Have you ever wondered what it would be like to transition from a large collegiate recreation program to a smaller university? It can be intimidating to leave a well-established program. There, your job expectations are linear and you have responsibilities in one specific program area. All collegiate recreation departments are unique, but with a large program there may be the feeling you are trapped in a programming bubble. I felt that way coming out of my graduate assistantship. In fact, it was a major reason on why I wanted to start my professional career at a smaller institution. Reflecting on my first year, there are some experiences I would love to share.
One of the biggest surprises with transitioning from a large school to a small school was the amount of individual connections you make. Rather than only seeing a few faces at a monthly staff meeting, I now end up interacting with all professionals on a daily basis. Beyond the professional staff, this extends to student connections as well. It did not take long for me to realize almost all of the student staff knew who I was before I had the opportunity to meet them, and they were eager to learn more about me.
Smaller school means less resources. At a large school I was fortunate enough to have a marketing, financial affairs and IT department. My current institution has those responsibilities fall on each individual administrator. Having to run your own marketing or learn how to use new technology can be time consuming. However, managing my time has helped me improve my overall competencies. Getting experience outside your programming area improves your knowledge and understanding of what it takes to run a successful recreation program.
Less resources mean less operating processes in place. With a smaller professional staff, you have less people to convince your idea is worth trying. Larger schools often have operating procedures that are difficult to get changed or integrate a new program into a current semester. Having the opportunity to change an aspect of your entire program immediately can be educational. It helps new professionals understand how operating procedures become created and what it takes to make a major change.
When a position becomes vacant in a large institution, it is often easy to disseminate tasks through their team. Many large schools have multiple bodies working in one program or service area. It is not often at a large program that, for example, the aquatics department will absorb facility supervisors. However, at a small institution there may only be one individual who oversees multiple areas. Getting creative and determining how the team will work year-to-year is necessary for a smaller program when you take on new responsibilities with little to no experience. Looking at this as a developmental opportunity is key to prospering in a smaller program.
While working at a larger institution, there were not many professionals outside my department I could name or even recognize. Working at a smaller institution has created more opportunities for me to be involved on campus committees and to engage and meet other faculty, staff and administrators throughout the university. This creates more opportunities to collaborate as a campus rather than the feeling you are programming against other areas of the university. It does not matter where I go on campus now, there will always be a familiar face I can connect with.