More often than not, you’ll find the department of campus recreation falling under Student Affairs or Athletics.
But at the University of Memphis (UofM), the department resides elsewhere. “In recent years, Campus Recreation has transitioned from the Student Affairs division to Academic Affairs, now falling under the College of Health Sciences,” said Steve Whistler, the executive director of Campus Recreation.
It’s a unique set up, but it hasn’t always been that way. Whistler said the change started with a previous university president, Dr. Rudd. He had a vision of where campus rec best fit as Student Affairs faced a reorganization. “It just came out looking different than a traditional student affairs scenario,” said Whistler.
The change happened while campus rec was in the early stages of designing the R. Brad Martin Student Wellness Center (Student Wellness Center), which opened in June 2021. Since the transition to be under the College of Health Sciences, Whistler noted the change led to a blended approach for both facilities and programming. “It’s been a wonderful move for us, and it just puts us in an even better position to serve the students to complement what’s happening at the university and on the academic side,” he said.
Richard Bloomer, the dean of the College of Health Sciences, spoke to the regular interaction between the academic and campus rec units. He shared collaboration and input from both sides has been powerful. “They are no longer a stand-alone entity,” he said. “Rather, they are a part of what we do as a college — provide excellent educational opportunities to students, while allowing them to be physically active in a top-notch facility.”
A New Space at the University of Memphis
The Student Wellness Center is one piece to the puzzle of the two units coming together. For example, Bloomer shared they teach many of the College of Health Sciences courses in the facility. This includes their food science courses taught in the Tiger Food Lab.
As a fully equipped teaching kitchen, the Tiger Food Lab sits at the front of the building. With two glass walls, it’s a transparent space that Whistler notes is a phenomenal feature of the facility. There are both academic and recreational uses for the space:
- Dietetic food science courses.
- Holiday cookie decorating.
- An elective course that teaches students how to prepare healthy meals as well as the benefits of eating certain foods. Bloomer noted it has become one of the most popular electives on campus.
- Lunch and Learn cooking classes.
- A summer youth camp called Camp CHEF which stands for Cultivating Healthy Eaters for the Future.
- Date night cooking classes.
- Food Fusion, an after-school program for youth.
The Tiger Food Lab is just one benefit of moving Campus Recreation under the College of Health Sciences. “It was a big change to get put under the dean of the College of Health Sciences, but it has been a big blessing,” said Katie Gerstemeier, the director of Programming. “We have strong leadership with a lot of experience that gives great advice and ideas, and helps us move things faster through the chain.”
But the Tiger Food Lab isn’t the only standout part of the Student Wellness Center, which operates in addition to UofM’s existing Student Recreation and Sports Complex.
Standout Aspects of the Center
At 78,000 square feet, the two-story facility moved campus recreation closer to the heart of campus. Designed by ANF Architects and CannonDesign, the $31 million center sits adjacent to the Hunter Harrison pedestrian cable bridge and a 1,140-space parking garage. Its position alone has created more traffic for the building, piquing the interest of students.
Inside the center you’ll find an open floor plan. Gerstemeier was instrumental in formulating the plan for equipment in the building, and she noted they had to be creative in separating the fitness areas.
Gerstemeier also focused on adding a wide variety of offerings in her plan. For example, there is a high intensity studio with bumper plates, turf for a football sled and Torque Tank, and a variety of miscellaneous equipment. In addition, you’ll find a Life Fitness SYNRGY360 on the main floor as well as a Precor Queenax Bridge functional training apparatus. Finally, she found a unique rotating climbing wall called the Freedom Climber when the budget wouldn’t allow for a large climbing wall. “It uses the user’s bodyweight to propel the rotating wall and does not use any electrical power, allowing it to be installed almost anywhere,” she explained.
Plus, the Student Wellness Center quadrupled the number of group studios. Gerstemeier shared they’ve been able to add TRX classes, have a dedicated cycle studio and put on weightlifting programs. She noted the biggest advantage, however, is being able to have four classes at the same time.
Shifting the University of Memphis Mindset
Something else that has changed is the mentality of UofM Campus Recreation. “We changed our mindset to understand students are in classes all day and sometimes they need a way to unplug, relax and just have fun,” said Gerstemeier. “Of course, we still have educational seminars and classes, but this new building has allowed us so much flexibility in the types of events and programs we offer, and has added a lot of fun to Campus Recreation.”
In fact, this mindset falls in tandem with the shining example of success that is the Student Wellness Center and the move of the department to be under the College of Health Sciences. Plus, it points to the mindset of the campus as a whole.
Whistler shared at UofM, they don’t see themselves as this department or that area of campus. “We’re all in it together,” he said. “We are the University of Memphis. So, the space represents that.”
EXTRA CREDIT: Campus rec departments turn to creative campus collaborations to provide opportunities.
As such, being a good partner is something the university looks to achieve across all areas. Whistler shared Campus Recreation has been invited in by other departments so together they can best serve students. One example of this is the annual health fair — a favorite event of Whistler’s. Campus Recreation has a tent where they share about their offerings, demonstrate group fitness classes and have fun games. “It’s been a wonderful thing we’ve been able to partner in such a big way,” he shared.
The key to being good at partnerships starts with the simple step of listening, as shared by Bloomer. It should evolve from there. “Find out what the partner is good at, share what you are good at and determine how to best merge these strengths to develop something great,” he said.
And great is the goal across the UofM campus, but that goal is only achieved together. “By and large, there’s this sense of gratitude across the campus, and a recognition that we all need each other,” said Whistler. “So, we’re in it together.”
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