Former football captain Shawn Tucker is helping the Scarlet Knights achieve in a different way
Shawn Tucker lives by the words of Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
He lives by those words in his private life and he lives them in the position he holds at Rutgers University. Hired a year ago, Tucker is the Vice President for Athletic Development in charge of fundraising for the Scarlet Knights and Deputy Athletic Director. He had previously served at Rutgers as Associate Athletic Director of Student-Athlete Development.
In his latest role at Rutgers, he is about to embark on a $50,000,000 campaign for major capital projects for athletics. As he moves forward, he is driven by his long and deep connection to the university.
The 39-year-old’s connection to Rutgers began when he left his home in Florida at age 18 to come to the university on a football scholarship. He was a captain as a senior, the historic season Rutgers upset third-ranked Louisville and went on to beat Kansas State in the Texas Bowl. The team finished 11-2 and ranked No. 12 nationally by the Associated Press.
His professional future came into focus a few years earlier when he was lying in a hospital bed after undergoing abductor surgery on his groin. He had envisioned playing 10 years as a wide receiver in the National Football League, but an injury sophomore year created a painful reality.
“For the first time in my life I was not invincible. For a vast portion of my life, sports was a driver, a key, an open door. I excelled in multiple sports. For the first time,’’ he said recently from his office at the Gary and Barbara Rodkin Academic Success Center, “I felt the end was coming.
“I wasn’t ready for it, mentally, emotionally, but I knew that I better figure this thing out in the next couple of years or it was going to be tough sledding. I really leaned in with the Lord and prayed like I never prayed before. I asked for direction like I’d never done before.”
While sitting out the following football season due to injuries, Tucker began connecting with alumni, and sought professors to help mold his perspective on impacting the greater good and began envisioning himself as a leader off the field.
“That’s what excites me now,’’ Tucker said. “During my first stint, here I was working tirelessly with student-athletes to advance their career aspirations and to prepare them for life after sports. Now I’m on the other side of finding ways to support their experience. Now, I look at it from a different vantage point, and that’s something I’m excited for.
“I love serving. I love athletics. I’ve merged the two over the last 20 years. To me there’s no greater joy than seeing a 17-18-year-old come to college exploring, trying to figure out what they’re passionate about, what they’re gifted at and witnessing them graduating in 4 to 5 years as prepared young women and men. We have such a unique vantage point in higher education to mold our youth and its truly a privilege to lead in this capacity.”
After visiting a few alums in Florida last year to make a donor appeal, Tucker had a realization on the drive home, “This is my wheelhouse!” he said.
The leader of fundraising now for athletics, he has a pool of 550,000 living alumni. And, of course, numerous fans of Scarlet Knights sports teams.
“I love talking about Rutgers, I love talking about the various pathways where you can literally transform a young woman's, young man’s life. You may have never thought your gift would be transformational, but because it’s something that you value, that you put time and energy into, it’s going to impact somebody in a positive manner.”
Philanthropy is all about relationships, Tucker said. But fundraising is never easy.
“I am at the front door, that front porch, to the university from a relationship standpoint,” he said, “and now I need to make sure you can trust me in directing you to the pathway to support Rutgers.”
In that hospital bed during his sophomore year, he began to realize that he possessed intangibles, from sports leadership, management skills, work ethic, creative thinking, problem solving, characteristics that lend themselves to the work force. All he had to do was figure in what industry he could utilize those.
His football experiences also provided strengths, such as the discipline of waking at 4 a.m. to be in the weight room at 5 to do winter conditioning drills.
“Those are moments when you look inward and say, ‘Do you really want to be great?’ And we all wanted to be great,” he said. “We did what we needed to do to be successful. All the behind the scenes work, the leading, the sacrifices, but also the joy of a journey. But I think we have minimized the journey of what it means to see products grow, to see relationships grow, see human development grow. We’re a very instant society now. You lose some of the appreciation of the journey.
“The journey of being a college Division I student-athlete and being under the tutelage of (head coach) Greg Schiano helped mold and shape me to be the man I am today.”
That man has also had another role outside of his full-time job where he works in other ways to shape students. He and his wife Mary oversee a young adult campus ministry called, “A.LIFE Ministry,” a sub ministry of their home church Abundant Life in New Brunswick. It covers three chapters: Rutgers, Kean and Montclair State.
Tucker oversees weekly bible studies with a leadership team of 33. He serves as advisor to each campus, smiling and noting, “I’m a little busy these days.”
Busy with three young children as well, which also affects his professional life.
“Being a parent has given me the right perspective on life that it’s not about you. It’s about others, about those around you. It’s shaped me how to even manage my teams here that I lead,’’ he said.
“Growing up in a Christian home provided me with great, great values. It allowed me to stay grounded and understand that at any moment this can be taken away from me, and so let me enjoy this journey as best as possible.”