With Skill Set Honed by Duke Swimming, Banking Career, Fay Primed to Move Into Role as PDS Director of Athletics
FAY DAY: Katie Fay enjoys some classroom time. Fay, a former standout swimmer at Duke University who came to Princeton Day School in 2009 and has helped run the school’s Annual Fund, Alumni Giving, and Capital Giving, became the PDS director of athletics and physical education in July. She is succeeding Tim Williams, who left the school this spring to take the same position at the University School of Milwaukee. (Photo provided by Katie Fay)
By Bill Alden
For Katie Fay, attending a retirement party for a beloved former swimming coach in 2009 proved to be a transformative experience.
As Fay, a former star swimmer at Deerfield Academy and Duke University who went on to the banking world, soaked in the testimonials to Hank Buntin, the longtime coach of the Summit YMCA Seals, she started re-examining the course of her life.
“There were hundreds of people who came out for his retirement just to say how he had impacted them and changed their lives,” said Fay.
“Listening to the stories and speeches that went on for hours, I thought ‘what am I doing now? I am not touching anyone’s life, I am not making any impact.’ It really made me think. I had always wanted to be at an independent school. If I stay in this, it is going to be one more bonus, one more promotion, and I am never going to get myself out.”
Inspired to make her impact, Fay began searching for a prep school job.
“I just starting to look at schools all over the country; I was applying to schools for jobs in admissions and advancement where I thought my skill set would be most transferable,” said Fay.
“One of the things I always asked when I was interviewing was how these schools feel about coaching. That was really important to me, not being a faculty member but being able to be engaged in the student side of life.”
Ending that search, Fay found a home at Princeton Day School, getting hired as the associate director of the Annual Fund in 2009.
“It was a beautiful campus, but it was the people that I met at the time,” said Fay, who became director of alumni giving a year later and was then named the director of capital giving and later joined the Thrive! Campaign as director of capital giving.
“Every single person I met cared about the school. They fully supported the idea of faculty and staff members being part of the community and not just coming in and doing their day job and leaving. I wanted to coach and that was something that was important to me and they were fully supportive of that.”
Having balanced fundraising with coaching lacrosse and soccer, Fay is now moving into a new job at PDS, getting named as the school’s director of athletics and physical education, succeeding Tim Williams, who left the school this spring to take the same position at the University School of Milwaukee.
“It was an opportunity to make a change but to grow in my career in an area I really love,” said Fay, 38, reflecting on why she pursued the AD job.
“As I spoke with Paul Stellato [PDS head of school] just to understand what he was looking for, I felt like my skill set was very transferable. A lot of what you do in the AD role is administrative. It is being really organized, it is relationship building, pieces that I have done throughout my career. It is making sure that you manage people, build those relationships, have conversations, and understand the vision together as to what you are working towards. There was a ton that really appealed to me about that.”
A native of Summit, N.J, Fay started developing those skills when she matriculated in 1996 to the Deerfield Academy (Mass.) for high school.
“In making a choice to go to boarding school, I actually wanted to focus on being well rounded in terms of academics, athletics and the social piece of being a high schooler as opposed to just concentrating on swimming and not doing anything else,” recalled Fay, who was a High School All-American swimmer and earned Academic All-American honors.
“One of the things that was great about the independent school, and that I find at PDS as well, is that it allows you to compete at a really high level but while also being able to participate in all that these schools have to offer – the academics, the relationships with your teachers and coaches and advisors, and all of the clubs.”
After graduating from Deerfield, Fay headed to Brown University for a year before transferring to Duke University.
“Brown was a tremendous academic institution with fantastic sports but I didn’t feel that same kind of ‘rah rah’ community that I felt at Deerfield,” said Fay, a star backstroker who earned second-team All-Ivy League recognition in her one season at Brown.
“I had been down to visit a friend from Deerfield at Duke during March Madness and that year they ended up winning the national championship. I fell in love with it and the atmosphere. They still have that really high academic intensity but also that feeling of people caring about athletics and supporting it. That resonated with me and because of swimming, it was a very easy transfer.”
The transfer worked out very well for Fay in and out of the pool, as she made the ACC swimming championship finals three straight years and graduated magna cum laude with an A.B. in history.
“I was dropping time and the Duke team really started climbing up in the ranks and making a name for themselves around that time,” said Fay.
“It was great to be part of that growth and now Duke swimming has really taken off in the last several years since I have been there. It is great to be part of that alumni community. The thing about athletics is that it really keeps you on track. You don’t really have any option of not being organized and on top of things.”
While Fay was thinking of following an education track after college, she ended up getting into the banking world with Lehman Brothers.
“I always thought that I would end up following more of a teaching career at one of the boarding schools or teaching and coaching at a college,” said Fay.
“But then what happened is the banking and consulting firms start coming to campus early in October to interview. I thought ‘I am going to need some interview experience no matter what I do so’ I put my resume in. I think because of having strong grades and the athletic piece, I got some interviews and all of a sudden I was flying into New York to interview at these different investment banks every other week. It seemed like everyone wanted these jobs. I have been offered one, I might as well take it and see what happens.”
Over the next five years, Fay worked in New York and London for Lehman and then Marathon Asset Management, covering clients throughout the UK and continental Europe.
“I worked in the hedge fund world so I raised money for hedge funds when I was at Lehman Brothers,” said Fay.
“I moved over to the client side, doing fundraising, investment relations, and marketing for Marathon but covering the European client.”
As she immerses herself in the athletics world, Fay is looking to make the most of her latest move.
“I was thrilled, grateful, and excited when I found out that I got the job; I was also, of course, a little anxious and nervous,” said Fay, who has three children, Maggie (7 years old), Austin (6), and Timmy (4).
“I don’t want to let PDS down. I really want to do a great job. I had big shoes to fill coming after Tim Williams.”
Getting input from Williams this spring has helped Fay transition into her new role.
“Tim was fantastic; I was able to schedule a lot of meetings with him to have him talk me through some of things he had done,” said Fay.
“One of the things that was a benefit was already being here. I was able to be part of hiring processes for some of our varsity and fall coaches. I was able to join the ADs calls. That has been a great way to form relationships. There is more interaction and conversation going on right now than before because of COVID, just trying to figure out what we are doing. I was able to be part of all of these conversations and it was an easier and natural transition.”
With fall preseason practices having started on August 24, Fay is focusing on COVID procedures and protocols for returning to play.
“Right now, the health and safety of every member of our community has to be the priority before we bring anyone back on campus,” said Fay.
“That is just not for athletics, that is for anyone. We had a coaches meeting to walk through all the protocol and the coaches had a course prior to even being able to coach this fall. I think there is going to have to be a lot of oversight and staffers, walking around, making sure that people are OK and following all the rules this year.”
One of the highlights of 2020-21 academic year should be the opening of the school’s new Athletic and Squash Center, which is in the final stages of construction.
“I have had a chance to peek in and it is stunningly beautiful,” said Fay, who led a program and staffing assessment for the facility.
“It is going to be a game changer for our community in terms of a being a place for athletics and just physical activity. School spirit is going to be really fostered there. I see it 100 percent as a place that is going to utilized from our youngest learners through our varsity athletes.”
When the games do begin, Fay sees PDS continuing to build on its tradition of athletic success.
“This is a unique and interesting year,” said Fay. “Generally in terms of the program, I want to keep our athletics moving on a forward trajectory that it has been on for quite some time. We had a very good season in the fall and the winter this past year. I want to make sure that we get exposure for all of our sports that may be have not had the exposure in the past. I want sports and athletics to really be part of the culture here. Whether or not a student is a varsity athlete, I want them to appreciate athletics and feel like it is a way to support their peers.”
In turn, Fay wants the sports program to expand its presence on campus.
“Paul [Stellato] supports athletics and I feel that way from everyone I have spoken to but I think we need to find ways where athletics partners with all areas of the school, like community service and sustainability,” said Fay.
“It is going to be really important to make sure that we are a partner within the school.”