By Jackie Luskey

The 2013 NIRSA Annual Conference and Expo was aptly themed “Inspiring Communities of Wellbeing,” which was embraced and extended throughout the various streams that NIRSA touches.

From which communities did NIRSA learn, grow, and inspire?

This year’s Annual Conference was invigorated not only by collegiate recreation professionals, but also a broader spectrum of student affairs professionals through our co-location with ACPA– College Student Educators International.

By sharing the larger stage of Las Vegas with ACPA, NIRSA and ACPA members alike were able to connect and strengthen our own professional communities.

A record-breaking 2,739 NIRSA attendees fostered and supported the relationships and ideas that allow them to further inspire communities of wellbeing on a more granular level, bringing the enthusiasm and ideas of NIRSA 2013 back to their departments, recreation facilities, and student populations.

Preconference workshops and trips get the NIRSA 2013 learning started

A diverse host of preconference workshops and trips allowed conference attendees to ignite their learning and collaboration over the two days leading up to the start of conference. The NIRSA Foundation hosted two fantastic preconference events, as well. The annual NIRSA Foundation Golf Tournament, with almost 160 participants, raised money for the next generation of thought leaders in collegiate recreation (and some sun to the tournament’s players). NIRSA and ACPA attendees also served the community at Opportunity Village—an organization that provides vocational training, employment, and social services to people with intellectual disabilities—connecting with an organization whose commitment to wellbeing matches our own.

Preconference workshops offered concentrated learning for the full gamut of NIRSA members, covering student development, officiating, research, risk management, and effective leadership. The “Wellness for Life: The Healthy Campus Approach” preconference session provided key materials for the Healthy Campus 2020 campaign, which will help NIRSA members continue to thoughtfully and intentionally inspire our communities of wellbeing for the decade ahead.

Opening General Session inspires new dimensions in wellness awareness

With appetites wet from preconference events, NIRSA and ACPA joined together for a rousing Opening General Session. Following a mesmerizing acrobat act, NIRSA President, Mick Deluca, and ACPA President, Keith Humphrey, offered a tongue-in-cheek welcome that was worthy of its own Vegas headline, only to be trumped by opening keynote speaker, Melissa Harris-Perry. The author and MSNBC host primed the audience for an amazing conference experience as she detailed the idea of intersectionality. Intersectionality—the study of how different dimensions of one’s own identity intersect and interplay with each other—was discussed in relation to the human body. Not only are our student populations diverse, but every individual that collegiate recreation departments serve has a diverse range of traits within his or her own self. By becoming aware of the multidimensional needs of every student, specifically in terms of how our bodies express these needs, our collegiate recreation profession is charged with a special attention to student growth.

Educational sessions are the best show in town

Fueled by the energy of the Opening General Session, NIRSA members gained insight and ideas from an array of educational sessions. With as many as 40 educational sessions available within each time slot, NIRSA members clocked steps on their pedometers as they traveled between the four NIRSA 2013 properties: Bally’s, Flamingo, Paris, and Planet Hollywood. Based on the names of the Vegas properties, one might think our members were jet-setting across the world; however, in actuality NIRSA members were whizzing between NIRSA’s core competencies, becoming well-versed in the languages of our values.

A hearty thanks to the Conference Program Committee, co-chaired by Jacque Hamilton and Eric Stein, for building an interesting, relevant, and diverse program schedule.

Dream jobs at the Career Opportunities Center

With over 1,000 students attending NIRSA 2013, the Career Opportunities Center provided an invaluable service for those seeking a graduate assistantship or professional position. Over the four days of its operation, the Center provided over 100 employers access to NIRSA students and professionals seeking graduate assistantships, internships and full time positions. The Annual Conference’s co-location with ACPA provided expanded resources and opportunities as all candidates were eligible for both NIRSA and ACPA positions. The Career Opportunities Committee, chaired by Jessi Hobart of the University of Southern Mississippi, and over 100 volunteers helped to make the Career Opportunities Center a success. Whether you were an employer looking for the perfect candidate, or a candidate looking for great opportunities to advance your career, the Career Opportunities Center was the place to be.

Connecting the dots with member meetings

Between the bursting schedule of educational sessions, NIRSA members also took time to pause and truly connect as an association at the Annual Meeting of Members, Student Member Connection Meeting, and specific Regional Member Network Connections.

Annual Meeting of Members

As we prepare to inspire communities of wellbeing in the future, NIRSA President Mick Deluca encouraged members to look into our past. Kicking off the Centennial of Collegiate Recreation, members viewed a commemorative video, celebrating all that our profession has accomplished in the last 100 years, and then acknowledge the many association legacies who helped move the profession forward over the years.

A number of NIRSA Members were recognized as awards were presented for Creative Excellence, Outstanding Sports Facilities, Recreational Sports Journal writing, and the USTA/NIRSA Tennis Program. The full list of NIRSA award recipients can be found on the NIRSA website.

Along with Mick, NIRSA Executive Director Pam Watts, incoming NIRSA President Kathleen Hatch, and other NIRSA leaders, all stressed NIRSA’s ongoing momentum to further align our members in a clear mission: “collaborate or perish,” as coined by Mick who went on to celebrate our growth and commitment to our mission with, “Las Vegas is a perfect place for where we are right now as leaders.”

During the Annual Meeting of Members, the NIRSA Foundation recognized the NIRSA student scholarship recipients. Mick referred to them as the Association’s trifecta: our future, who we serve, and why we ask others to give.

The meeting concluded with a nod to the future from 2014 Conference Program chair Laura Hall, University of California, Davis and Host Committee representative, Calvin Diggs, Vanderbilt University, invited everyone to join them in Nashville next April.

Student Member Connection Meeting

At the following day’s Student Member Connection Meeting, the Student Leadership Team brought a charged energy to some of NIRSA’s newest members. After detailing ways for NIRSA Students to get involved, Laura Thomas handed the floor to the incoming National Student Leader, Mallory Gohl, with a ceremonious chest bump! Their enthusiasm for student leadership exuded through the rest of the Student Leadership Team introductions, award presentations, and the following take-a-student-to-lunch.

Regional Member Network Connections.

After connecting with our association as a whole, NIRSA members set aside time to meet with their respective regions. Each region utilized their meeting space for spirited discussion, region-specific recognitions including their Regional Award of Merit presentations, and break-out sessions on how to carry their inspirations into their communities of wellbeing back at their home institutions.

Closing General Session

After an action-packed three days, NIRSA and ACPA members again gathered for the Closing General Session. Author and acclaimed actor, BD Wong, returned to Melissa Harris-Perry’s idea of intersectionality, offering a candid biographical keynote about his own identity as an Asian-American and gay actor. Wong shone light and humor on coming into one’s own, even amidst the obstacles of prejudice, stereotypes, and conflicting ideologies. Collegiate recreation professionals wear many hats, thus embodying intersecting roles in our day-to-day lives. The Closing General Session encouraged attendees to embrace—and ultimately celebrate—the complicated and varied roles we possess.

Honor Award Banquet stirs laughs and much deserved admiration

Dressed to the nines, 1300 NIRSA members celebrated the end of yet another successful Annual Conference at the Honor Award Banquet. Past NIRSA President, Tony Clements, served as emcee and obligatory roaster of the banquet. In order for a roast, though, there must also be a toast. And there were many toasts to be made. Among the many thanks, President Mick Deluca honored the 2013 Honor Award Recipient, Tom Kirch, for his outstanding contributions to NIRSA and the field of collegiate recreation.The night concluded with Mick Decluca passing the gavel to, Kathleen Hatch, who dedicated her year as NIRSA President to the late Jen de-Vries.

Thanks to our gracious Host Committee

Our Las-Vegas-sized Annual Conference could not be possible without the commitment and inside know-how of the 2013 Host Committee. Chaired by Karen L. Strong, the Host Committee provided invaluable resource for NIRSA 2013 attendees in order to ensure a safe, welcoming, and memorable trip for all.

You inspire us!

Las Vegas is often considered a place that depletes visitors of energy; however, we hope that NIRSA members experienced the opposite as they returned to their homes re-energized, reinvigorated, and ready to continue the conference’s goal of “Inspiring Communities of Wellbeing.”