By Nazifa Islam

When Yvette Kell began working in collegiate recreation her freshman year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she’d already worked for the local park district in her home town, so the Intramural Physical Education (IMPE) building seemed like a logical place for her to look for an on-campus job. It was early on during her job at UIUC, while acting as a soccer official and supervisor, that she fell in love with campus recreation. “It was all over after that” first semester, she says. “I worked around the entire recreation department, getting as much experience as I could in facilities, aquatics, intramurals, and outdoor recreation.” It’s a story that resonates with many NIRSA members—she fondly recalls how “the people I met and worked with became my second family.”

Today, Yvette is the Director of Campus Recreation for Centers, LLC at the University of Missouri – St. Louis where she’s been onsite since November of 2014. Her professional path has extended far beyond the Midwest where she was first introduced to the profession, and where she currently works. After a graduate assistantship at Sam Houston State University, she worked as the Coordinator of Aquatics and Fitness at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater. She left UW–Whitewater in 2003 for a position at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where she was eventually promoted to Director of Facilities and Operations for the Student Recreation and Wellness Center.

In 2010, Yvette took a break from the recreation world to teach English in South Korea. The teaching position gave her the opportunity live abroad, something she regretted not doing in college. She returned to the U.S. and the world of collegiate recreation in 2011 when she took on the Director of Campus Recreation position at Morehead State University. She was at Morehead until accepting her current position at UMSL. “It’s been a wild ride!” she says of her career path to date.

It was at the Lead On that it became clear, she says, that collegiate recreation “is a real profession and it is awesome.”

Along the way, “NIRSA has always been a great source of support for me,” explains Yvette. Yvette attended her first NIRSA event—a Region III Student Lead On at Central Michigan University—in January of 1995 and her first NIRSA Annual Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April of the same year. Both professional development opportunities helped solidify her decision to stay involved in collegiate recreation. They also convinced her to become a dedicated part of the Association.

It was at the Lead On that it became clear, she says, that collegiate recreation “is a real profession and it is awesome.” At that Lead On, she met a number of involved people in the field and began building her network. “I began looking for ways to enter into the profession,” she says. A major break came when she secured a graduate assistantship the following year at Sam Houston State University where she would eventually earn her M.A. in kinesiology. Her forays into the field really took off there: “I built a network while working at extramural tournaments during my time at Sam Houston and became as much a part of NIRSA as I could be.”

One concrete example of the support that NIRSA has provided to Yvette’s professional development is the scholarship she received from the NIRSA Foundation in 2005 while she was a professional NIRSA member working at UNLV. She credits her attendance at Level II of the NIRSA School of Collegiate Recreation to the NIRSA Foundation scholarship: “It gave me the opportunity to attend a week-long workshop that I was very much looking forward to. It truly assisted me with my professional development.” She enjoyed spending time with her cohort and recalls having “a lot of great conversations during break periods.” Yvette already knew when she attended The School that she “aspired to be a director and have an impact on students.” The event strengthened her confidence to push forward and keep working to accomplish her goals. She didn’t have to wait long as it was two short years after attending The School that she was promoted to a director position at UNLV.

Once Yvette had reached her goal of serving as a director, she set her sights even higher. My time at “UNLV was when many career aspirations came up for me,” she explains. “Based on conversations, experiences, and some friendships I’ve made along the way, I’d really like to be an advocate for rec in student affairs.” She’s set her next goal on one day becoming a vice president of student affairs.

“We impact students and help them create lifelong habits of health and wellbeing during their time on campus.”

Like most NIRSA members, Yvette has strong views regarding the value of collegiate recreation. Campus recreation departments “provide education, a fun place to blow off steam, and a place to help build community. We impact students and help them create lifelong habits of health and wellbeing during their time on campus.” She goes on to emphasize that campus recreation has “a profound impact on the lives of so many—even if we don’t get to see those impacts immediately.” Even if she hasn’t yet reached her goal of serving in an upper student affairs administration role, Yvette is already advocating for campus recreation through her work with students.

For her, the profession is all about student engagement and development. She entered UIUC with aspirations to become a teacher. It was through recreation that she realized she performed a lot of the aspects of a teacher “while having way more fun out of the classroom!” She enjoys seeing how “students really feed off each other” and firmly believes that recreation offers “opportunities for education without needing to regularly sit in front of a PowerPoint presentation.” She says, “Teaching is one of my favorite parts of the job. I really enjoy being a support mechanism for students.”

The Association and its members are incredibly committed to supporting emerging and established rec professionals, and to investing in the future of collegiate recreation. That’s a large part of why NIRSA Foundation scholarships exist and why mentorship is such an integral part of the profession.

“I really enjoy being a support mechanism for students.”

“There have been several mentoring relationships I’ve been a part of that have influenced my professional career,” Yvette says when asked about her own mentors. Maureen McGonagle, Director at DePaul University, and Therese Kennedy, Associate Director at UW–Whitewater, are only two individuals who have had “a tremendous influence” and provided Yvette with support and advice during the early stages of her career.

While Yvette doesn’t presume to be a mentor to the many students she works with every day, she believes deeply that her “interactions with them create small ripples which help them on their journey. I believe we all do that!”
The Association has given Yvette so much—introducing her to mentors, providing her with development opportunities—and so she does her best to give back. She’s presented sessions at events in Region III and Region IV, has been a part of the Student Development Committee and the Wasson Award Committee, is currently serving as the Region IV Conference Co-Chair and is a member of the NIRSA Legislation & Policy committee. She was also very excited to join the NIRSA School of Collegiate Recreation’s faculty this year. “NIRSA does so many great things for those within our profession. I enjoy being a small part of that process,” she says. Yvette encourages other NIRSA members to get involved as well: “Being a member of NIRSA means taking part in committees and taking advantage of volunteer opportunities. And remember, never stop learning and always find what fires you up in order to keep you in engaged on your path.”

“never stop learning and always find what fires you up in order to keep you in engaged on your path.”

NIRSA remains as committed to its membership as its members are to it. The Association is proud to support student development and research advocating for the field. After receiving a NIRSA Foundation Scholarship, benefiting from years of mentorship from Association professionals, and seeing the Association advocate for the Value of Collegiate Recreation, Yvette knows there are real benefits to staying involved and invested in NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation.

Yvette’s experience—as well as those of hundreds of other students and volunteers—is made possible by generous donors to the NIRSA Foundation. Learn more about how they are working to strengthen the future of collegiate recreation and how you can support their efforts.

If you’re interested in sharing your story, please contact NIRSA Foundation Board Member Chris Muller, or NIRSA Foundation Coordinator Kelley Hungerford. Read more about how other NIRSA students and professionals have been positively impacted by a NIRSA Foundation scholarship on the NIRSA website.