“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman
“At one time,” Jeremy Battjes says, “I was set on becoming an elementary school teacher, with recreation and fitness being a fun thing to do on the side. When I found out that I could make recreation, fitness, health, and wellness a fulltime gig, I had to take advantage and never looked back.” Now the Director of University Recreation at the University of Arkansas with nearly a decade of professional experience under his belt, Jeremy very much represents the core of collegiate recreation professionals.
Recreation professionals have come to the field through many different paths and experiences; however, like Jeremy, the way professionals come into the field isn’t nearly as important as why. There’s a passion for health and wellbeing that unites the field—an intangible, driving quality. “The sound of high fives, weights banging, basketballs bouncing, group fitness instructors shouting directions…is music to my ears and the reason I enjoy coming to work every day and try to provide the best atmosphere for our student employees and participants,” Jeremy says. He found that, despite his original intention, working in the collegiate environment was where he was supposed to be. “The work we do in higher education is fun and rewarding,” he says.
Helping shape that intangible, but undeniable, passion into a professional path is where the NIRSA Foundation comes in. In 2005, while a graduate assistant at the University of Arkansas, Jeremy was awarded the William Wasson Scholarship and used his scholarship to attend the 2005 Annual Conference. It was an instrumental moment for him—pivotal in both his job search and his ability to network and strengthen his place within the association.
Jeremy mentions that his volunteer time at NIRSA 2005 as a scholarship recipient was incredibly beneficial. It “pushed me outside of my comfort zone, helped me to develop networks within NIRSA, and allowed me to develop relationship with those I probably would not have had the opportunity to get to know,” he says.
“Being active in the Foundation creates a successful future for not only NIRSA, but for future professionals in collegiate recreation.”
And, though he notes he could have “simply taken the allotted travel money and returned home…the scholarship reinforced the importance of investing time and resources into our association….The experience gave me the confidence to try and be different and find a way to stand out, [even] at times making yourself a little vulnerable so as to ultimately grow as a young professional.”
As an advancing professional Jeremy stayed active in the Foundation, conscious of its role in his professional development. “I have the opportunity to continue building…an environment where students will be successful in the profession,” he says. “Being active in the Foundation creates a successful future for not only NIRSA, but for future professionals in collegiate recreation.”
Appropriately, the Foundation’s tagline of “Supporting today. Ensuring tomorrow.”, is also descriptive of the way Jeremy supports and mentors those around him. “Professionals in [NIRSA] are known for taking individuals and creating environments that encourage learning opportunities to become successful,” he says.
That was very much his experience as a student at Central Michigan University and the University of Arkansas; the staffs there “were instrumental” in his development, he recalls. “Without someone taking a chance on a young kid that thought he knew it all, there is no way I would be in the situation I am today.”
“ Collegiate recreation has the powerful opportunity to make a tremendous impact on the higher education experience…”
And now he now he continues to pay that forward: “It is important, as a professional in the field, to provide the atmosphere that fosters an environment for students to continue to grow professionally. For example, traditionally the state of Arkansas has had little student involvement in NIRSA and produced few graduate assistants in the field. Since assuming leadership of our department, we’ve placed several undergraduates into GA positions, had current GAs serve in association leadership roles and give presentations, and, this past year, we supported a student to stand for National Student Leader. Even though that student didn’t “win,” she told us she is so happy she went through the process and put herself out there. The things she learned and the people she met would not have happened without the experience. We are doing everything we can to empower our students.”
And it’s not just promising GAs Jeremy feels passionate about empowering. “Collegiate recreation has the powerful opportunity to make a tremendous impact on the higher education experience… Participation in rec sports—either as an employee or a participant—goes beyond the simple attendance check,” he says. “While we value user demographics, we take it a step further and want to know how [users’] experience has improved their self-efficacy.”
“ The best part is that they do not even realize…they are learning crucial life skills.”
As for his undergraduate student employees, he notes that they “understand their experience goes beyond their hourly wage, regardless of their position. They are improving their time-management skills, organization, leadership, and conflict-resolution skills, developing into a well-rounded student….We are teaching and preparing students for life beyond their time at the university. The best part is that they do not even realize all of the educational opportunities we are providing and that they are learning crucial life skills.”
With such a mindset, and generous, people-first beliefs, Jeremy would have no doubt made an incredible elementary school teacher, but, thanks in large part to the opportunities he received through the Foundation, NIRSA and the students served by University of Arkansas’ Campus Recreation Department, are able to benefit greatly—now, and well into the future.