“Happy Trails and Coffee Kiss. If I ever have an autobiography, that will be the title,” joked Diane Dahlmann, the director of recreation at the University of Missouri.
While it might seem like an odd title at first, once you get to know Dahlmann and her work at MizzouRec, it truly embodies her legacy. Happy Trails and Coffee Kiss are the names of the paint colors throughout the Student Recreation Center at the university.
Dahlmann has served as director of recreation at MizzouRec for over 18 years. Throughout her time there, she has led the facility through numerous renovation and expansion projects. To say that Dahlmann and her dedicated team of professional staff, most of which who have been working with her for over 10 years, are hands on would be an understatement.
From crown molding and carpeting to paint colors and light fixtures, Dahlmann and Carrie Steuber, the assistant director of facilities, have been involved in every step of the design process. Instead of relying on a design team, they worked together to make their vision for the facility come to fruition.
“We try to take each of our spaces and strive on attention to detail,” said Steuber. “We take a look at the space not only through our eyes, but also through our guests’ eyes and see how they are utilizing the space. How we think they are using the space may be completely different. So being able to take each and every project and, look at it through our eyes and through our guests eyes and looking at the attention to detail is really important to us.”
A perfect example would be the locker rooms within the facility. Dahlmann remarked, “Most people say a locker room is just a locker room. Well, no it is not. Women use locker rooms differently, so you need to think about that,” she explained. After examining patron habits, they realized women do not like to use lockers that are directly next to one another, so they will be re-designing the women’s locker room to change the configuration to better suit women’s needs.
One of the most recent additions to the facility is Downtown Brewer, yet another example of Dahlmann’s relentless attention to detail and innovative thinking. Downtown Brewer replaced old racquetball courts with various boutique storefronts, each offering different programming options.
One of those boutiques is zouLIFE, a spa that opened in the summer of 2011. In the space they offer massage services, nail and aesthetic care, facials, tanning, personal training and more. Next door is Clark’s Boxing Gym for boxing enthusiasts, Stalcup’s Garage for functional training and Tigers Lair, a high-energy cycling studio. Each boutique follows a different theme and story in order to provide a distinct feel to the students.
“When we built the complex, we knew we only had one chance to make a mark in terms of physical structure, so we looked at every element,” explained Dahlmann. “We converted everything into dynamic spaces that can change with trends. It is not just space; it is a string of experiences that should flow together and have a consistent theme. We create innovative experiences for our students. The facility was built in 2005, but we want it to still look new and relevant in 2010, 2015, 2020, so attention to detail is essential.”
While the facility is remarkable, it is just the shell that holds the real magic: Team Mizzou, which is the student staff training and leadership development program. Dahlmann explained the program is modeled on Disney’s best practices. “Team Mizzou aggressively recruits, selects, trains, educates, evaluates and rewards student staff in a comprehensive yet different approach to working on campus,” she added.
For those students interested in joining Team Mizzou, the process starts with a formalized recruitment, selection and orientation process. Participants must attend one of the four recruitment sessions hosted throughout the academic year. “The student will attend a session and be introduced to our culture and the expectations that we have for Team Mizzou members,” said Emily Bach, the associate director for Team Mizzou, marketing and fitness programs at the university.
If applicants choose to apply for a position, they must submit a cover letter and resume, as well as a standardized employment application. In any given application cycle 75 to 250 applicants may apply, depending on how many positions they are filling, explained Bach. For every nine applicants, only one is hired.
“We do a fully exhaustive review of our applicants and then they go through a two-step selection process after that,” said Bach. “Current Team Mizzou members conduct the first round of selections and then after those first-round interviews, we do a second interview with an area manager or area lead.”
Those who are selected to be members of Team Mizzou must then complete an orientation process, starting with a department orientation to provide a general overview of the Team Mizzou program, MizzouRec and the department culture. Finally, new student staff will complete an area orientation, a job shadow and training.
When Dahlmann first interviewed for the job as director of recreation at the university, she identified the need for a program like Team Mizzou and officially launched it in 1998, only a year after starting the job. Since then, the program has grown tremendously, which is one of the accomplishments both Dahlmann and Bach said they are proud of the most.
“One of the things we have been fortunate in the last three years to do for our students is add to our scholarships,” said Bach. “Prior to 2014 they were just textbook scholarships. We would award anywhere from three to 12 for about $1,000 per student. Now, with the aggressive work of Diane, really got us to a place where we could offer full tuition scholarships for our students.”
In 2014 qualifying Team Mizzou members were awarded over $40,000 in tuition and scholarships. Last year, that number rose to the $80,000 mark, and this year MizzouRec will distribute $100,000 in tuition and fee scholarships. “As a student I was part of Team Mizzou that first year we did three scholarships, and I think it was a total of $500 a student,” added Bach. “And that was a really big deal to get $500 that we could put toward textbooks or supplies. Just seeing the investment in the Team Mizzou students was impressive to me as a Team Mizzou member myself. Being here when we are able to transition these scholarships into full-tuition has been one of the most rewarding parts of my experience.”
For Dahlmann, the creation and development of the Team Mizzou program was a no brainer. She explained that people are the heart and soul of the organization and it is Team Mizzou that gives the brand a soul. “Invest in your people, your team and do everything you can to support them, develop them and promote them,” said Dahlmann. “Every success formula starts with the people and a quality staff member experience. It is the heart of everything else you do.”
Because when you invest in your people, as Dahlmann has done, they will give you their best effort in return.
“Working with Diane is such a blessing,” said Steuber. “She truly is an amazing individual, who takes the time and gives us opportunities that we would never be blessed with. She truly adores what she does, the spaces she creates and the team she works with.”