Recreational Services Student Staff Attend Local and National Conferences
Each year, Recreational Services encourages and supports young professionals to attend conferences at the local, regional and national level within the recreational sports profession. Proceeds from the Recreational Services Annual Golf Tournament are used to support the professional development of student staff members who wish to continue their careers in recreation by attending a NIRSA conference. NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, is a non-profit membership association that provides resources and education for advancing campus recreation. In addition to national and regional conferences, students may elect to attend the Georgia Recreational Sports Association (GRSA) state workshop. At GRSA, students are given an opportunity to learn from speakers and network with recreation professionals and students from other Georgia colleges and universities.
Alex Waxman, a first year graduate assistant with Aquatics, attended the NIRSA national conference in April, 2017, before attending the GRSA state conference in February, 2018. “I went in reverse,” laughs Alex. “Instead of building up to the national conference experience, I found myself a little overwhelmed at NIRSA, which was my first conference.” Over 3,000 collegiate recreation students, professionals and exhibitors attend the NIRSA Annual Conference and Campus Rec & Wellness Expo each year. “A national conference allows you to see the big picture; the role Campus Recreation plays on a university or college campus,” says Alex. “I had no idea Campus Rec had such a community and there were professionals who stayed in Campus Rec for years.”
The scale of the Campus Rec & Wellness Expo can surprise many first time attendees like Alex. Over 160 vendors pack the expo hall providing visitors information on products and services ranging from AstroTurf to Woodway treadmills. “The Expo was my favorite part of the national conference,” says Alex. “It was so fun and active; I got to try log rolling, archery, and a hoop shoot competition.”
Learning to navigate his first conference was a learning experience. “My number one tip for students attending conferences is to look at the schedule of events and information sessions before you arrive and pick out what appeals to you,” says Alex. “My first day at NIRSA, I just tagged along with a fellow student; I wasn’t choosing education sessions that appealed to me,” explains Alex. “By the second day, I had downloaded the conference app and realized that it was okay to separate from my buddy.”
Katy Rada, a first year graduate assistant with Outdoor Recreation, first began attending fitness expos while an undergraduate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “When I attended the Gulf Coast Fitness Expo, I mostly participated in activities like fitness classes,” says Katy. “GRSA was the first ‘lecture’ style conference I attended,” she explains. “At GRSA, I was able to talk to students and professionals at other schools and see what they were doing, as well as get their opinion on what I’m doing at my university.”
Another perk of attending the state conference for Katy was the chance to get to know the Recreational Services professional staff better. “When the professional staff was hanging out with graduate assistants at GRSA, the channel for communication was different because we weren’t just employees and supervisors at that moment,” explains Katy. Alex also enjoyed spending time outside of work with his fellow graduate assistants and Recreational Services professional staff. This close-knit feel of GRSA is why Chase Brown, a second year graduate assistant with Membership Services, would recommend state conferences to new student workers or those just getting into the recreation field. “The national conference can be a little overwhelming; a state conference or the Emerging Recreational Sports Leaders conference allows you to make more intimate connections,” explains Chase.
Cultivating those connections was Chase’s primary goal when he attended GRSA and NIRSA this year. “I was job searching and networking,” says Chase. He continues, “These conferences were different from the ones I attended as an undergraduate because I was focusing on sessions and learning opportunities for young professionals; it was a transition period for me.” Katy, on the other hand, found the idea of “networking” to be intimidating. “I wasn’t sure how to do it, or even what it really meant,” she says. Now she sees conferences as great places to talk to potential employers and ask what they are looking for in a young professional. Alex also learned skills he plans to use when job searching in the future. “When I first attended NIRSA, I was trying to get a Graduate Assistantship, so I went to different interviews held at the conference,” he explains. For the first time, Alex says he had to “work on his networking skills, learn how to relax during an interview, learn how to put yourself out there and basically market yourself.”
Conferences are also ideal places for students to present on topics of interest. Chase gave his first presentation in 2017 at the Emerging Recreational Sports Leaders conference at Jackson State in Jackson, MS. After presenting on risk management and auditing student staff, Chase says he “felt so accomplished; it was my favorite moment of all the conferences I’ve attended.” Katy also has presentation experience. Her topic, encouraging rock climbers to exercise in the fitness center and gym-goers to try the rock wall, allowed her to demonstrate her knowledge in different recreation areas. Katy says, “I would tell other students to harness what they know and already do, and then go show others!”