intercollegiate athletics, has significantly changed to offer enhanced opportunities for universities and athletic conferences to positively impact the experiences of student-athletes, coaches, and administrators. One of the most notable changes has been the number of women participating across all facets of sport, including serving in prestigious athletic department leadership roles. As of January 2024, Kolins is now among the elite group of female leaders who comprise 25% of university directors of athletics and recreation across the United States.

A native of North Philadelphia, Kolins was raised by a single mother who made spending time at the local playground a priority — a routine that ultimately built the foundation for Kolins’ love for sports, connection, and a desire to always pay it forward.

Love of Sports

Throughout her formative years, Coach Kolins evolved her involvement in playground sports into a true passion for tennis, the catalyst for what would become her lifelong love of athletics. She began training at the legendary Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center at the age of 10 and later joined the National Junior Tennis League (NJTL) to further develop her skills. Under the guidance of her coaches, and occasionally Arthur Ashe himself, she had the opportunity to meet Billie Jean King, the top American women’s tennis player at the time.

It was then that Kolins became aware that women were often not afforded the same opportunities as men to advance in athletics. This reality drove her to work that much harder to make a name for herself, both on and off the court, with accolades including recognition by female IndyCar Driver Lyn St. James at a national Women in Sports Day event in 1995. These incredibly impactful experiences and professional-athlete influences helped to provide the life-changing awareness and motivation Kolins needed to steer her in the direction of coaching and her career in sports.

After graduating from Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, where she was a four-year letterwinner in volleyball and tennis, Kolins was well-recognized as a consistent competitor within the Philadelphia boys high school league (as there wasn’t a female team at her high school yet). Kolins then advanced both her academic and athletic careers at the University of Hartford. As a student-athlete, she had the opportunity to play Division I tennis for four years and served as a three year captain. She obtained her degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communications with a concentration in Sports Marketing.

After coaching for several years, Kolins recognized that in order to continue to meet the needs of her student-athletes and continue growing as a coach, she needed to continue her education. Earning her Masters in Coaching and Athletic Administration degree from Concordia Irvine in 2015, Kolins has been able to utilize her additional education to further her career and positively impact the University’s student-athletes.

Connection and Leadership

Reflecting on her career, Coach Kolins acknowledged that she always knew her career in sports was “her vehicle to get to her next destination,” which is why she jumped at the opportunity in 2000 to join Western New England University as the head coach for Golden Bear men’s and women’s tennis. Fresh out of college and ready to give back to the next generation of student-athletes, Kolins credits her coaching experience at WNE as the most fulfilling part of her journey.

Making the transition from Division I to Division III was the change she was looking for all along, and coaching at WNE provided her the opportunity to apply and develop her skills, meeting the desire to help student-athletes grow on the court, in the classroom, and in the community.

Her fondest memories have been as a WNE coach — especially one of her first seasons when the University competed in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC), and she watched the Golden Bears give everything they had on the court and beyond. Kolins has always approached tennis as a team sport rather than how the sport is generally viewed more individually. It was this shift in mindset that she attributes to the men’s team winning their first championship in 2002, and the women’s team going undefeated and ultimately winning their first championship in 2003. From that point forward, she made it her mission to help her student-athletes realize the importance of teamwork when setting championship-level goals, while appreciating that every year might not result in a championship.

“It’s the work, and it’s those subsequent goals that are achieved year in and year out that leave the longest impact,” said Kolins. “Although winning is a goal, the students are the mission. Their future successes on and off their field of play is what drives and inspires me.”

Over the past 24 years, Coach Kolins has expanded her leadership within WNE Athletics beyond the tennis court, as she has also served as Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) advisor, assistant athletic director, and co-founding administrator of the Black Student-Athlete Alliance (BSAA). Whether on the court, working with SAAC, or joining diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leadership groups on campus, fostering inclusivity is at the heart of her core leadership principles. In doing so, she has always hoped to educate students from a global perspective while showing them how they can utilize the transferable skills learned through sport to enhance their education, future careers, leadership roles, and personal life.

“One of my favorite parts of the job is seeing the discovery of self that takes place. Moreso, I enjoy being a part of SAAC because it truly is the voice of the students and highlights the importance of peer-to-peer leadership and mentorship.”

Paying It Forward

Throughout her tenure, Kolins has witnessed meaningful change across the world of intercollegiate athletics as a student-athlete, a coach, and now as an administrator. At WNE, she has seen firsthand the growth of our Golden Bear facilities, enhanced opportunities for women in sports (including the most recent addition of men’s and women’s track and field during her time as director of athletics), and expanded opportunities and resources for coaches.

Just as she always hoped to become a coach to impact student-athletes, she now hopes as the director of University Athletics and Recreation that she can continue to make significant changes in sports that will expand resources for student-athletes and positively enhance and impact their overall college experience.

Rising through the world of intercollegiate athletics during a time when women in sports was not as prominent, the dream of becoming a coach — who was able to lead, teach, and help kids and young adults achieve their dreams — might have seemed out of reach for most. But for Coach Kolins, she never stopped pursuing that dream until it became a reality. While coaching was at the forefront of those dreams, she never imagined that one day she would be leading a team of her peers — those she recognizes as “the foundation of the athletics department.

“It’s because of our coaches and staff being committed to continued learning and growth that we are able to build upon our department’s strengths while carrying on our traditions,” Kolins said.

Although she strives to positively impact the student-athletes, she credits them for the incredible experiences she has been a part of at WNE. “I could not be prouder of the way our student-athletes represent themselves and this University, both at the local level and on the national stage.”

Coming full circle from playground sports to student-athlete, to coach, and now to administrator, Coach Kolins reflected that while she loves athletics, she loves WNE and its student-athletes, coaches, and staff that much more.