Emily McElwain realized that even though she has marketing staff who report to her, she lacked the technical skills in graphic design, photography, etc.
“I wanted to seek development to upskill myself in that area,” said McElwain, the director of ThunderWolf Recreation at Colorado State University Pueblo (CSU Pueblo).
As such, she has been pursuing an associate degree in graphic design, completing two courses per semester.
Development is key in the realm of leadership, which McElwain understands. But as she has shown, sometimes it means going outside of the usual areas you work in.
David Davenport, the director of University Recreation at Austin Peay State University, is also pursuing learning outside recreation and student programs. He hopes to prepare himself for possible future roles.
On top of partnering and collaborating with departments across campus to learn, Davenport shared other growth resources quite familiar to the industry. “My top development pieces over the years are attending conferences, being on the NIRSA Board and networking with others,” he said.
Chantelle Lancaster, the director of the Fletcher Fitness Center at Hardin-Simmons University, finds attending various gatherings — both in-person and virtually — to be great for her own development: NIRSA, IHRSA, the Campus Rec Leadership Summit, monthly Salado Consortium Calls and Women in Fitness Association monthly higher education calls.
In addition, she noted shadowing her staff in their areas and pursuing new certifications — like in group fitness, personal training, lifeguarding or becoming a certified pool operator — are key.
But one of the biggest impacts on Lancaster’s development has been her mentor, Dr. Edgar Reed. “No book, certification or conference can replace a great mentor who can teach you everything you need to know to be successful,” she said.
EXTRA CREDIT: Steve Mayer at the University of South Dakota shared advice on professional development opportunities.
Development starts with the leader, but from there it must trickle down. McElwain said CSU Pueblo’s investment in the online professional development Academic Impressions memberships has been huge.
Davenport shared personality assessments and learning modules have made a large impact in his department. Most recently, they used “Understanding Personalities in the Workplace” delivered by Cornerstone Training and Consulting.
Unique development opportunities can exist for staff, too. McElwain shared employees have attended field trainings like Swiftwater Rescue and Avalanche Rescue. In the end, it comes down to asking staff what they want to pursue.
“Some are motivated to seek out opportunities while others need recommendations of trainings to attend,” said McElwain.
And make sure there is a hunger for knowledge from the start. “They will want to attend conferences, obtain new certifications and will ask questions on a specific area or task,” said Lancaster. “The hunger to grow and learn is what we need in our staff for developing them into the best professionals they can be.”