Graduate assistant coaches use Lehigh as stepping stone


Lehigh Dean of Athletics Joe Sterrett began his professional career as a graduate assistant after finishing four years as a standout quarterback for the Mountain Hawks.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Sterrett remained at Lehigh where he earned his master’s degree in educational administration while serving as a graduate assistant football coach. Sterrett is now in his 40th year of service at Lehigh, and knows firsthand the commitment and dedication needed to be a graduate assistant in the Lehigh athletic department.

“The qualities we’re looking for in graduate assistants vary depending on the assignment,” Sterrett said. “But we always need someone with an appreciation for sports and is highly organized and motivated to stay engaged.”

Additionally, successful graduate assistants must understand the recruiting process, create itineraries for road trips and know the expectations of players associated with Division I athletics.

Madi Morgan, Lehigh Women’s Soccer graduate assistant coach, is a Mountain Hawks soccer alum and began her first season on the sidelines after graduating from Lehigh in May 2016. Morgan is pursuing her master’s degree in general education, pre-k through fourth grade. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Madi Morgan, ’16, spent this fall as the graduate assistant for the Lehigh women’s soccer program. Previously, Morgan was a member of the soccer team as an undergraduate at Lehigh and was a captain of the team her senior year. Coach Eric Lambinus knew Morgan was planning on attending graduate school at Lehigh to get a master’s degree in education and presented the idea of Morgan becoming the graduate assistant. She jumped at the opportunity.

“I was really excited because I had a wonderful experience as a student athlete, and it would’ve been weird if I was still at Lehigh without being involved with the soccer program,” Morgan said. “I also really wanted to still be around the team and help out the girls.”

Sterrett praised Morgan’s transition from athlete to mentor.

“Sometimes it is difficult moving from being an athlete with friends on the team to one year later being a coach to those friends,” Sterrett said. “She did that very well and gained a lot of respect from her former teammates about her level of professionalism and organization.”

Director of basketball operations Noel Hightower had a different route to becoming a graduate assistant at Lehigh. Hightower grew up in Easton. He played

Noel Hightower, men’s basketball director of basketball operations, joins the Lehigh coaching staff after graduating from Chestnut Hill where he was a two-sport student-athlete. Hightower is pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership at Lehigh. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

college basketball at Chestnut Hill College and won the athletic director’s award last year, which is given to the student athlete who best demonstrates dedication to the mission of the college and his or her respective sport.

“I was inspired by the opportunity to join a great program like Lehigh,” Hightower said. “I am local and have always admired and followed Lehigh Athletics growing up.”

Hightower is in the educational leadership master’s program on top of being the director of basketball operations. It is challenging to balance the workload of academics and his position as a graduate assistant, but the time management skills Hightower learned as a student athlete have helped him be successful at Lehigh.

His daily duties for the basketball program include preparing notes, ideas, and updates on the players for staff meetings. He also helps contact the team managers and explain their roles for the day. Hightower makes sure the players have transportation over the mountain for practice. After practice, Hightower goes to class from 7-10 p.m.. His work ethic and passion for the sport of basketball drive him to come to work every day prepared to be successful.

Hightower’s goal is to become a full-time assistant coach or administrator at the Division I level.

“My position as director of basketball operations is preparing me for my future by showing me what it takes to be successful in athletics at this high level,” Hightower said.

Sterrett has been impressed with both Morgan and Hightower’s maturity in their respective roles with the soccer and basketball programs.

“It is nice seeing them both grow into more mature roles as professionals,” Sterrett said.

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