by Jessica Evangelista Balduzzi ’05
Written on a 3.5 index card that Sandra Chu keeps with her at all times, is a mission statement:
“To inspire others to exceed their potential and relentlessly pursue excellence by being a touchstone of encouragement and confidence, an innovative architect of opportunities and a passionate educator in the sport of rowing.”
She reads it every day, sometimes multiple times, to keep herself grounded as she guides the Heron Rowing Program.
“I wanted to get into coaching because I wanted to work with students who are in a formative time, who have so much untapped potential,” says Sandra Chu, who was named head coach of William Smith Rowing in 2002 following three seasons as an assistant coach of women’s rowing at Kansas State. “Helping students make decisions that are right for them is important to me.”
A 1991 graduate of Princeton University, Chu competed as a coxswain for the Tiger varsity crew from 1988 to 1991. She was an All-Ivy League selection, earning medals at the EAWRC Sprints Championships in 1989 and 1991 and at the Head of the Charles Regatta in 1990.
Chu was completing her master’s degree in English and creative writing at New York University when she realized how much she missed being on the water. “I couldn’t row at NYU, and I began to understand how important it was to me.” Chu decided to take a risk and devote her career to coaching full-time. “I took an unpaid coaching internship at Princeton University and loved every second of it,” she says. “I worked six jobs to keep afloat but going down to the boat house everyday was worth it.”
Though Chu was looking for an opportunity to run her own program, what attracted her to William Smith is what often attracts her students to the Colleges. “I wanted to work with ambitious, competitive-spirited women in a challenging liberal arts setting,” she says. “William Smith women are drivers—they get things done. I really thrive working with that kind of student.”
Last fall, Chu guided the Herons to one of the most successful seasons in the program’s history. The varsity eight put on an impressive performance during the world’s largest regatta, bringing home a silver medal in the women’s collegiate eights at the Head of the Charles in Boston. It’s the second time the Herons have medaled at the Charles, but the first in this event category.
The Herons’ spring 2012 season was equally notable—they won the Liberty League Title, the NYS Title, and placed every boat on the podium at the NYS Championships. The Herons earned a bronze medal at the ECAC Championships and NCAA Championships in the Varsity 8, which helped the team place fourth in the nation. Following the season, Chu was named Liberty League Coach of the Year, ECAC Coach of the Year, CRCA (Collegiate Rowing Coaches’ Association) DIII Coach of the Year and the Joy of Sculling Collegiate Coach of the Year.
Perhaps more impressive than the team’s on-the-water accomplishments are William Smith’s academic accolades. Chu’s Herons have earned 87 Liberty League All-Academic nods, 27 CRCA Scholar-Athlete awards, and two CoSIDA Academic All-Americans®.
“I see myself as a mentor,” says Chu. “Academics and life skills are a big part of what we do. One of my favorite parts of this job is watching students grow over four years. Helping them to realize their potential is rewarding.”
An active member of the campus community, Chu serves on several committees, including the Middle States Accreditation Committee and as an instructor for the Hobart and William Smith Leadership Institute.
“Whether on the water or in the classroom, the hallmark of our program is to complete the work the hard, right way every single time,” says Chu. “There are no shortcuts, and hard work pays off in the end. The women on my team know this and it’s their commitment to excellence that has enabled the program’s success.”