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Setting up for success

This offseason has been nowhere near relaxing for rising sophomore Kendee Hilliard. A senior in the classroom this fall, Hilliard is required to complete a pair of internships as a part of her undergraduate program–recreation management–and her first one was a no-brainer. Why not jump into a role under the direction of someone she admires in Illinois State Deputy Athletics Director and Senior Woman Administrator Leanna Bordner?

“The reason I chose to ask Ms. Leanna (Bordner) stems back to my first unofficial visit on campus,” commented Hilliard. “In her job as the deputy athletics director and SWA, she meets all of the incoming freshmen to tell them about ISU’s rich history of athletics as a whole and then asks each individual their goals they would like to achieve by the time they leave. When I said that I wanted to be in her position someday, I don’t think she expected me to say that, so ultimately, this internship under her direction has been such a blessing.”

“I wasn’t surprised when Hilliard asked me to do the internship knowing her long term goals to be an SWA and I felt like we had a really good plan that would allow for a lot of day-to-day interaction,” shared Bordner. “Obviously, COVID-19 got in the way, but I have been more and more impressed with her as we’ve gone through this, relative to how she’s handled this internship remotely and not being able to do some of the things we were wanting to do. Clearly, we were forced to pivot, and other opportunities came up that were able to give her a well-rounded internship that really fit her and her aspirations to be a high-level administrator. There is no doubt in my mind Kendee will be a very successful athletic administration in her career, and probably sooner than later.”

Her decision to work with Bordner has not disappointed, as Hilliard looks up to the senior woman administrator as not only a mentor, but as a friend. Not many SWAs across the country have their hand in as many areas as Bordner does, while making her way to the top as both a former student-athlete and coach, and Hilliard values that aspect in her supervisor.

“The thing I respect most about Leanna the most is that she is always willing to learn a new layer of what student-athletes deal with on their day-to-day grind. Although she is doing most of the teaching and coaching, she continues to listen and learn more,” Hilliard shared.

Hilliard’s internship looks a little different than it was initially supposed to due to COVID-19, but she hasn’t let that stop her from maxing out on her potential. The West, Texas, native split her time at home into the production of the 1Question Leadership Podcast, developing a mentorship program and several other projects within the Illinois State Athletics department.

“One of the projects I am most proud of is the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s Student-Athlete Forum about racial injustices in our communities,” Hilliard expressed. “The event showed us that we are heading into a great space to be more diverse and inclusive moving forward on campus and beyond. It was a fantastic feeling to plan such an important event and see all the hard work that went into it come to life.”

Growth is one of Illinois State volleyball’s three core values and not only has this experience helped Hilliard grow her skillset as a future leader, but it has helped her internally develop as an individual. With aspirations of becoming an administrator one day herself, Hilliard has used this opportunity to start discovering what area of the industry she would like to lead in.

“I’ve really dialed in to three different areas during this process as it relates to self-reflection and development,” said Hilliard. “The first thing is learning how I need to set myself apart from others in the job hunt after graduation. You’ve got to be an individual that wants a seat at the table, not just a look at the menu. The second thing is being able to navigate a male-dominated industry and being willing to put in the work when no one else is watching. Lastly, I need to be flexible in an ever-changing field.”

ISU head volleyball coach Leah Johnson has been impressed with Hilliard’s dedication on the court, as well as in the classroom and community, building upon the tradition and legacy of Redbird volleyball.

“Kendee’s opportunity this summer has been a first-hand demonstration of our three core values, especially growth,” Johnson expressed. “She is putting in the work to better prepare herself for life after college. Kendee is a dedicated individual, who leads by example and this summer has been reflective of that. She has a bright future and this experience working with Leanna will only set her up for success and contribute to our Redbird Tradition.”

Hilliard has approached her internship with the same championship mindset that has been instilled in her on the volleyball court through the Redbird volleyball program and her coaching staff.

“As a student-athlete, my job is to find a way to win by being determined, relentless, gritty,” shared Hilliard. “When working in intercollegiate athletics, the same skills are needed and shown. My coaches have always said that what you do now sets you apart from the competition. I think by taking the opportunity to learn and grow, especially during a pandemic, reaffirmed my desire to work in this industry even more. I can’t wait to be a part of the next best group of athletics directors and college administrators.”

“I think it is very important to assist student-athletes with internship opportunities, both inside and outside of the athletics department,” Bordner concluded. “I’ve been fortunate to help with a number of student-athletes and it is my responsibility to assist when I can, especially outside of athletics through other connections in the community with long-standing supporters.”

For updates on Illinois State Volleyball, follow the Redbirds on Twitter (@RedbirdVB) and Instagram (@redbirdvolleyball).