Mike D. Wisecup takes over as Athletic Director

On Oct. 16, President Greene announced former Harold Alfond Director of Athletics Jake Okkloka’s departure to Johns Hopkins University. President Greene appointed former Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Mike D. Wisecup to replace Okkloka. Wisecup has no prior experience as an Athletic Director but is no stranger to leadership roles, having served as a Navy SEAL for twenty years. He also competed as a swimmer for the U.S. Naval Academy. 

The Echo sat down with Wisecup to discuss his path to Colby, his plans for assuming leadership over Colby’s athletics, and his well-recognized volunteer experience.

Wisecup headed to Maine, where his parents had settled in their retirement, after he concluded his military service. He explained that he was in need of a mentor for his post-retirement years, and a mutual friend brought President Greene to his attention.

“David Greene brought me to Colby. His passion is evident, his ideas are big, but achievable, he’s got a great set of leadership qualities.” Wisecup said.

After a long, fruitful meeting with President Greene in the fall of 2017, Wisecup realized he had found the mentor he was looking for. Soon after, the former SEAL found himself involved with the College, offering his experience and personal philosophy while bringing together various departments at Colby from an adjacent, rather than top-down, position. 

“Leadership, in [this role], was different,” he explained. “It wasn’t leadership from the front kind of style. In that role where you’re not really in charge of anyone, you can’t tell people what to do. It’s more about influence, and working together, and building a team.”

Wisecup spoke to community leaders in a spring 2018 lecture about his leadership strategies, like his desire to envision goals and backtrack from that spot, finding systematic improvements to be made along the way. He explained his tendency to observe and question the way things are done and the processes around him.

When the Athletic Director position opened on short notice, Wisecup was well-situated to take over the role, doing so within a rushed two-week transition period. 

“There was no preconceived plan here. [The AD role] was never on my radar. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, and in the past year, to have proven myself, or given people confidence in my ability to do this job,” Wisecup said.

He described what the initial plan and resulting schedule has been like to the Echo:

“Before we make changes, I need to see where we want to be, and then I back-plan from that. Job number one here is to not come in with any preconceived ideas of what needed to be changed[…]I needed to learn the organization as much as I could, on a ‘listen and learn’ tour. First 30 days: meeting with every coach, every employee, understanding who they are, where their obstacles are, what they like, what they dislike. In that process, my ideas are starting to form.” 

The end goal that Wisecup spoke of? For Colby Athletics to be the best in the nation. He explained that a focus on the people is where he would like to target improvements, highlighting leadership and ethics development.

In addition to Wisecup’s impressive career, he has also taken the time to engage with sick children through Camp Sunshine, a non-profit group in Casco, Maine. His “SEALs for Sunshine” initiative raises awareness and funds for these children by organizing annual endurance challenges.

“I need a place that could connect me back to my community, and [Camp Sunshine] was that community. They’re a bit of an anchor for me.”

Wisecup has been recognized as the New England Patriots’ “Difference Maker of the Week” and the Maine Commission for Community Service’s “Maine Volunteer of the Year” for his efforts, and hopes to involve a new generation of SEALs with the volunteer initiatives.

“Volunteerism is not a separate and distinct thing. It’s not a light switch that you turn on and off,” he explained. “It’s more of who you are. It’s how I see my job as a leader as well. A servant-based leadership style is about serving others, whether [it’s] in a nonprofit, on the battlefield, in the classroom. I’m a public servant. That’s my career field.”

Unfortunately, the demanding hours of the new role has kept Wisecup from getting to the gym, and he is not currently training for any endurance challenges, as he often does.

“This job has been full on,” Wisecup said, laughing. “I have not worked out in a month, and I’m going crazy. It’s always been such a big part of my life. I use hard events as obstacles. I deliberately put them in my path. Because I know if I do that, and I sign up for them, I will be forced to have to encounter that obstacle and find a way around it. That’s where my growth and development comes from. Once I make a commitment to someone or make it public, I can’t back out. You can’t tell kids with cancer ‘I can’t do it.’ Cause they don’t get an option to quit.”