When did Student Development Become a “Thing” in Campus Recreation?

Student Development

Working in campus recreation easily run the risk of making fitness a main focus of your department. But several campus recreation professionals are now working to ensure student development is the main priority of their department.

But this is not new. NIRSA conferences are focused around student development, intramural sports allow students to step into leadership positions and certifications and resume workshops set students working within campus recreation a part when applying for jobs post-college.

Since the University of Tennessee Chattanooga campus recreation facility opened in 2009, Lindsay Hyden, the associate director of campus recreation, said it’s always been a place focused on cultivating their student employees for life post-graduation.

Hyden has been at the facility since its genesis, but came from a commercial fitness background. “These people are not just here to work. They’re here to gain friends, be involved in campus and make some extra money,” she said. “Over the years, not only has the whole student staff grown, but really our way of educating and empowering students has grown.”

For example, the facility opens at 6 a.m. and occasionally doesn’t close until after 11 p.m. Since there is no way for her, or her staff, to be there all the time, they developed a system that promotes student employees into student leaders that they rely on when the professional staff cannot be there. Hyden explained student leaders even help with administrative tasks, such as payroll.

According to Eric Hunter, the director of campus recreation at the University of South Florida, teaching students transferable skills is also essential. “I think the goal of all of us should be to graduate students who are capable of entering the workforce and have the skills that set them a part from other people when they go out there in the real world,” said Hunter.

To him, transferable skills are defined as life lessons that benefit a wide array of majors or interests. So if students working within campus recreation are majoring in something aside from campus rec or the health field, they are armed with skills that transfer to their own field of study.

“A lot of times, students are working and don’t necessarily equate the work their doing with the actual skill set they’re bringing to that work. So we try to purposefully pull out the skills that they’re practicing,” said Hunter. “Whether it’s communication skills or conflict resolution skills, leadership skills, whatever it might be, we try to really make them aware of that.”

Each year, Micah Walters, the associate director for facilities and operations at Clemson University, sets a theme to their Fall and Spring staff kickoff, orienting their new student employees. Last year, the theme was “Personal Discovery.” This year, the campus reception department is focusing on service. Walters explained the point of developing a theme was not only to have various departments within campus recreation striving toward one mission, but it also allowed him a point to look back on and assess if they were successful in meeting that theme.

All three directors said their student development practices are ever-adapting to provide the best experience to their students. But Walters explained that’s why he often reaches out to other universities, even noting being impressed with the University of South Florida, for ideas. “We have this tremendous sphere of influence over the student employees and student patrons who utilize campus recreation,” said Walters. “And honestly, I think it’s a disservice to our university if campus recreation isn’t focused on the development of students as a holistic person.”

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