Campus recreation is founded in the world of higher education. As such, it has a large emphasis on continual learning.
But what professional development can you pursue beyond another degree?
First, it starts with deciding what direction to head. “I take a look at goals I have for myself both professionally and in areas I need to grow,” said DJ Preston, the director of Recreation and Wellness at Radford University.
One of those opportunities that has stretched Preston to grow was when he was asked to co-chair a health and wellness task force on campus. They were working toward suicide prevention, as well as understanding and disseminating campus resources to ensure a base level of understanding health and well-being.
The task force allowed Preston to connect with others in various academic departments. “You don’t always get a chance to reach across the aisle and to make those connections in a natural or unforced way,” said Preston.
Connecting with others was also a large piece to professional development advice from Tricia Bush, the associate athletics director for Campus Recreation at Northern Michigan University.
EXTRA CREDIT: As a multifaceted professional, you can increase your value. Greg Corack explains how to expand your horizons so you can be prepared for whatever may come your way.
She explained they are a staff of three. So, when the budget doesn’t allow for conferences the answer is a road trip to local universities. “We later went to visit friends in Wisconsin and Minnesota,” said Bush.
The road trip sparked ideas on signage, layout and programs. Bush even recalled discussing the type of radios universities were using as she was looking to replace theirs back home. “I highly recommend visiting your peers if you are ever stuck creatively or are unable to attend a larger conference at the time,” she said.
However, conferences are where it’s at. “I was lucky enough to attend the Campus Rec Leadership Summit in 2019,” said Bush. “I highly recommend this to my fellow directors. We worked hard and played hard. That is exactly the business we are in and why we stay in campus recreation.”
Preston noted the NIRSA School of Collegiate Recreation has been phenomenal for his growth and development. “If I think about one of the single most helpful professional opportunities I’ve had, it’s certainty been that,” he said.
Another in-person professional development opportunity Preston has seen great benefit from involves one of his staff members. With a year of little to no travel, the employee got one-on-one development from a colleague on a different campus. “It has been really instrumental for one of my employees to grow because it’s targeted time to be able to work through a list of goals that both the staff member and I set up together,” he explained.
EXTRA CREDIT: This is Part Three of a three part series on professional and organizational maturity in the field of campus recreation by Grady Sheffield.
Just as with himself, Preston challenges his staff to identify their interests and areas to work on. After establishing the direction to head, Preston will encourage his staff to try leadership opportunities to grow them in the desired areas.
Beyond connecting with others, Bush looks for books and articles to read, and TEDx Talks to watch. For example, she had her staff read “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon during the summer of 2021.
Preston looks for development via the Chronical of Higher Education. But for him, it really comes down to networking and going to those who are a trusted resource. “Understand they see you from a different lens than you see you, and trust the people you trust — trusting their assessment of where you are and where you’re growing,” he said.
In terms of finding those people, it can happen in various ways. Preston suggested if something someone is presenting on at a conference is resonating with you, let them know it. Ask to formalize some type of relationship so they can mentor you.
All in all, professional development is essential to the growth of the campus recreation industry. And as Bush said, no matter what form it needs to be at the forefront. “Prioritize development whenever possible,” she shared.