Welcome back: Sac State alumna returns in new athletics position

Pamm Zierfuss-Hubbard aims to diversify the department


Pamm Zierfuss-Hubbard, the new Senior Associate Athletics Director for Diversity Equity and Inclusion, poses in her office on Monday, March 14, 2022. In this position, Zierfuss-Hubbard will lead ongoing efforts to diversify the staff within the athletics department. (Photo by Keyshawn Davis)

Uche Esomonu

Homecomings are often full-circle moments relished by those who get the chance to have them. They are opportunities to return to one’s roots and reinvest in their community.

This was always the plan for Pamm Zierfuss-Hubbard once she got the chance to return to her alma mater of Sacramento State, according to her. 

Not only was this the place that groomed her as a student, but she said the university was also where she discovered her passion for intercollegiate athletics and got her start in the field. 

Zierfuss-Hubbard was hired on Jan. 24 as the new senior associate athletics director for diversity, equity and inclusion at Sac State. 

In this position, she will lead ongoing efforts to diversify the staff within the athletics department and collaborate with coaches to support athletic programs and ensure an inclusive environment for all student athletes.  

Despite her passion for the community, when Zierfuss-Hubbard learned that the position was open, she said she hesitated to apply. 

“I was like, ‘I don’t even know where to start with that job,”’ Zierfuss-Hubbard said. 

According to her, the position did not initially bear the diversity, equity and inclusion marker, and in her experience when the National Collegiate Athletics Association introduces new requirements for a job position, they do not offer many specific guidelines.  

“They’re not very good at telling you how to do it,” Zierfuss-Hubbard said. “When they brought in the Senior Woman Administrator designation years ago, they just said all the schools will have SWA’s but nothing to tell you what that means, how best to do it. No best practices, nothing.” 

Zierfuss-Hubbard said she got a call from longtime colleague and friend Bill Macriss, Sac State’s interim dean of students and vice president for student engagement and success, who convinced her to speak to director of athletics Mark Orr before making her final decision.

Orr said he thinks the coaching staff can use resources on everything from recruitment and retention of staff, particularly staff of color.

“I felt that we identify there’s a need for a more prominent commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity,” said Orr. “Inclusion is a priority, and something that is a need that should be addressed. I think in my fourth year now at Sacramento State, I felt that our student athletes first and foremost, we need some leadership to develop programming around inclusive excellence.”

Softball coach Lori Perez said she worked with Zierfuss-Hubbard previously before her departure to Alaska. According to Perez, she is excited to have Zierfuss-Hubbard as an addition to the sports department.

“I think she has a lot of experience and has a lot of knowledge to bring to (the athletics department) so I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s doing,” said Perez. “I think she’s well equipped and ready for the position and ready to lead in that position

In her 18-year career in administration, Zierfuss-Hubbard has worn many hats.

This will be her third time serving as an athletics director after she previously held the position at Fresno City College in addition to Clovis Community College.

According to Macriss, it is Zierfuss-Hubbard’s wealth of experience that made it clear to him that Sac State could not pass on the opportunity of bringing her into the fold.

“I think that she will be a role model not just to women of color but to virtually everybody in the department,” Macriss said. “I’ve always known that Sacramento State will be better having someone who sees the world through her lens at the table.” 

Despite being away for years, Zierfuss-Hubbard has always had a connection to Sac State’s campus, and Macriss said he knew her talents will be best served here.

“She bleeds green and gold,” he said. “She’s worked at a number of campuses and I’m sure she’s made significant impacts at all of those but this is her home.”

As the senior associate athletics director for diversity, equity and inclusion, she said she hopes to build on the progress that has been made within the department and to make it even more accessible and inclusive of the athletes they serve.

According to Zierfuss-Hubbard, there is a gaping disconnect in the racial make-up of student athletes versus the make-up of supervisors from athletic directors to coaches hired to support them.  

She has made it her long-term goal to increase diversity in the department by ensuring that future recruitment efforts are unapologetic about wanting to diversify their staff.

“You have to be intentional about who you’re going to be bringing in and intentional about where you’re going to seek them out,” she said. “You have to be unafraid to say I am not going to hire who we have always hired, period.”

Maintaining the current staff make-up does a disservice to student athletes by not providing a visual reminder to them that they could do the job just as well, Zierfuss-Hubbard said.

Orr said his vision for the role is for Zierfuss-Hubbard to help make connections on campus. 

“It first starts with our division of inclusive excellence, and under the leadership of Dr. Mia Settles-Tidwell,” said Orr. “There’s a lot of partnerships we can make with athletics in that division, and also with our partners in Student Affairs, MLK Center [and] the Pride Center.”

Zierfuss-Hubbard’s leadership style will focus on providing student athletes with the necessary resources required to realize their full potential, she said. She said she recognizes that athletes are under external pressures from food and housing insecurity to race relations and aims to modify the department approach to prioritize their mental health at all times. 

“I think one of the best quotes I heard when I was on a statewide committee at the two-year level is we kept saying that COVID was giving us the opportunity to get our coaches to understand that now is the time to coach our student athletes from the neck up as opposed to the neck down,” Zierfuss-Hubbard said.

Zierfuss-Hubbard said her first order of business is to compile a diversity, equity and inclusion handbook that would inform athletes of the resources available to them on campus. 

She said she also intends to work closely with the recently revived Inclusive Excellence Council, a group of student athletes and administrators. Together, they will track student athlete feedback on potential changes within the department. 

“It’s almost like this shift is happening in college athletics,” Zierfuss-Hubbard said. “Within sports, you realize all of this stuff of this other stuff that we didn’t think mattered. Well, they matter, and if we can provide the resources and the support for all other things, that’s going to make them a better student athlete in the end.”  

Additional reporting by Keyshawn Davis