The Final Exam: Six Questions with Melissa

Melissa Buchheit

The Final Exam is your chance to get advice and insights from experts in the industry. For the September/October issue, Campus Rec spoke with Melissa Buchheit, the previous director of Recreational Services at Georgia State University.

1. How did you get started in the industry?

My story is very similar to many. I never started college with the intention of making campus recreation a career. As an undergraduate at Armstrong State College, now a unit of Georgia Southern University, I worked for the Intramural department. My supervisor, Lynn Roberts, introduced me to NIRSA by taking me to the 1987 National Conference in New Orleans. After graduating, I was accepted at Georgia State University (GSU) for the master’s program in Exercise Science. Kevin Propst hired me as the graduate assistant for Intramurals. Although I intended on pursuing career opportunities in Physical Therapy while at GSU, the Intramural coordinator job became available and the rest is history. I am so grateful to Lynn, Kevin and the professional staff for supporting me in those early years. I retired in September of 2019.

2. How would you go about describing campus recreation at GSU?

Diverse. What kept me at Georgia State was the student population was far from traditional, regardless of how you cut it. It has always been exciting to meet people from all over the country and world through my daily interaction with patrons. With that diversity, our programs did not always follow the trends of other large universities. Not having as high of a demand for some traditional programs allowed us to support a wide variety of smaller, unique programs other schools would not have the resources for.

3. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career?

The shift from being a programmer to an administrator. I joked for years my place was always “with the people.” As an administrator, I truly missed seeing our patrons and student staff every day. Aside from enjoying the interactions, it was a constant reminder what we provide in campus recreation does make a difference with an individual’s quality of life. As an administrator, I took comfort in knowing my decisions allowed our staff to continue making the day-to-day difference.

4. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?

As a director, two accomplishments include the consolidation and renovations. In 2016, GSU consolidated with Georgia Perimeter College. Although it was a big change for all, we focused on a series of goals and expectations to make the transition as smooth as possible. Ultimately, the success of the consolidation was because of the attitudes of the staff. At the Atlanta campus, we were challenged with completing $5 million of renovations and updates to the Student Recreation Center in less than three years. We were privileged to have phenomenal support from the university’s Design and Construction team. All the staff had a role to play, and without their determination and flexibility, we would not have been able to meet the schedule.

5. What is one lesson you have learned that other recreation professionals might benefit from?

We are in a field that for many it is easy to be strayed off course. Since everyone enjoys what we offer, it is common to get requests from many inside and outside of the university that might push the limits of what you can manage. Each cause is a good cause, but is it your department’s cause? My recommendation is you should make decisions based on the mission of your department and division. An easier way to look at it is to serve those who pay your salary.

6. What is one fun fact about yourself others may not know?

Most people don’t know how much I love the water. I grew up in Savannah, Georgia, spending the summer either at a pool, on the beach or in a boat. When I moved to Atlanta, I immediately got involved with GSU’s scuba program to get my water fix. That led to me teaching scuba as a “side” gig for 24 years on behalf of the university. In retirement, I have been making up for lost time.

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