Ricardo Valerdi, a University of Arizona associate professor of systems and industrial engineering, is the University's new faculty athletics representative to the Pac-12 Conference and the NCAA.
UA President Robert C. Robbins announced the appointment of Valerdi, who succeeds UA School of Dance director Jory Hancock.
"Ricardo Valerdi is an ideal fit for the role of faculty athletics representative," Robbins said. "His research and teaching complement this position's work ensuring student-athletes have the resources and support needed for success in the classroom and in competition, and I know he will build on Jory Hancock's record of leadership. I am grateful for the partnership of our faculty leadership in the selection process, and I'm very much looking forward to working with Dr. Valerdi."
All Pac-12 and NCAA member institutions are required to appoint faculty athletics representatives. The representatives' major responsibilities are to ensure academic integrity in intercollegiate athletics; compliance with Pac-12, NCAA and university rules, such as those concerning student conduct and financial aid; and student-athlete well-being.
"Academics and athletics complement each other extremely well, but it doesn't just happen by accident," Valerdi said. "To be done correctly, it requires collaboration among people and programs across campus and the ongoing support of our student-athletes to put them in the best position to succeed."
As faculty athletics representative, Valerdi will work with the UA Faculty Senate, Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, Office of the President, Office of the Registrar and CATS Academics, among other campus units, to ensure compliance.
Coordinating complex systems is Valerdi's stock in trade, and he is well-versed in the student-athlete experience. He has developed a widely used software program to help large business and military operations increase efficiency and cut costs, in part by accounting for human considerations such as worker psychology and physiology.
"As a systems engineer, much of my work involves understanding where synergies and frictions exist within a system and getting all of the pieces to work together," Valerdi said.
Valerdi founded Arizona Science of Baseball, a curriculum that uses baseball statistics to motivate middle-school students — particularly those from low-income communities — in science, technology, engineering and math. Program partners have included the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves baseball teams.
The LA Galaxy (soccer) and Orlando Magic (basketball) signed on to Science of Sport, Valerdi's expanded version of the curriculum for other sports. These programs have been used by more than 60,000 students across the country.
Valerdi also is lead developer of BrainGainz, a virtual-reality app that educates student-athletes about concussion. The app was one of the winners in the NCAA's Mind Matters Challenge in 2016. At the UA, he directs the Sports Management Program, based in the Eller College of Management, and teaches a course he developed in sports analytics.
While many faculty athletics representatives to the Pac-12 and NCAA come from business and law, Valerdi said engineering provides a complementary perspective.
"When it comes to ensuring student-athletes' compliance and success in a major-college sports program, there are a lot of moving parts," he said. "I see myself as the optimizer of those systems so that they can work efficiently and effectively."