Michele “Belle” Koclanes, ’02, attended the University on an athletic scholarship as the starting point guard. Koclanes’ success came not only from her agility and grit on the court, though, but her dedication and success in academics.

Today, she’s certain that her understanding of teamwork and organizations gleaned in leadership studies courses helps her every day as a basketball coach at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

During the spring of her senior year, Koclanes was one of four honorees to receive the Female Student-Athlete of the Year Award for superior scholarship and athleticism. The summer following graduation, the leadership studies major and rhetoric and communications minor decided to spend the summer on Richmond’s campus—and not to play ball. During her senior year she pursued an honors thesis with Professor Richard Couto in which she designed her own leadership theory. When pushed to continue her research into the summer, Koclanes jumped at the chance.

In the first part of her thesis, titled “Leadership Development in Young Adults: The Eight of ’98,” Koclanes charted the leadership development of eight of her high school peers. A group which, Koclanes explains, have found success through very different leadership styles. In the second part of the thesis Koclanes crafted her own leadership theory, which she still references today as a Coach and mentor. Her theory is named PECODE, for “personal, excellence, caring, order, discipline and eloquence,” and each facet of the theory explains a different critical element of one’s leadership ability.    

Being challenged to “stick around” by her thesis professor for that final summer was just one of many challenges Koclanes has faced, and embraced with eagerness. Koclanes, who is of Greek-Italian descent, attempted to play professional ball in Greece but was thwarted when she couldn’t secure dual citizenship.

She faced the challenge of figuring out what to do next. “I thought I would be playing professional basketball for at least two years, and when I came back from overseas, I was at a crossroads,” Koclanes said. 

What followed again combined her love of the game with educational pursuits. While attending graduate school at New York University, Koclanes did an internship at Columbia University as director of basketball operations. That opportunity gave her a start in coaching and athletic management. One year later, after completing her master's degree, she became an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania.

Leadership and coaching are “so on point,” she believes. When it comes to coaching, “Jepson has helped me in every way, every day.” Alluding to a Leadership in Organizations class, Koclanes remembers the important lessons behind bringing people together to build an organization with a common goal in mind. “There is such a diverse set of personalities, attitudes, moods, that as coaches we work to bring together. I am constantly remembering and employing the important lessons of Jepson in building a cohesive team.”

After four years at Penn, Koclanes was ready for the next challenge ahead. “I wanted to be in a new place, to work with a new kind of student athlete. Not any better or worse, just different.” Referencing the necessity of having diverse experiences in order to “keep an open mind, and continue learning,” In 2008 she moved on and is an assistant coach at Old Dominion University, a school with one of the country’s most historically-rich, prestigious female basketball programs. 

Koclanes loves coaching, saying it’s hard to think of it really as work. One lesson she’s learned is how crucial it is to connect with her players early. “I always say that as a coach you can’t stand above these young women, you have to bend down and get on their level—otherwise all hope is lost.”

With the goal in mind of working her way up to a head coach position, Koclanes again references the foundation her leadership studies education provided her. “As a head coach, you recruit players for who fit with and will enhance your specific culture. Again, it all comes down to building an organization and developing solid leaders.”