As 2016 came to a close so too did my term as Chair of the CHEMA Steering Committee. Reflecting, I was struck by how far NIRSA and campus recreation have come in strengthening our external relationships. One of our goals in the 2013-2018 strategic plan is that “NIRSA will be known as the leading authority, knowledge source, and innovator on the impact of campus recreation in the development of healthy and inclusive communities.”

This goal is ambitious—but so are campus recreation professionals. It is the excellent work they do on their campuses, day in and day out, that solidifies their impact and their reach again and again.

As campus recreation strives to develop those healthy and inclusive communities, we understand that doing so requires work and impact from outside our own facility walls. That work requires partnership and collaboration—and to effectively do either requires others to understand the value of campus recreation. In my role representing NIRSA at some of these partners’ highest “tables,” I’ve seen firsthand the successful translation of NIRSA members’ daily work into highly-valued partnerships across both higher education and the health promotion industry.

How did we get here?

For over 100 years as a campus recreation profession and over 65 years as a formal association, NIRSA members have strived to build the highest-quality offerings that are inclusive of all individuals in their campus community. Campus recreation professionals have also shown themselves ready to embrace change, innovation, and creativity at every opportunity. Year after year, that drive built a considerable reputation, or brand, across North American campuses.

While the team at NIRSA Headquarters has the opportunity to communicate and amplify the good work of our members, it is the leadership, strategic thinking, creative solutions, cross-campus collaborations, and impact on student success that campus recreation professionals commit to and execute on a daily basis that has shaped NIRSA’s considerable and powerful brand. As Executive Director of this Association, my job is to bring that hard-earned reputation and track record of success to those partnership tables that are key to NIRSA members’ interests. In short, it’s to give this carefully-cultivated brand a megaphone.

NIRSA is intentional about the groups we engage with. We select those that support our values and our strategies to inspire the development of healthy communities worldwide. We are making a difference with our partners in physical activity, such the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA), to promote policies that support a healthy, active lifestyle.

Among our sister associations in student affairs and across campus, NIRSA is seen as an expert in student engagement, impacting student success, and as a critical part of the solution to many of the challenges campuses and students face.

In addition to helping NIRSA work towards its ambitious vision, these partnership coalitions also yield new opportunities and resources for NIRSA members. From our involvement with the Student Affairs in Higher Education Consortium (SAHEC) came a white paper with the National Association of Campus Activities (NACA) and, most recently, a chapter in a book was published by NASPA.

Both publications affirm the link between skills students develop as campus recreation employees and the skills sought by employers after college.

NIRSA’s presence in SAHEC also generated an opportunity for us to further our global perspectives value through participation in the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS) and their bi-annual international summit. Earlier in 2016, NIRSA’s participation in the Coalition of Higher Education Associations for Substance Abuse Prevention (CoHEASAP) resulted in an invitation to join the NCAA-led effort to create a tool kit to help prevent sexual violence on campuses.

What’s down the road?

NIRSA’s work in these collaborations has also seen the value of campus recreation promoted and echoed at our partners’ premier stages. Most recently, at a NASPA Strategies Conference, NASPA President Kevin Kruger told a crowd of over 1,100 student affairs professionals how campus recreation and NIRSA were critical to solving the mental health, sexual violence, and substance abuse challenges facing our students. These were not empty words. NIRSA members are leading the pursuit of integrated wellness through significant cross-campus collaborations. A general session panel discussion at NIRSA 2017 will actually seek to enable all members to build cultures of health and wellbeing on their own campuses.

Since the goal of those healthy and inclusive communities extends beyond a campus setting, NIRSA is also at the table with important partners outside of higher education who have an interest in promoting physical activity and a culture of health.

Through NCPPA, for which NIRSA sits on the Board of Directors, NIRSA has executive level relationships with the American Heart Association, the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and more. These partners have been called on in the past for advocacy around a particular issue or need, or for development of a new benefit to NIRSA members. They will continue to be called on in the future, just as they call us to support their efforts.

It is, once again, recognition of the unwavering, forward-moving, innovative daily efforts of campus recreation professionals that resulted in NIRSA’s invitation to serve on the American Council on Exercise (ACE) Industry Advisory Panel. My role on this panel has provided relationship-building opportunities with key leaders who are influencing how the fitness industry is addressing today’s critical health and wellbeing issues.

In addition, its think-tank-like environment has been conducive to sharing innovation and insight with NIRSA leadership groups who in turn distribute that information across the NIRSA network and onto their campuses.

As we partner with leaders in Canada to formalize and strengthen a professional home for campus recreation above the 49th parallel, NIRSA will embark on a process to establish similar relationships with relevant stakeholders in Canada.

We look forward to continuing to share and amplify the good work of campus recreation, and we will use the power of a formal association to bring colleagues together for networking, problem solving, thought leadership, and advocacy. All of which, we know, will strengthen both the profession of campus recreation and the brand of NIRSA throughout Canada.

As we go forward into 2017 and beyond, I have no doubt that our focus and our reputation will continue to move us forward through issues both routine and unprecedented—just as it has throughout our storied history. Through that work, we will remain engaged with strategic partners who can help us advance our vision of building healthy people and healthy communities worldwide.

  • For more information about NIRSA partnerships, contact NIRSA Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships Erin O’Sullivan.
  • If you are interested in highlighting a successful partnership your campus, pitch us your ideas.
Executive Director at |

Pam Watts is currently the Executive Director at NIRSA.