The Final Exam is your chance to get advice and insights from experts in the industry. For the January/February 2022 issue, Campus Rec spoke with Joe Cassidy, the executive director of Campus Fitness and Recreation at Wake Forest University (WFU).
1. How did you get started in the industry?
I started my career in student activities and student centers. I advanced to student affairs positions overseeing campus recreation as well as student activities, student centers, auxiliary services and other areas when I was approached about my current position.
2. How would you go about describing campus recreation at WFU?
Forward thinking. While the field will always have a strong foundation in fitness and sport programs, it is increasingly moving toward holistic well-being. WFU has a commitment to being at the forefront of collegiate well-being. Working closely with colleagues to build a model that other universities can adopt is what drew me to WFU. For example, we use building ID swipe access and program registration data to not only determine the percentage of our students engaged in physical activity, but to also dive into the demographic data to identify segments of the student body who we can better serve in collaboration with campus partners.
3. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career?
It’s never easy letting colleagues go. In 2008, the university I was working for lost over 30% of the institution’s annual operating budget due to the market crash of the Great Recession. To balance the budget, the university eliminated a significant number of administrative positions. It was difficult “laying off” members of the team, many of whom were close colleagues, and knowing that once I finished, my own position was likely going to be eliminated, which it was.
4. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
In 1990, I was working at the University of Notre Dame. Unlike many campuses, students didn’t wear one unifying color to games. They wore the school colors of blue and gold and, of course, Irish green. I assisted a few students who approached me about starting a new tradition: all students wearing the same T-shirt design to football games. From the TV coverage, alumni and fans across the country wanted to purchase the shirt and the project quickly took off.
“The Shirt” project now sells around 150,000 T-shirts of a single design annually. The proceeds not only support student organizations, but are also for a charity fund to support memorial scholarships for Notre Dame students who have passed and to cover such things as extraordinary medical expenses of students who have suffered catastrophic accidents. Over three decades, the project has sold over three million T-shirts and raised over $40 million dollars.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that others might benefit from?
Be open to professional opportunities. Each position, institution, association and area of the country has opened up wonderful, new experiences and friendships.
6. What is one fun fact about yourself others may not know?
I have had the privilege of attending the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 and Wimbledon.