The Final Exam is your chance to get advice and insights from experts in the industry. For the September/October issue, Campus Rec spoke with Brian Cousins, the executive director at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
1. How did you get started in the industry?
During my undergraduate years at Virginia Tech, I became familiar with collegiate recreation as an avid participant in intramural sports. After a very brief and failed career as a student employee in our campus dining services, I took my two years of experience as a softball umpire and sought out employment with the campus recreation department as an intramural sports official. Long story short, I was attracted to the idea of making some cash doing something I really enjoyed. I approached my immediate supervisor about career opportunities in the field. He introduced me to NIRSA and offered advice on pursuing a graduate degree and, more importantly, experience as a graduate assistant in campus recreation. I followed his advice, found an awesome opportunity at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the rest is history as I have now been here for 21 years.
2. How would you go about describing campus recreation at UIC?
UIC Campus Recreation has definitely evolved in multiple ways during my 20-plus years on campus. With the addition of a new dedicated recreation facility on the main campus (2006) and a renovated/expanded facility on the west campus (2005), UIC Campus Recreation provides “destination facilities” to our extremely diverse population of students and members. We take pride in our exceptional facilities and inclusive programming, which continue to attract more and more students each year. Campus recreation at UIC has transformed into a must-experience opportunity for recruiting, welcoming, retaining and developing our students, as well as a place for faculty/staff, alumni and community members to enhance their healthy lifestyles.
3. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career?
Keeping up with the demands and expectations of today’s students and recreation members definitely keeps us on our toes. Students nowadays are coming from high schools and communities, making it convenient for them to focus on their health and well-being through participation in high-quality facilities and programs. This, coupled with the need and desire to meet the expectations of a very diverse population at UIC, challenges our team in a positive way every day.
4. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
While maybe not the most common path to an executive director position, the opportunity to serve students at the same institution for my entire career has been a true blessing. Among other things, this has afforded me the opportunity to participate in the design, construction, opening, and management of new and very successful recreation facilities; I have also enjoyed the opportunity to build an amazing campus recreation team that is helping students recognize their potential every day.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other recreation professionals might benefit from?
Don’t get sucked into or caught up in the “good enough” perspective some of your campus peers may have. Always strive for improvement, be persistent, ask challenging questions, and be willing to participate — or lead the way — in the change efforts often required as we pursue excellence in everything we do. Encouraging and assisting our co-workers and campus partners to identify and connect with their role in student success is a great starting point.
6. What is one fun fact about yourself that others may not know?
While I have not done nearly as much of it as I would like since leaving Virginia, I have a true passion for fishing and the outdoors in general. When I “grow up,” I plan to pursue these opportunities more often. I am also a big fan of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and enjoy attending CCM concerts.
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