PHILADELPHIA – The University of Pennsylvania became the first Ivy League institution to host an espnW Campus Conversation on Monday night at the Palestra. An impressive group of panelists, all with Penn degrees, presented to current female student-athletes about making “The Great Pivot” - preparing personally and professionally for life after college and college athletics.
Alyssa Roenigk, a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine and espnW.com, served as the moderator for the event. The panelists included Penn Hall of Fame women’s basketball player Diana Caramanico W’01, MAAP’11; Vice President of Growth Initiatives for espnW Leah LaPlaca WG’01; Hall of Fame Penn squash player and Director of Training Sites and Community Partnerships at the USOC Alicia McConnell C’85; and Ali Tomlinson MSP’14, MPH’15, the founder of IN Power Performance and former Cornell softball player.
“We have this amazing network of alumni who feel that they so benefited from their experience and they are always so willing to come back and share their experiences and to reach down and pull up the next generation,” Penn’s Director of Athletics Grace Calhoun said.
Following a welcome from Calhoun, Carol Stiff set the stage for the event and introduced the panelists. Stiff is the vice president for college sports programming at ESPN.
The panelists then spoke about their own experiences making the pivot from student-athlete to a working professional and the challenges they faced as women in the work place. Tomlinson spoke to the student-athletes about finding their true passion, rather than “checking the boxes” that society may expect from an Ivy League graduate.
Following the panel discussion, the student-athletes broke into two groups for a more intimate conversation with selected panelists. Caramanico and Tomlinson led the discussion entitled “I am gritty” while LaPlaca and McConnell facilitated the conversation “I am a leader.” After 20 minutes with each group, the student-athletes reconvened together for a wrap-up.
“One of the things we are trying to do with espnW is to engage and inspire women through sports,” LaPlaca said. “The way we can connect with female student-athletes and talk about the pivot from being a student-athlete to going into the real world is really exciting.”
The espnW Campus Conversation is one of several events hosted by Penn Athletics each semester to help student-athletes develop as people.
“We pride ourselves at Penn at being innovative and really caring about the holistic development of our student-athletes,” Calhoun said. “We couldn’t be more excited about how the event went.”
“Tonight is another example that Penn is doing a great job at helping women make their way in the workplace,” junior field hockey standout Alexa Hoover said.
“I think events like this show that Penn cares enough to help provide support for us to improve and use athletics as a medium to become strong women,” senior women’s lacrosse player Lauren D’Amore said.
The Campus Conversation series began last spring at Duke, Texas and Connecticut and continued this fall at UCLA, Howard, Boston College and Penn.
ALYSSA ROENIGK, Senior Writer – ESPN The Magazine, espnW.com
Alyssa Roenigk is an author, broadcast journalist and senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and espnW.com, covering action sports, the Olympics and football. She began her career at ESPN as a copyeditor, joining The Magazine full time in 2005. In 2008, Roenigk moved to Southern California after being promoted to senior writer. She has since worked on over twenty X Games and has appeared on SportsCenter, GMA and Outside the Lines. Prior to ESPN, Roenigk was a writer for American Cheerleader magazine in New York. She graduated from the University of Florida (’99), where she was a Gator Cheerleader, with a degree in journalism.
DIANA CARAMANICO, Owner, Sports Psychologist – Corpus Mensque
Diana Caramanico (Penn ’01) is a sports psychologist and owner of Corpus Mensque. She launched the organization in 2006 with a mission to ensure mental productivity and resilience training in addition to an athlete’s physical training. Her clients include Penn women’s golf, Villanova women’s lacrosse team, and U.S. Army soldiers. At Penn, Caramanico competed for the women’s basketball team and was a two-time captain. Impressively, she still stands as the school’s only player – male or female – to break 2,000 career points, finishing her career with 2,415. She also led the team to its first-ever Ivy League Championship. After college, Caramanico played professionally in France for two years where she led the league in scored both seasons. Caramanico graduated from the Wharton School, went on to earn her master’s in applied psychology from the University in 2011, and was inducted into the Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Fame in 2012.
LEAH LAPLACA, Vice President, espnW Growth Initiatives
Leah LaPlaca (The Wharton School ’01) joined ESPN in 2002 and currently serves as vice president, espnW growth initiatives, developing the espnW business through internal and external collaborations, in addition to working with ESPN's satellite offices on international expansion.
Prior to joining the espnW team, she served as vice president, talent planning and negotiation in ESPN’s Talent Office, and previously held positions in both ESPN’s programming department and Disney and ESPN Media Networks’ affiliate sales and marketing department. Earlier in her career, LaPlaca spent time as a consultant working with The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also earned her MBA. She has held positions with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce (1997-1999) and was also an intern with Comcast (2000) while in business school. Before joining the corporate ranks, LaPlaca was a researcher focusing on the behavior and ecology of chimpanzees.
LaPlaca graduated summa cum laude in 1995 from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in primatology and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. The recipient of a National Science Foundation fellowship, LaPlaca earned a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 and an MBA in strategic management from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001. She serves on the alumni advisory board of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative. LaPlaca lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters.
ALICIA MCCONNELL, Director of Training Sites and Community Partnerships – US Olympic Committee
Alicia McConnell (Penn ’84) has been the Director of Training Sites and Community Partnerships for the United States Olympic Committee since 1998. She oversees 17 Olympic and Paralympic training sites and 11 community development programs. Prior to joining the USOC, McConnell played professional squash from 1986-1991 and has coached at the YMCA, the New York Department of Parks and Recreation, and other community programs. In high school, she was two-time national junior squash champion, won the U18 national title three times, and won the Canadian junior championships four times. McConnell went on to win seven straight Women’s National Championships from 1981-1989. She was inducted into the University of Pennsylvania Hall of Fame in 1996, the US Squash Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Intercollegiate Squash Hall of Fame in 2001. While at Penn, McConnell competed on the varsity squash, field hockey, and women’s lacrosse teams. She graduated with a BA in Economics.
ALEXANDRA (ALI) TOMLINSON, Founder – IN-Power Health and Performance Coaching
Alexandra (Ali) Tomlinson is the founder of IN-Power Health and Performance Coaching and currently serves as a performance coach, yoga and meditation instructor, and board member of the Kyle Ambrogi Foundation. Tomlinson graduated from Cornell University (’11) where she played softball (pitcher) while studying communications and nutrition. She received her master’s in social policy and public health education from the University of Pennsylvania