By Donny Nadeau
Saint Mary’s Sports Information Director
WINONA, Minn. — If you ask those who know Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Athletic Director Dr. Nikki Fennern, this selection was a no-brainer.
Every year, the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership presents the Breaking Barriers Award to individuals or organizations who have broken barriers and/or made an impact in providing athletic opportunities for girls and women in their communities.
And this year, Fennern was among those to earn this illustrious and well-deserved honor.
Fennern will receive her award at the Minnesota celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day held at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. This year’s celebration will be held Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. This event is held in conjunction with the national event and is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments in girls and women’s sports, to recognize our state’s leaders and athletes, and to look to the future.
“It is my honor and privilege to be a Breaking Barriers awardee,” said Fennern, who earned the 2016 Women’ Leaders in College Sports (formerly NACWAA) Administrator of the Year Award for Division III. “To be among the distinguished list of current and former recipients, and to be recognized on National Girls and Women in Sports Day, is truly humbling. I appreciate the work of the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership, the awards committee, Saint Mary’s alumna, Sara Eisenhauer, and all others involved in this great event.
“I thank all of my mentors—who broke barriers for me to be involved in athletics as a student-athlete and as a professional,” Fennern added. “This is a tribute to those people, and it is my honor to continue to work to pave the way for our future student-athletes and leaders in all levels of athletics.”
Fennern is an active Women Leaders in College Sports member who embodies the mission of advancing women in collegiate athletics. As the director of athletics at Saint Mary’s, Fennern is committed to the education of students both in the classroom and on their respective playing surfaces. Under her guidance, Saint Mary’s athletics have enjoyed some of the best years in recent history. On top of encouraging athletic success, Fennern also leads, mentors, and provides vision for her staff, while being a positive role model for student-athletes and up-and-coming young administrators.
“Beyond her achievements as a coach and administrator, Nikki has instilled in Saint Mary’s athletes a sense of responsibility to others in keeping with the Lasallian themes of the institution,” said former Saint Mary’s women’s hockey player and current assistant commissioner of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) Sara Eisenhauer, who nominated Fennern for the Breaking Barriers Award. “Additionally, Nikki has shared her talents through several mentoring programs for young administrators within the conference and the region. Nikki has been a friend and role model to me since my time as a student-athlete at Saint Mary’s. She has shown me what it means to be a strong female leader in intercollegiate athletics.
“Aside from being one of the toughest people I know, she is also one of the most caring,” Eisenhauer added. “She always puts others before herself and shows true care for student-athletes beyond their years on campus. Most admirably, she is a fantastic mother who has set an example for women in her department and within the industry on how to balance a powerful career and a family. I don’t remember ever being at an athletics event where at least one of her three daughters wasn’t there. She is very deserving of this honor—I can’t think of a better role model than Nikki.”
“Nikki has been breaking barriers as long as I’ve known her—and it is good to see others taking notice and recognizing her,” said Chris Kendall, Saint Mary’s associate vice president of Campus Services. “She is a great role model for young women and young men with her can-do attitude. Many times, I have heard Nikki say, ‘We’ll just have to out-work them.’
“I trust this award is especially gratifying for Nikki,” Kendall added. “Oftentimes she is breaking barriers that others do not see.”