An educational psychology professor who also is a strong proponent of college athletics is stepping in to continue helping students balance academic and athletic demands as another long-time faculty member devoted to NAU athletics is set to retire.
Northern Arizona University President John Haeger announced that Tom Destefano, an NAU professor since 1991, has been appointed as the university’s new NCAA-mandated faculty athletic representative. Destefano will assume the role in June when Wayne Sjoberg retires from the position after 12 years.
“The faculty athletic representative is vital to the success of our athletics program,” Haeger said. He explained that the position is responsible for four key aspects: academic integrity, NCAA compliance, enhancing the student-athlete experience and communication with university administrators.
That responsibility now falls to Destefano, who already has hit the ground running to learn the nuances of the position. It’s a pace suited for Destefano, a former college athlete who values the life-lessons he learned as a football player at Wright College in Chicago.
“Student-athletes learn the importance of maintaining strong personal values—such as committing to a goal, cooperating with others and being ethical in your actions,” Destefano said. “They learn that success is not just measured in wins or losses but by ‘how you play the game’ and what you learn from the experience.”
Destefano said his goals as faculty athletic representative include ensuring that academics remain the primary focus of NAU’s athletics program and ensuring gender equity and student-athlete wellbeing.
“With Tom’s experience as a former college athlete and his academic expertise in student development and counseling, he will be a wonderful asset to our student-athletes,” Haeger said.
Destefano will be following in the footsteps of Sjoberg, who taught psychology at NAU for 40 years before retiring from teaching in 2006, and has served as faculty athletic representative since 1998. Reporting to the Office of the President, Sjoberg has led the university through two successful NCAA certifications and has worked closely with athletic department personnel on issues related to academic integrity, rules compliance and student-athlete welfare.
Sjoberg said serving in the role has given him a new perspective on college athletics. “Prior to this I knew college athletics mostly from a fan’s perspective and from those student-athletes in my classes. I didn’t understand how much is actually required of them to really succeed as both students and athletes.”
He added that the success of NAU’s athletics program requires the work of faculty, staff and administrators across campus who are willing lend their time and effort helping NAU’s student-athletes succeed.