The Final Exam is your chance to get advice and insights from experts in the industry. For the November/December issue, Campus Rec spoke with Amy Swingle, the director of campus recreation at Florida Gulf Coast University.
1. How did you get started in the industry?
AS: I started working in intramural sports as an office assistant when I was a junior in college. My sophomore year I was picked up to play intramural (IM) softball by a team called The Zoo. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wasn’t allowed to play IM softball because I played varsity softball at Southern Illinois University my freshmen year. I was suspended from intramurals for the rest of that year and our team had to forfeit our season. It scared me to death but also introduced me to the world of campus recreation. The assistant director and coordinator were very kind to a naive and impressionable young lady. The next year, The Zoo was always playing against the IM staff in different leagues, so I got to know a lot of the staff. When the office job came open, I jumped on it. That was truly the beginning — getting suspended from intramurals.
2. How would you go about describing campus recreation at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU)?
AS: FGCU celebrated our 20th birthday this past year. We offer students fantastic programs and outdoor facility spaces, but have lacked the indoor recreation space needed to serve our students. Because of that, we have adapted our programming to “take it outside” and become mobile. Instead of limiting group fitness class sizes, we adapt. For example, HIIT classes go outside if there are too many students for our studio. Our students love it and expect it from us. Our challenge will be to continue to adapt when we move into the FGCU Recreation and Wellness Center in January 2020.
3. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career?
AS: The biggest challenge — and opportunity — I’ve faced is managing change within the university and the department. I’ve been fortunate to work at two universities where major shifts in leadership, facility construction and organization were occurring and providing the positive leadership that was and is needed can be challenging. I equate it to standing tall on shifting sands under your feet. I found there is never too much communication with your team. The more they know, the better equipped they are to make smart decisions. For me, success depends largely on the support of my team, confidence in my decisions and lots of coffee.
4. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
AS: The start of construction of the Recreation Center at Mississippi University for Women in 2007 and the start of construction of the University Recreation and Wellness Center at FGCU would be the “easiest” answer to give. But in reality, for me, it’s the people who have come into my life through my work who have become colleagues, friends and mentors to me. A former graduate assistant who worked for me 15 years ago recently sent me a random text message that simply said, “Thanks for believing in me.” That’s an accomplishment that can never really be conveyed on a resume, but it’s one I work hard for every day.
5. What is one lesson you have learned?
AS: As a director, it’s easy to believe you’re on an island, all alone to make the decisions. That’s what they pay you the big bucks for, right? Well, that’s not true. Find others to support you. I’m not saying to surround yourself with “yes” people. That’s a huge mistake. Surround yourself with differing ways of thinking and different experiences. Listen to them, process the information and share your own thoughts. Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. The best advice I was given was that when you need to make the call, make it, but make sure your team knows why you’re making it.
6. What is one fun fact about yourself?
AS: I love do-it-yourself projects. I built my dining room table because I saw a picture of one and was too cheap to pay $700 for it. So, I decided to build one like it. At any one time, I have at least three different projects in differing states of completion around my house. The joke is I never seem to finish them. What people don’t realize is that I finish one, but there’s another right behind it half-way finished. My next big project is to fix up a vintage RV.