The Final Exam is your chance to get advice and insights from experts in the industry. For the January/February issue, Campus Rec spoke with Rob Simels, the director of recreation at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ).
Like many other professionals in the field, I started in the industry with an on-campus job. As a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill, I found a job as an intramural official and was eventually promoted to an intramural supervisor. Over the next three years of working for the department, I started to spend a lot of time in the intramural office interacting with the professional staff. I realized the positive impact they made on me and my college experience; I wanted to provide that for future students. This realization late in my college career changed my course from being a biology teacher and allowed me to pursue a career that merged my passion for sports and my passion for educating students.
The department of recreation and wellness at TCNJ is unique in that our recreation center and fitness center are on opposite ends of campus, which separates our program areas and staff. We are a growing program and focus on our mission of the well-being of our students as the backbone of our program design. We provide opportunities through fitness programming, intramural sports, sport clubs, open recreation and our RECreate Your Night program that provides alternative programming four nights a week for students who want a healthy activity to engage with in the evening. This program has allowed us to increase engagement with more of the campus and offer different types of wellness-based programming that don’t necessarily fit within our other program areas. This year we are starting our new tagline, “Play as Lions, Move with Pride,” to focus students on the benefit of play and movement.
Over my 10-year, post graduate school, professional career, one of the biggest challenges I have faced is change and transition. For a seven-year period, due to changing institutions and institutional leadership changes from the presidential and vice president levels, I had seven different supervisors. This challenge has kept me on my toes and always having to adapt to new leadership and supervisory styles. As tiring, stressful and frustrating as continuous change can be, in the long run it has helped me learn how to communicate better and differently — along with how to adapt my thinking to new styles and needs of the institution or division by always focusing on the services we are providing the students.
The program that has been developed here at TCNJ is one of my biggest accomplishments. I started here in the fall of 2014 as a one-person department, mainly overseeing intramural sports and sport clubs, while transitioning the fitness center and programming from an athletic coach to my purview. Since then, the department has grown to have four full-time professional staff members and over 100 student employees who provide programs and facility access, utilized by over 70% of the students on campus.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned is don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a vital part of our success because we cannot grow without experiencing failure and having an open response to it. For every failed event, proposal or idea I have, the assessment of why things didn’t work and either how I can make it work, or what parts can be adapted to move forward and be successful, has made those failures worth it. I would not be where I am today without failures in my life and growing from them.
I am a native New Yorker but since I was 18, I have lived in seven different states. I still like New York the best.