Gen Z students account for most collegiate populations. As such, success is dependent on how campus recreation goes about serving them.
However, it’s imperative to accurately understand the characteristics of Gen Z students before implementing initiatives geared toward them. Scott Lotze, the assistant Athletic Director of Recreation Services at Bucknell University (BU), said he’d describe the generation as connected globally, socially and especially technologically.
“When something sparks their interest, they are immediately engaged,” said Lotze. “But if something is not important to them, they commonly tune out. These students pick up on the latest trends and are impacted enormously by the digital world.”
Elsewhere at Iowa State University (ISU), Raymond Schmidt, the Recreation Services marketing coordinator, said these students place a very high importance on their personal well-being. Specifically, they are eager to engage in programming but not just as a participant. They also like to offer suggestions for and helping develop new initiatives.
“This is illustrated in the growth we’ve seen in overall attendance at our rec facilities as well as participation in the fitness classes we offer,” said Schmidt. “The students we work with are very hardworking and always willing to learn. They are technologically adept and can adapt quickly to changing circumstances. They also seek to learn the ‘why’ behind something and want to make sure what they are doing is important and will have a real impact.”
Programming and Facility Ideas
Schmidt said ISU Recreation Services already adapted programming and outreach to better serve Gen Z. Their fitness classes, Intramural and Adventure options routinely add programming to help serve various student populations. For example, based on requests, they added Spikeball as an official Intramural option. They also implemented virtual esports into the Intramural schedule and adapt to changing preferences in video game competition.
“Our additions are not just programming,” said Schmidt. “We implemented a state-of-the-art Gaming & Esports Room to serve as a practice facility for our esports club, which is our largest sport club on campus, as well as the opportunity for drop-in PC and console gaming. The Gaming & Esports Room provides a space for gamers to socialize while doing what they love.”
Schmidt said these services would not be possible without student employees. To better support them, ISU designed more flexible work schedules and improved efficiencies with their operations. They have also elevated entry wage to $10 an hour and raised starting wages across the board for all positions.
BU is also reaching out to Gen Z through its Intramural department. There, Lotze said they see a lot of forfeits in years past mainly because many of these students — although they are always on their phones — are not always checking their emails.
“So, we created GroupMe’s for each individual league in order to assist with day-to-day communication between our front office and team captains,” said Lotze. “This change significantly reduced the number of forfeits department-wide and the feedback from our participants has been extremely positive.”
Lotze said BU Recreation Services also uses Fusion as a dedicated app for all Intramural and facility reservations. The addition of the app makes it easy for students to participate in their desired programs.
When making connections with Gen Zers, Lotze said they utilize Instagram as the department’s main social media platform and marketing tool.
“For example, we wanted to see how much interest there might be in a pickleball tournament or league,” said Lotze. “So, we sent out a poll on Instagram to see if people would be interested, and the results were through the roof and resulted in a resounding ‘yes.’ We took that data and scheduled a pickleball tournament where we have almost 30 teams registered. We also noticed many Gen Z students don’t use Facebook or Twitter as much as Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers.”
Lotze recommended to always have a digital mindset when marketing. He said while you may be enticed to use traditional flyers on bulletin boards, social media posts is what drives participant numbers, especially on Instagram.
“Also, when trying to draw them in, short and sweet is always better,” said Lotze. “When we use videos to promote an event, we try to keep it under 30 seconds. These students are so used to scrolling that anything longer won’t make them stick around.”
ISU Recreation Services also emphasizes Instagram. Schmidt said the department uses social media as the primary tool for marketing and engaging with students. “We’ve had success with Instagram reels by creating relatable and trendy content,” said Schmidt. “When students see themselves or their friends in videos filmed in our facilities, they are more likely to engage with our content.
A Personalized Campus Rec
Schmidt said Recreation Services strives to enrich the collegiate experience in any way possible by listening to the needs of students and adjusting accordingly. Doing so empowers the ISU community to enhance its personal well-being.
One way the department has done this is by using industry-leading equipment in the rec center. Schmidt said they also recently rearranged cardio and weight equipment in the facility to provide a better flow for patrons. But no matter what strategy is used, the overall focus remains the same.
“Each student has a different perspective and life experience,” said Schmidt. “Therefore, they should be treated as individuals. That is why ISU Recreation Services adopted the slogan ‘Your Rec Your Way.’ We strive to make everyone feel right at home. Whether it’s a student attending their first fitness class or a regular user, we want to make sure they feel welcome.”
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