As a junior at Texas A&M University-Commerce, Justin Anderson was working towards a Music Education degree. He began picking up shifts at the Morris Recreation Center because it was “the one place flexible with a student teaching schedule.” As he swiped cards at the front desk, however, Justin couldn’t help noticing the recreation professionals around him—how hard they worked for the campus community and how much they seemed to enjoy doing it. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this seems like a possible career choice,’” Justin says.

Less than a decade later, as the Aquatic Facility and Program Manager at University of Virginia, with a background in facilities, intramural sports, outdoor education, aquatics, and fitness, Justin has seen recreation become not just a career choice, but a way of life. He thrives on living and building the kind of professional community he witnessed as a student in the Morris Recreation Center.

Justin notes that sometimes we all get “too wrapped up in our jobs and forget to get to know the people who will help us out the most—co-workers and students. I am fortunate to work with fun and energetic people here at the University of Virginia who strive to meet the same goals,” he continues. “UVA is a fast-paced environment; however, working with fun people slows things down and helps keep things in perspective…it allows you to be yourself and feel comfortable.”

Modeling this strong work/life balance and a commitment to pursuing the things you’re passionate about is the sort of out-of-the-classroom education that makes college about more than letters on a transcript. As a professional, Justin is committed to sharing this with his students. As a student himself, though, he found this lesson modeled not just within his undergraduate campus, but throughout the NIRSA family.

In 2008, as a graduate student at Western Kentucky University, Justin was awarded a William Wasson Award, allowing him to attend the Annual Conference in Austin, TX. By attending conference, Justin says, he “was able to see how much the professional staff within NIRSA and its sponsors supported professional growth and development.”

“ I really saw the passion in our professionals ….they do it all out of their love for the association.”

One aspect of that 2008 conference that really drove home this point was the time he spent, as part of his scholarship, volunteering at the NIRSA Foundation table and seeing their tagline of “Supporting Today. Ensuring Tomorrow.” being put into action.

“I really saw the passion in our professionals,” Justin remembers. “Here they are, volunteers as well, going out on a limb asking members to donate, helping raise funds for the Foundation. We all know

[asking for money] is no easy task; however, these professionals did it without hesitation because they knew who the funds were supporting—the students and professionals who work hard on a day-to-day basis to promote the mission and vision of NIRSA. It’s professionals like this I look up to—from Mark Fletcher to Eric Nickel to Suzi Smith to Jen Rezac. They really show what a true professional is because they do it all out of the kindness of their hearts and their love for the association.”

“ [Winning] was about the professionals I looked up to recognizing the potential in me…to become a lead[er] in NIRSA and collegiate recreation.”

Authenticity like this ensured that, for Justin, his NIRSA Foundation scholarship “wasn’t about winning or the money [to attend conference].” In fact, he had been able use his school’s professional development funds to attend the Annual Conference the year before, during his hunt for a GA position. Winning the scholarship was instead about “professionals I worked with seeing the hard work, drive, and dedication I had to the profession,” he says. “It was about the professionals that I looked up to recognizing the potential in me, as a student, to become a leading professional in NIRSA and collegiate recreation.”

This is why, he says, the one thing that really stands out about his professional evolvement over the years is that “I am a product of my mentors.” They’ve modeled that work/life balance for him, taught him how to branch out and find his strengths, and how to continue to give back and pay it forward.

“ I am a product of my mentors.”

“Every year,” he says, “when I attend the Annual Conference, I can’t help but smile when I see future professionals eager to learn and take on the roles within our higher education system. The smile and experience they gain alone is worth every penny I donate to the Foundation!”

Also at each Annual Conference he seeks out his mentors—like, Suzi Smith, Therese Kennedy, Mary Ellen Milam, Tim Willett, and Mike Waldron—who “have all shaped my career more than they know,” Justin says. “I am forever grateful for their guidance, mentorship, and friendship. Without NIRSA, I would never be able to call them family.”