Julie Del Giorno: The Life Behind The Athletics Integrity Officer
In 2012, in compliance with NCAA and Big Ten, Penn State entered into the Athletics Integrity Agreement in an effort to reform the university as it ushered in the post-Sandusky era. In order to complete the requirements put forth by the university, Penn State created a new position titled the Athletic Integrity Officer. After much searching, the first officer was appointed: Julie Del Giorno. Her position with the university is not widely known, and as intriguing as her job is, the person behind the title is even more fascinating.
Del Giorno began her career in sports after committing to play basketball for West Point University. She followed the footsteps of her sister, who four years prior entered West Point as part of its third class of women. After visiting her sister on more than one occasion, West Point became more appealing to Del Giorno, due to the “discipline, rigorous academics, and the idea of service to the nation,” she said. When her love for basketball was included, the decision became a no brainer.
Basketball has helped shape and cultivate Del Giorno into who she is today. At West Point, she learned to gain strength by pushing herself even when it seemed difficult. She earned traits like mental toughness, perseverance, and leadership skills, all of which she would rely upon later in life as she faced more obstacles than what she had encountered on the court.
While Del Giorno was playing for the Black Knights, she left a impressive mark. A four-year letter-winner for the Army, she received the Army Athletic Association Award, an honorable mention choice in 1985, and a second team All-American selection in 1986.
Del Giorno’s first test of her mental strength came right after graduation when she held true with her decision to serve the nation. She spent nine years actively in the Army, where she served as a veteran of the First Gulf War and assisted in operations in Somalia. For her efforts in the Gulf War, she received the Bronze Star Medal.
“[Those experiences were] a really important part of my life,” she said. “I am thankful every day for the sacrifieces the members of our Armed Forces make that allow us all to enjoy the freedoms that we have as Americans.”
After leaving the Army, Del Giorno made the leap to higher education, a transition she described as being “easier than you might think.” Before leaving the Army, she had worked in the Intercollegiate Athletic Department at West Point. From there, she gained her MBA and began working with several universities, including Moravian College and East Stroudsburg University.
While her professional career was taking off, Del Giorno was about to face a personal obstacle no one had expected: She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Instead of fighting for her country, Del Giorno was now fighting for her life.
“It was the scariest thing I have ever been through in my life,” she said.
The fears of the unknown were what terrified her, and she questioned the successes of her treatments and her ability to live a full and productive life. Once again, she drew on the strength, perseverance, and positive attitude she had learned from the military academy. Due to the excellent treatment at the Mayo Clinic and then at the Fox Chase Center of Philadelphia, she was able to participate in a clinical trial and overcome cancer. In addition to her medical treatment, Del Giorno attributes her success to the care of her spouse Margie and her family.
After battling ovarian cancer, many women find comfort in knowing that they have a significantly decreased chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. But just five years later, Del Giorno found that she was not among the lucky majority and was diagnosed with the potentially deadly disease. After a brief moment of self pity, she reverted back to her positive attitude and never looked back. Fortunately, she did not have to undergo chemotherapy, which had previously taken a toll on her body, and instead she was treated with surgery. She survived her second round with cancer, this time emerging even stronger than she was before.
After serving nine years in the armed forces and surviving two bouts with cancer, Del Giorno came to Penn State amidst the Sandusky scandal. As with everything else she tackled in her life, Del Giorno approached her new position with bravery and optimism. Although her job, according to her, is to be “responsible for the development, implementation, and oversight of policies and practices within the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics that ensure compliance and ethical conduct,” few are aware of her daily tasks.
“On a typical day, I would attend meetings with athletic department leaders, conduct ethics awareness or other leadership training for student-athletes, and perhaps be involved in internal reviews related to specific issues that arise within the department,” she explained.
She also stressed the importance of the fact that she is independent from the athletics office.
“A large part of my work is centered on facilitating conversation among various personnel across campus who may have an interest in an issue related to our intercollegiate athletic program,” she said. “Therefore, it’s important for me to develop and maintain relationships with people in departments across the university. By maintaining independence, I hope I can be viewed as an honest broker who can conduct reviews, or look into various matters and provide facts that can be used by the Athletic Department and other university leaders in their decision making.”
Today, Del Giorno continues to make a difference at Penn State, embodying the integrity she expects from the university. She praised her mom’s tough love mentality for her approach to life.
“I think I was raised with the mindset that life is hard and when you get knocked down, you just have to get back up,” she said.