Women Leaders in Campus Recreation

women leaders

In the September/October issue, we highlighted some of the leading ladies in the campus recreation industry who are making an impact in moving health and wellness to new heights on campuses across the nation. Read their advice and more below: 

Allison Cross, the director of Recreational Sports at Virginia Tech

women leaders

What do you love most about your current role?

AC: After 20 years in this field, I have many answers, so I feel as though I have to start with that disclaimer because I want to name it all. What I love so much about this role and our industry is the connections with people. Another really inspiring aspect of this work is seeing people get motivated and excited about exercise.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

AC: In April of 2007, 32 Hokies were killed on campus out of an act of pure evil. As it did for all Hokies everywhere, it shakes you and creates a fear and sadness that is long lasting. Being an employee in a leadership role and specifically managing a large facility with lots of people entering and exiting, the responsibility of making decisions and having protocols to protect from something like this again feels heavy and dire. To be prepared for all scenarios makes it important to not let fear and avoidance become the way of coping.

What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?

AC: The ability to manage ego. I have had to work on this because checking my ego allows the humility I need so I can lean fully into the knowledge and talents of colleagues and team members.

 

Autumn Johnson, the director of Campus Recreation at Texas A&M University-Commerce

women leaders

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

AJ: For me, personal development is the challenge of a lifetime. I love to learn and grow. But at the same time, receiving corrective feedback — especially when it is given in a poor manner — used to be devastating to me. I don’t think anyone can say they love receiving corrective feedback, but I have learned how to have a healthy outlook on it. One experience I had was being completely berated in front of my coworkers and told another way to do a task. In my head, I was thinking about how this person just didn’t understand what he was asking for was unreasonable and almost impossible. But after pondering it, I realized although his method of communicating was poor, he had a good point in his idea. My coworker and I found a way to implement his idea and found much success.

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Although the challenges and problems may be different, facing those problems always involves flexibility and a solution-oriented mindset. Right now, our challenge is providing safeguards against COVID-19 transmission.

What is your advice for future leaders?

Know who you are. Take time for introspection to develop and articulate your philosophy on a variety of topics. I have also greatly benefited from having amazing mentors. I would not be where I am today without them.

 

Dominique Gummelt, the director of University Wellness at Andrews University

women leaders

What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?

DG: The continuous mindset that there is much more to learn and more room to grow, there are improvements to be made within self and within the community, and that you can learn something from everyone you have the honor to serve.

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

DG: The biggest opportunity we currently have as leaders is to find ways to turn overload and the resulting indifference into renewed inspiration, motivation and passion that together we can thrive and lift each other higher.

What is your advice for future leaders?

DG: Find and invest in successful, top mentors for mind, body, spirit, relationships and business to regularly meet with, learn from, grow with and be transformed by. This is vital for personal growth.

 

Jen Gudaz, the senior associate director of Athletics, and director of Physical Education and Recreation at Cornell University

women leaders

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

JG: The biggest challenge I have had to overcome was having an unethical manager. I chose to find a different path for myself, and I left the field of campus rec for a time and worked several jobs. I worked in other recreation sectors, but I knew campus recreation was my path. I had to work harder to get to where I am, but I did not lower my standards to reach my goals.

What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?

JG: Integrity. It is important for leaders to be making honest and moral decisions that are best for the organization. Making tough decisions isn’t easy, but as a leader, showing integrity teaches upcoming leaders to do what is right. Additionally, leaders need to model the behaviors they want to see in their team. I never expect my team to do anything I would not do myself, and I will not do something for someone else that is not moral and ethical.

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

JG: Generational differences is one of the biggest challenges I see, but I think it makes my team more successful. I have found my team works better if each can understand their teammates and why/how they function. I greatly appreciate having a team made of all generations because they learn from each other and how to operate with various life experiences. I have a very hard working team, and it is satisfying to watch everyone grow together.

 

Laurie Braden, the executive director of University Recreation at Louisiana State University

women leaders

What do you love most about your current role?

LB: What I love most about my current role is summed up in one word: impact. I have the opportunity every day to make an impact on people’s lives through the recreation, sport and well-being space. From students to fellow campus community members and our full-time University Recreation staff, my role allows me to provide opportunities that make a difference in their everyday lives. Whether it is through employment or activity, my role is to ensure our unit enriches people’s lives. It is a privilege and joy to serve in that way every day.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

LB: I guess I’d say to slow down, not take everything that comes at me personally and to have more balance in my life. I believe I have overcome challenges by being persistent and not quitting. I don’t take “no” for a complete answer; I look at “no” as “not yet.”

What is your advice for future leaders?

LB: Leadership is hard, messy and sometimes it hurts. It is also fun, exciting and joyful. Know you will feel all of these. Appreciate the good times and know you will learn through the hard times.

 

Leslie Dulle, the director of Recreational Sports at Xavier University

women leaders

What do you love most about your current role?

LD: The hands-down best part of my current role is the opportunity I have every single day to make a positive impact on a student. I love people and was pulled to my profession because of my experiences as an undergraduate. I love being able to be part of a team. I think one of my strengths is I have not forgotten what it was like being a college student. I like to be able to meet them where they are.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

LD: The most difficult challenge I have had to overcome is establishing my voice across the university to advocate for my area. I have been able to overcome this challenge simply by being a team player, confident, timely and, most of all, persistent.

What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?

LD: Enthusiasm and a sense of humor. Without these, all the skills in the world may not be enough to pull the team with you.  You must give them a reason to want to succeed. An enthusiastic attitude is infectious, and a sense of humor can put out many fires. In my opinion, those two characteristics help build a result-oriented team who wants to be part of the success overall.

 

Melanie Alverio, the assistant director for Marketing, Member Services and Business Operations in Campus Recreation at Rowan University

women leaders

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

MA: The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is the discomfort of giving feedback to someone who lacked focus which resulted in poor performance. I made sure to focus on the issue and behavior while giving the person the opportunity to respond. Getting to know their needs and guiding them to find solutions so they could succeed was important. I continued to give consistent feedback whether it was praise or constructive criticism. In the end, this allowed us to have a positive rapport with one another and have a productive work environment.

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

MA: The biggest challenge facing leaders today is managing and leading change, especially in a time of uncertainty. Staying motivated by remembering your purpose along with communication and transparency with staff is key.

What is your advice for future leaders?

MA: Live your values. You are going to make mistakes. Take responsibility and have a growth mindset.

 

Romayne Eaker-Kelly, the director of Campus Recreation and Health Promotion at Montclair State University

women leaders

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

RE: Moving from a municipal recreation director position into the higher education world was the biggest career challenge. In a municipal government where I was the director in a few municipalities, the calendar year is the timeline for programs that typically go seasonally, so there are 365 days to provide community programs — such as tree lightings, spring egg hunts, the Fourth of July fireworks, summer camps, pool openings, Labor Day parades, etc.

At a university, we provide most of those options during a shortened timeframe — 181 days from September to May/June — and we still like to hit on the same events and holiday celebrations in addition to so much more. I overcame the challenge of a faster-paced environment by setting goals and timelines, and hiring student leaders whose sole purpose was to develop programming each semester that included all aspects of a community recreation program. The bottom line is a university campus is a community. Once I got the hang of that realization, the results were very well received and successful.

What is your advice for future leaders?

RE: Remaining calm is a challenge that will set great leaders apart from the pack. Draw from your past experience to make decisions in the present that will make you a more effective leader.

 

Stefani Plummer, the director of the Recreation Center at California Baptist University

women leaders

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

SP: Early on in my career, I had an individual tell me I wasn’t worthy to be in the role I was. It really sat with me. I spent a lot of time trying to prove I deserved a seat at the table. It’s a terrible feeling, and it took me a while to realize my strengths and that I bring a lot to a team. Now I try to pass that message on and help people find their potential so they never feel they are inadequate. Society does enough of that. I believe in building people up.

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

SP: Spring 2020 brought a new season of challenges professionally, but in general, I think imposter syndrome is something I have faced and hear a lot about from other leaders. We might not have enough faith in ourselves; we might not have leaders who express faith in us; sometimes we might not have the resources to meet or exceed our potential. But more often than not, I think leaders have a lot to offer and should lean into that. I don’t necessarily mean individually.

What is your advice for future leaders?

SP: Never stop learning: your own skill improvement, trends in the profession, science of the profession, building up the morale of the individuals on your team and growing your faith. Investing in yourself will strengthen what you do well and improve where you need it.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *