Faculty & Staff Spotlight: Natasha Oakes, UNT

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Faculty & Staff Spotlight: Natasha Oakes, UNT

Natasha Oakes, an accomplished leader in collegiate athletics, joined UNT World in 2017. She oversees NCAA, Conference USA and institutional compliance for all 16 Mean Green athletics teams, and also serves as the Senior Woman Administrator, the highest-ranking female involved in the management of an athletics program, deputy Title IX coordinator and the department's Chief Diversity Officer. Her drive is fueled by her lifelong passion for collegiate athletics and the satisfaction of helping student-athletes succeed. When it's time to relax, she loves to travel -- a trip to the birthplace of the Olympic Games is among her favorite trips -- and cook -- it takes her back to her mom's kitchen in Tokepa, Kan. If there's one thing to quibble about, it's her definitive take on KC barbecue. 


What is your favorite aspect about your job?
College sports is a part of the fabric of my life both professionally and personally. The picture I chose for the spotlight really helps depict this, as I had the opportunity to support my nephew at one of his college games. Through college sports, I have the ability to learn about our student-athletes beyond their contributions on the court or field of play and, just like my nephew, our student-athletes become part of my family. We have such a diverse group of individuals in our department and to have the opportunity to see them learn and be successful academically, athletically and socially is an awesome thing to witness.

What inspired you to pursue your field of expertise?
Sports is something that I have always been passionate about, even from a very early age. I had the privilege of participating as a student-athlete in college and it was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. For many, sports is a vehicle to provide access to higher education and it is a great training ground to teach people the importance of time management, teamwork and leadership skills. As a first-generation college graduate from my family, I recognized there are many others who have a similar background to mine, so I decided to pursue this career to continue my passion for sports in a way that would also allow me the opportunity to positively impact the lives of young people. 

From the perspective of your role, what are some of the bigger challenges that student-athletes face today?
Managing mental health is a challenge all students face; however, coming through the pandemic, it appears it is becoming even more challenging and understandably so. Students must manage academic obligations, family and other relational challenges, etc. For student-athletes, there is the additional complexity of dealing with the rigors of their sport and the pressures to perform at a high level. When they win, it is celebrated by all, but when they lose, it is seen by all and often questioned and criticized publicly.

What is your proudest work moment?
Every time we see our student-athletes graduate, it is a very proud moment for me, but there is one student-athlete from a previous institution that really stands out. During his time in our program, he completed his undergraduate degree and was given an opportunity to serve as a graduate assistant to continue his education and begin a career as a strength coach. He was a local student who had never been outside of the country or even the region and I helped him obtain an internship with a prominent company in the fitness industry that was in an area of the country he had never visited. He reluctantly participated in the internship program and is now traveling the world and working for an Olympic training facility. A couple of years ago, he told me if it were not for me, he would have never been able to do half of the things he has experienced. 

What is your proudest non-work moment?
I actually have two that are really intertwined. The first is that my grandmother, who placed a very high importance on obtaining an education, was able to witness me graduate from college a couple months before she passed. The second would be to see the pride my mother had in seeing me make it as far as I have in my career. My mother was a single parent, so for her to know that all her sacrificing provided me the opportunity to be where I am today made her heart beam with joy. She unfortunately passed back in 2020, but I know that her legacy lives on in me.

What is a fact about you that may surprise your work colleagues?
When I was younger, I wanted to be an athletic trainer, but I soon realized that would not work because I do not like feet. It is hard to tape ankles if you don’t like feet!

Restaurant?: Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que in Kansas City, Kan. I’m a Kansas girl and have an affinity for KC barbecue…it is the BEST!
Hobby?: When I’m not traveling, I really enjoy cooking and experimenting with different recipes. Some of my fondest memories growing up are from being in the kitchen cooking with my mom. Also, while in college my friends and teammates would always come to my house for Sunday dinner. It was an opportunity to connect, tell stories and share in laughter. Cooking really brings me back to those days, as well as times shared in the kitchen with my mother.
Place to visit?: I really enjoy traveling both in the U.S. and abroad. To date, one of my favorite places internationally was Greece. The history and the culture are so rich and to be able to go to the birthplace of the modern Olympic games is a memory I will cherish forever.