COD Expands Its Athletics With Expertise

Sports at College of DuPage are only continuing to grow in 2023, so the department brought on a new face who’s ready to bring her biggest strengths into the picture.

Nick Karmia, Sports Writer

College of DuPage has new talent in the ranks of its athletic department hoping to further revolutionize the future of sports at COD. 

“I am essentially the student-athlete liaison between the athletic department and their academic experience,” said Kelsey Plefka, the new assistant athletic director for student eligibility and services.  

Among Plefka’s responsibilities, she will work with academic counselors to oversee athletes’ grades and required credit enrollment to maintain the eligibility standards for playing their sport. Plefka will also assist in the athlete certification process, which deems players able to compete in NJCAA Division III. 

During the 2018-2019 school year, COD’s athletic teams were placed on a seasonal probation by the NJCAA due to insufficient reporting of athlete eligibility. An internal review from COD’s athletic department  and an independent law firm found that all the documentation to make an athlete eligible to play hadn’t been filed, some improper filing dating back to 2013. This stopped athletes from competing in postseason competitions such as the Region IV Tournament and National Championships, but allowed teams to participate in the regular season. 

The probationary period had eventually ended, and postseason play was reinstated after COD’s eligibility standards became up to par with the NJCAA reporting requirements. As part of Plefka’s position, she will be responsible for ensuring the proper certification of athlete eligibility remains intact. Being on campus for only five weeks thus far, Plefka is already looking to implement several initiatives to enhance the athletic department’s strength. 

“I want to have a semester where I can just experience the environment, and get to know people that I work with. Get to know the student athletes, and then really hit the ground running with some improved programming this fall,” Plefka said. 

Plefka recognizes the success behind athletes at COD, and when the opportunity for these athletes to move on to Division I arises, she wants these players to be prepared for their journey in sports moving forward. 

“I really want to make sure that our student athletes have the skills. Not just to be successful here academically, but to move on to that next level,” Plefka said. 

The idea of a new student athlete orientation is something that Plefka is hoping to implement for fall 2023. In this program, she plans to put an emphasis on connecting the athlete experience to the student experience in order to better support the next steps in their academic career. 

“I want a program specifically for student-athletes that can be focused on making sure that our student athletes who spend 90% of their day in the PEC (Physical Education Center) are aware of everything else this campus has to offer,” Plefka said. “I really just want to bring our student athletes to the greater campus community, and show them that yes, you may be spending a majority of your time here, but you’re also able to utilize all of these other resources.” 

It’s a new environment institutionally for Plefka as she transitions from her occupations at a four-year school to the community college level. 

“I’m really excited for the possibilities for our student body here. It’s really just a wide variety of students that are coming in and out of my office,” Plefka said. “The variety is what’s thrilling to me right now. That one conversation will never be the same as the next.” 

Helping others build towards their success has consistently surrounded the impact Plefka tries to make in the communities she’s a part of. A large part of this occurred during more than 15 years of dedication to Elmhurst University as both a member of their faculty and as a student. 

As a student, she competed for the cross country and track teams, became a sports writer and editor for EU’s student newspaper the Leader, and worked as a part-time federal work study student in the financial aid office. 

“After I graduated, they kind of gave me my first opportunity in higher education. I was invited back to [become] assistant coach [of] the cross country and track teams, so I did that for four years,” Plefka said.  

 Serving in several part-time jobs in the sports and higher education industry, Plefka eventually made her way into a full-time position at EU in their student financial services office. 

While Plefka was working in the financial aid office at EU, she became a part-time college life coach in the student affairs department. Plefka said “this is the best thing” she could have done for her career, and it ultimately ended up leading her to COD. 

During this time, Plefka operated as a liaison for students’ transition and journey through the college experience. As she continued on as a college life coach for five years at Elmhurst, her passion for pursuing a role in student affairs took its form. 

“When I saw this position opening [at COD] I knew I had to take the opportunity. Especially in a field that I’ve grown really passionate for,” Plefka said. 

This passion that arose for wanting to serve as a line of support in a student’s life came primarily out of Plefka’s own college experience. Throughout her academic journey, there was never really a path in life that she considered clear to follow. Finding mentors and professionals at Elmhurst taught her that it was OK to not have her journey charted out just yet. 

“In my early years, I think that really helped me find myself, and find out what I’m passionate for later,” Plefka said. “I just credit that to the support that I received not just from my family but from the professionals at Elmhurst that guided me to the point where I’m at now.” 

Plefka plans to bring all of her experiences to the table when it comes to the success of athletics at COD. She wants to lead a program that aspires to make sure athletes are prepared for their future both inside and out of the sports world. 

“As much as we’d love to be able to play our sports for the rest of our lives, that’s not always the most realistic outlook. You always want to come in with that plan B,” Plefka said. “Falling back on a college degree is so important. A lot of them might go into their athletic careers at a DI or a DII school and end up being a professional after the fact, and that’s fantastic too, and I just want to give them the best shot at both of those paths.”