When Liz Darger first began the Educational Leadership Doctorate (EdD) in the McKay School, she was unsure of how she would balance the program with other responsibilities. Darger’s position as the senior associate athletic director at BYU is a time-intensive one. Her time is spent in the office, and cheering on student-athletes from the sidelines. When she’s not fulfilling her duties as an athletic administrator, Darger serves as a member of the Young Women general board for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With such a busy schedule, Darger didn’t know if she would have enough time to complete her EdD.
“I thought I might need to defer the doctoral program,” Darger said. “My plate was full, and I didn’t know how I could do all of it.” After seriously considering the choice, she decided to continue with the program. “I spoke with Dr. Pam Hallam, chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations about the program. She advised me not to make the decision before I could see if I could manage it.” Taking Hallam’s advice to heart, Darger completed the first year of the program and now looks forward to completing her second year.
As an undergrad at BYU, Darger first coached girls basketball at Timpview High School. After earning a bachelor's in family sciences as well as a master’s in school counseling psychology from BYU, she worked as a counselor and coach in high schools across Utah. She eventually took a position as assistant women’s basketball coach at Utah Valley University, then joined the BYU athletic administration in 2015 as the senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator.
Now, rather than coaching one team, Darger mentors over 600 BYU student-athletes. She supervises human resources for more than 200 BYU employees and oversees several teams—including women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s gymnastics, indoor and outdoor track and field, the cheer squad, Cougarettes, and Cosmo’s dunk team.
Beyond BYU, Darger mentors young women in her church calling. As a member of the Young Women general board she counsels with the Young Women general presidency, attends local activities, and holds focus groups. She also reviews curriculum, attends committee meetings, and provides training as assigned by the presidency.
In all her roles—student, administrator, and board member—Darger finds opportunities to elevate young adults in higher education and create inclusive religious environments. Last year, she received the Emerging Professional Award from the Utah Women in Higher Education Network (UWHEN) in recognition of her work with the BYU athletic department and women in leadership.
As an administrator, her top priority is her students “The best part of my day is any time I spend with student-athletes,” said Darger. “Whether I'm out at practice, at a game, visiting with a student-athlete in my office, or at a SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Committee) meeting, I love interacting with them. I feed off their energy.”
In many ways, Darger believes her doctoral program has strengthened her relationships with these students. “It's been neat to have something additional in common with our student-athletes, as we talk about homework and finals week,” she said. “It has given me greater empathy for them. In addition to the heavy demands of training as a Division I athlete, they are managing a full-time course load.”
For Darger, some of the most rewarding parts of the EdLF doctoral program are the collaborative aspects. “I love the cohort learning environment. There was a lot of trust built early on among our cohort, and that has allowed for some important discussions about really hard challenges—challenges in education, challenges in our country, challenges in terms of our church, BYU, and in our individual jobs.”
Darger appreciates creating professional relationships with people who are passionate about learning and education. “We all care deeply about students. We all take seriously our responsibility to build the kingdom in our own spheres of influence, and we're all going to help each other do that. That's been a really remarkable part of the program.”
As Darger begins her second year in the doctoral program she will continue to implement the lessons she’s learning from her cohort and program to benefit those she works with. “We are being prepared to be agents of change as educational leaders, which requires vision and courage—including the courage to involve our students in decision-making. I am grateful to be learning from faculty and classmates with vision and courage.”
Want to read more about EdLF students? Click here to meet Kory Crockett and Joseph Olson, two best friends pursing MEds together.
Writer: Emma Smith
Contact: Cynthia Glad 801-422-1922
All photos courtesy of Liz Darger.