CHICAGO – The University of Chicago's Department of Athletics & Recreation announced on Saturday that Nicole Watkins has been appointed to serve as Director of Athletic Communications.
Watkins will provide leadership and execution of departmental communications to promote 20 varsity sports and all aspects of Athletics & Recreation.
"We are thrilled to welcome Nicole into the UChicago community! She brings tremendous talent and skills to this critical new role for us," said Erin McDermott, Director of Athletics & Recreation. "Our teams and student-athletes will be better served and our Maroon community will have more enhanced content to enjoy, from video and graphics to social media and feature stories. The recognition that Nicole has received in her early career is incredibly impressive and I know she will make an enormous impact."
Prior to her arrival on the Hyde Park campus, Watkins spent three years at Purdue University Northwest as the Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Marketing and Event Management. She made key contributions during the unification of the Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central athletic departments, which officially became Purdue Northwest in 2016. Watkins took on a major assistance and leadership role during the athletic merger, including the creation of PNWathletics.com and departmental rebranding with a new logo and mascot (Pride).
Her work online and in print has drawn recognition and awards along the way. Watkins was named the 2015-16 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Sports Information Director of the Year. The PNW sports information office won the 2016-17 Gary Spitler Memorial Award for Excellence in Publications (top award in NAIA-SIDA Publications Contest), which included two first-place finishes (Multi-Sport Poster and Infographic). The College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) also bestowed five honors in the 2016-17 CoSIDA Publications and Digital Design Contest, including "Best Cover" awards in the College Division Men's Basketball media guide and Special Events categories.
Watkins made a seismic impact in the social media realm at PNW. Over three years, the school saw exponential growth in followers of PNW's social media accounts: Instagram (+384%), Twitter (+226%) and Facebook (+215%). YouTube views also soared (+535%).
PNW's departmental video streaming efforts received a major upgrade during her tenure. The new multi-camera, high-definition production increased live views by 135 percent in two years. Games simultaneously streamed on Facebook Live brought in more than 20,000 views in one season.
"I want to thank Director of Athletics Erin McDermott and the entire UChicago search committee for allowing for this opportunity to help build the Maroon Athletics brand through digital storytelling, imagery, and more," Watkins said. "I'm excited to see what I can do to increase UChicago Athletics' visibility and help tell the stories of the department's already highly successful student-athletes and their respective teams -- I can't wait to get started."
Watkins began her journalistic career as a sports writer and photographer at The Kalamazoo Gazette in Kalamazoo, Mich. After five years in Kalamazoo, she went on to become the sports editor at The Polk County Itemizer-Observer in Dallas, Ore. for two years. In 2012-13, Watkins was picked as both the Society of Professional Journalists of Oregon and Southwest Washington Rookie of the Year, and the Oregon High School Wrestling Coaches Association Media Person of the Year. Her sports information experience included a one-year stint at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology as the Sports Information Graduate Assistant in 2013-14.
A native of Medina, Ohio, Watkins earned her bachelor's degree in fine art photography at Western Michigan University. While at WMU, she was a four-year varsity letter winner at shooting guard for the women's basketball team. Watkins later received her master's degree in recreation & sport management from Indiana State University.