The Final Exam is your chance to get advice and insights from experts in the industry. For the May/June issue, Campus Rec spoke with Greg Avakian, the director of recreational sports, associated students, inc., at California Polytechnic State University.
1. How did you get started in the industry?
My undergraduate degree is in recreation management, and I had spent seven years working for municipal recreation departments in the fields of aquatics, youth and adult sports, as well as assisting with special events. When an opportunity came up to work in campus recreation that had such an emphasis on personal and professional development of both the staff and participants, I couldn’t resist. It was the best decision in my life to cross over into campus recreation and be able to work so closely with the student population and our young professionals.
2. How would you go about describing recreation at California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly)?
The culture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is to be very active. The students, faculty/staff, and alumni are very focused on recreation and wellness. The recreation center was expanded in 2012 to just less than 200,000 square feet, and we average between 5,000 to 6,000 entries per day for a campus population of approximately 21,000. Both the faculty/staff and the students really know how to work hard and play hard.
3. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career?
The ever increasing expectations the students have for recreation and fitness programs and services is always a challenge to stay ahead of. We have a very educated and experienced student population that is accustomed to high-end equipment and professional services. Our professional staff love to be challenged and are never satisfied with the status quo. There are so many influences and new programs the students are interested in that we have to always be listening to them and researching these programs before implementing something new.
4. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
Definitely being part of the process of planning the renovation and expansion of the recreation center. We’ve now been open for six years, and seeing how much the new rec facility has positively impacted the entire campus culture has been extremely rewarding.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other recreation professionals might benefit from?
Always listen to your students. We rely on our student staff to be very open and honest with us as professional staff on how we are doing with our programming, facility operations and event planning. When you build a strong relationship with your student supervisors and student staff, they can move your programs forward to truly meet your campus needs. Sometimes they can be a bit wide-eyed and overzealous with some of their ideas, but with proper mentoring and establishing some parameters that could include financial and risk assessment, you will get some very creative and engaging ideas. I have a saying, “Keep my hands in my pockets” which I try to practice as much as possible when receiving input and ideas from our staff. The idea is to let them have a voice and feel part of the planning and execution of whatever ideas they may have.
6. What is one fun fact about yourself others may not know?
I was destined to be at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. My parents met here while attending Cal Poly and my sister is also an alumnus. As a family we would vacation in San Luis Obispo often, so I was always drawn to the central coast of California. After working here for a few years, I completed my Masters in Education to officially complete the circle of family members who attended Cal Poly. Go Mustangs!