Paying It Forward

Posted: 10 January by Brett Hoover in Alumni, Announcement, Penn
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If you ever want to demonstrate the impact your college coach and your athletic program had on your life, you could do what Adria Sheth (Ferguson) has done. That’s because Adria and her husband Brian, both Penn grads, have donated a seven-figure gift to endow the head women’s track and field coaching position at the University of Pennsylvania in the name of Betty Costanza.

Adria — a graduate of North Valley Regional High in Old Tappan, N.J. — was a four-year letterwinner for Coach Costanza, who started that program in 1976 with six athletes and retired in 2002. Coach’s final championship — at the Indoor Heps in 1996 — featured Adria, who was a member of the school record 4×400-meter relay foursome as she graduated the following year with a degree in psychology. has been in touch with Adria and was thrilled that she agreed to answer five questions for us. Then we sent her six. And she answered each.

You have endowed the Penn women’s track and field head coach position and named it for your former coach, Betty Costanza, the first such endowment of a position in a woman’s name. Do you have a favorite “Betty” story that you can share?

There is no single story that could do Betty Costanza justice. She was the first Penn women’s track and field coach. She was a second mother to hundreds of young women for four extremely volatile, challenging and impactful years. She had confidence in us when we had lost it in ourselves, she taught us that when you fall you had better get back up & do it fast. Betty instilled in the girls she coached a true sense of team and of putting others before yourself. She created an environment that enabled countless women to build the confidence in themselves that they needed to become happy and successful people.

What was your best or favorite running event?

I’m a bit biased but I think the best event in running is the 4×400 meter relay. Relay events in general are the most exciting and dynamic because you are so completely committed to doing everything you can for your teammates that you find yourself capable of feats you could not accomplish on an individual level. Too often one can feel alone while running, but in relays there is a special energy that is created that brings everything to life.

Do you remain involved with the Penn Relays? If so, why and what do you do there?

I love being involved with the Relays. In fact, it was my first Penn Relays my freshman year in high school that drew me to Penn. The enormity of the Relays completely transfixed me. To see so many people with a common love of track and field gathered together to compete against others from all over the world felt unifying. I have lived far from Philadelphia ever since graduating and now that I have a family it gets increasingly more difficult to attend, but the last weekend in April is always on my calendar and each year I do my best to make it to the Relays to participate as a volunteer.

Where has your post-graduate career taken you? Where are you today?

After graduating from Penn I moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue a career in technology. I focused on technology research working for start ups, Forrester Research, and Sun Microsystems. I took some time off to coach cross country and track and field before becoming a full time mother, which has been the best and most rewarding job.

I suspect that this gift would be evidence of the importance that you placed in being a member of the Penn track & field team. Why did you make this gift?

It’s important to give back. The University and the track program in particular helped to shape the person I have become probably more than anything else in my life. For many people, myself included, college is the first opportunity we have to be somewhat independent and I think that we sometimes focus on the importance of the decisions we make while overlooking the things in your life that influenced those decisions. The Penn Track & Field team has been my family for more than just the four years I attended school. When I left Penn, Penn did not leave me, a part of Penn will always be with me and I will never forget the friends I made and the experiences we shared. In order for future generations to get a similar or better experience than we had it’s vital that we all do what we can to help improve the athletic and academic programs.

What would you like to see as a result of this gift?

I have donated to Penn ever since graduating. At first, it wasn’t much but I wanted to do something so I started by donating an amount I was comfortable with, and have steadily increased that amount each year. I would love to encourage the habit of giving, and of doing it regularly. Positive change doesn’t happen by itself, it takes commitment and often sacrifice. I am committed to Penn and want to encourage others to be committed and excited about the future of our university. It’s not the amount that matters but the involvement. Be a part of Penn because Penn is a part of you.


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