The Final Exam: Six Questions with Willie

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 Willie Ehling, the director of campus recreation at East Carolina University.

1. How did you get started in the industry? 

I walked into a gymnasium at Appalachian State as a freshman and someone put a striped shirt on me with a whistle. The trail continued as a student employee, graduate assistant and then the full-time trail began as an intramural sports coordinator at East Carolina University (ECU). I loved this journey as recreation and now well-being are intentionally connected. I have never worked a day in my life. 

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

Campus Recreation and Wellness (CRW) at ECU is thriving as a vital, resilient and purposeful rich tradition the previous leader, Nance Mize, created and fostered. The staff and students are genuinely engaged here in their own well-being and by helping others.

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

The biggest challenge I have faced is the constant education and awareness of administrative supervisors. NIRSA has grown to intentionally connect with other higher education and business organizations which has made very positive formal and informal connections for us to connect with our bosses and students. Connecting with students is easy and visibly rewarding. The connections with academic units and administrators takes intentional and informal relationships.

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

I am most proud of the opportunities to work with so many students and staff in the creation, delivery, and evolution of what was, is and can be accomplished through the medium of recreation. Being at the right place at the right time has been my good fortune as each institution that my wife, Jill, and I arrived at was during a time of opportunity and/or the environment to spark awesome people. The involvement in the Georgia Southern and Central Florida University’s recreation strategic and master plans, combined with the allocation of student support, were inspiring times. 

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

Old quote: People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Being at several universities, I have learned to live and teach this valuable lesson. A basic method/philosophy I have found to be very valuable are the learning principles of, “People learn better in small groups. People learn better by doing. People learn better from their peers.” We should train the trainers and not always be the messenger.  

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

I attended the first NIRSA school/institute and the first NIRSA executive institute. I was also on an intramural sports broomball championship team at Appalachian State University. 

Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at

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