NIRSA members from the United States, Canada, and Mexico packed their bags and made their way to Texas this spring for the express purpose of furthering the collegiate recreation profession. The 66th NIRSA Annual Conference & Recreational Sports Expo took place from March 30–April 2 in Grapevine, Texas, and over 3,200 attendees and exhibitors had a fantastic time “moving our values forward!”
The NIRSA Annual Conference is an opportunity for members to come together for what 2015-2016 NIRSA Student Leader Erica Estes, Graduate Assistant for Facilities & Fitness at The University of Southern Mississippi, calls “a long overdue homecoming.” The “conference provides a sense of comfort that can only be achieved in a family setting,” explains Erica. There’s a reason members consider themselves part of a NIRSA family—for many, a highlight of the conference is the chance to reconnect with colleagues and friends.
At NIRSA 2015, members of the NIRSA family had the opportunity to learn, network, and socialize together in the beautiful Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center. The Gaylord Texan played host to almost all Annual Conference events—including over 165 sessions and presentations, the Career Opportunities Center, the Expo Hall, and even the All Conference Social! Attendees really appreciated the close proximity between various events; all of the educational sessions took place on the same floor of the Convention Center, and the longest walk from one conference opportunity to the next was a brief ten minutes. All in all, NIRSA 2015 was a rootin’ tootin’ good time and the Gaylord Texan the perfect place for members to both learn and play!
Kicking off NIRSA 2015
The week of NIRSA 2015 festivities kicked off bright and early on Monday morning with some great preconference opportunities. While some attendees remained onsite at the Gaylord Texan at one of the fantastic preconference workshops, over 400 boarded buses and spent the first day of their Texas experience supporting the NIRSA Foundation or on exciting facility trips and tours.
— Mike Widen (@MikeWiden) March 28, 2015
The NIRSA Foundation’s 21st Annual Golf Tournament at Tour 18 gave members the chance to play on a great course composed of carefully-simulated holes from some of the greatest golf courses in the US while the NIRSA Foundation Community Service Project let members give back to the Grapevine community with Grapevine Relief And Community Exchange (GRACE). Attendees at both events had a great time moving NIRSA values forward through community service and physical activity!
Later that first evening, NIRSA President Laurie Braden and Executive Director Pam Watts helped get the conference officially underway at the Opening General Session in the Texas Ballroom. NIRSA members were then treated to a fantastic keynote speech by Alvin Law, whose core belief in positive energy and great sense of humor were infectious. His speech was full of pearls of wisdom like “If you’re going to be leading people, you better like people” and “Learn to never say, ‘There’s nothing I can do.’” His opening, welcome address ended in a standing ovation as he reminded everyone in the room to “continue to change lives, make a difference, and have some fun.” A Student Senior Intramural Official at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Ethan Quimby’s response to Alvin’s speech sums up the member response perfectly: “Words can’t describe how inspirational you are. Thanks for the visit and the laughs!”
From the Opening General Session, members only had to take two flights of escalators down to attend the All Conference Social in the Gaylord Texan atriums. The first social of NIRSA 2015 was sponsored by PLAE, and lucky NIRSA members who found a PLAE shirt in the Texas Ballroom—or wore a previous year’s PLAE shirt to the social—were rewarded with prizes from PLAE representatives.
— Richard Gray (@RichGray_) March 30, 2015
Members spent the night eating great food, racing rescued armadillos—Armadillo #2 seemed to have a definite edge over the competition—participating in Key Log Rolling at the indoor pool, listening to the O’s perform, and attempting to rope a steer. Then it was a quick elevator trip up to their rooms for some shuteye before the first day of educational sessions at NIRSA 2015, the core of NIRSA’s Annual Conference!
Amazing professional development opportunities
NIRSA 2015 provided attendees with so many valuable and diverse professional development opportunities. There were over 150 ed sessions and a Career Opportunities Center chockfull of resources for both employers and candidates alike. The COC had mailboxes for both employers and candidates, offered mock interview opportunities, résumé review, computers for candidates to apply for jobs, provided a space for actual interviews to take place, and even had a resource area. The COC was open all four days of conference, and was bustling at all hours.
Ed sessions were led by experts in their fields and covered a diverse array of topics from aquatics to student learning outcomes to health and wellbeing. There were over 330 presenters at NIRSA 2015 and the event truly offered something for everyone—certain ed sessions were popular enough that it was standing room only within minutes of the session’s start time.
Azalea Anahí Santos Farías, a first-time NIRSA Annual Conference attendee from Mexico, absolutely loved the ed sessions she was able to attend. She appreciated that “there were so many options to choose from,” and believes the sessions provided her with “a lot of new knowledge” to bring back to her team and campus. While there’s nothing like actually attending an ed session, all NIRSA members can now find presentations from NIRSA 2015 online in the conference resources library.
— Hugo Macias, Jr. (@hmacias2) April 1, 2015
The Association’s dedication to professional networking and mentorship kicked into high gear at NIRSA 2015 with events like Take a Student to Lunch. “Each and every student can discover their niche within the inclusive environment established by the conference,” says Erica Estes, the incoming Student Leader. “The incredible opportunity that students have to network with one another, as well as to forge lasting mentor relationships, is unmatchable.” Take a Student to Lunch took place right after the Student Member Connection meeting. A handful of lucky students who participated in a SLT social media challenge during the meeting won the chance to grab lunch with 2014-2015 NIRSA President Laurie Braden. Other students gathered outside the Texas Ballroom after the meeting, where they paired—and in some cases, grouped—up with waiting mentors.
At the Student Member connection meeting, the 2014-2015 NIRSA Student Leadership Team—led by outgoing Student Leader Kimmi Sterner—thanked mentors like Greg Jordan for their leadership and dedication and welcomed the 2015-2016 SLT. Kimmi, Fitness Graduate Assistant at the University of Mississippi, admits that she “thought it would be more difficult to pass the