David Davenport has a history of seizing opportunities. He is currently the Director of University Recreation and Chief Diversity Officer at Austin Peay State University, but he got his start in recreation as an intramural sports official and intramural supervisor while an undergrad at Appalachian State University.
“I was playing flag football one season, and I didn’t like a call,” says David. “I thought it was an unfair call toward the team of black men, so I ran up to Jim Eubanks, the IM Coordinator at the time, and voiced my concerns.”
Jim—who is currently the Director of Recreational Sports & Fitness at the University of North Alabama and has a history of being involved in training the next generation of sports officials—told David to speak with him in his office the next day, and open to opportunities as ever David went to continue the discussion.
“His response was ‘if you can do better, come join our officials corps.’ I did and the rest is history,” says David.
The path to collegiate recreation
David got his degree in Criminal Justice and spent two years working as a case manager at an all-boy private school in Winchester, Virginia. However, recreation continued to have a hold on him.
“Being a believer of my faith and knowing I don’t carry my own agenda, I decided to dedicate myself to the profession of collegiate recreation when opportunities to get involved with recreation kept presenting themselves,” says David. “I wasn’t really sure what was next for me; I just knew I was in recreation at the time, and I really enjoyed it.”
He had been looking into a position at Old Dominion University when the director asked if he would be interested in earning his Master’s degree. He decided to return to school to pursue a graduate degree and work as a GA. The experience eventually led him into the role of Assistant Director.
In 2003, he accepted the Director of University Recreation position at Austin Peay State University, where he has been ever since. “Life just happened, opportunities presented themselves, and now here I am,” says David.
Early into his career, he had heard that NIRSA could open doors for him, but at first, he wasn’t sure how. He took advantage of the scholarship opportunities offered by the NIRSA Foundation and received a scholarship to attend the 1997 Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, where he started to better understand the scope and value of the Association.
“Attending conference gave me a better understanding of what this thing called recreation is all about,” says David. “It was one of the first times that I attended to get a better understanding of the folks attending and not just what was going on in the educational sessions.”
Joining the NIRSA family
David says NIRSA means a few different things to him: common interests that can be utilized to better each other; opportunities to learn, grow, and share; a relatable and relevant career; and friendships and relationships.
“NIRSA is an organization full of people who love to help others,” he says. “I have been around many different associations but none are like NIRSA. NIRSA folks will share everything and will help everyone, which is kind of funny coming from an association of competitors. The NIRSA Annual Conference is so much like a ‘family reunion’ because when we come together, we catch up on life and family. NIRSA members are never strangers.”
This applies to NIRSA mentorships as well. When asked to outline his relationship with a mentor in the field, David couldn’t pick just one.
“They all still impact my life today, remaining supportive, giving advice (even when not requested), and simply looking out for me and my best interests,” he says.
Now Director of CENTERS, LLC at DePaul University, Moe took the opportunity to “approach me, introduce herself, ask me a few questions, and instantly she took me under her wing,” he says. “She was able to act as a mentor/mom and transition to mentor/colleague as I grew into a professional and began mentoring others. She has always had a genuine interest in my goings-on and that in itself makes me smile.”
David was introduced to Kevin Marbury, currently the Vice President for Student Life at the University of Oregon and another past president of NIRSA, in 2001 when Kevin was a candidate for and then became Director of Recreation and Wellness at Old Dominion.
“I didn’t allow him to have space to get to know me at his own pace,” says David. “I forced him to get to know me. I hadn’t had many opportunities to interact in the field with someone who looked like me as an African American male, and suddenly here I was, working with Kevin.”
David says that he tried to emulate Kevin’s actions while they worked together because Kevin always seemed to do the right thing and had so much confidence in himself.
“I always tell him I want to be like him when I grow up, but his response has always been ‘be better than me.’ That told me that he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself which pushed me to aim higher than I already was,” says David.
David also named Sam Hirt, retired Director of Campus Recreation at Vanderbilt University as a third mentor who he met while attending his first Region II conference in Nashville.
“We had driven from Boone, NC, and as we pulled up to the conference site, Mr. Hirt was there greeting people as they unloaded. He and his wife have been my heroes ever since.”
Finding your way
David says that recreation is valuable because it is “a classroom without walls, where life lessons are taught and learned by those who voluntarily come through the doors.”
“Recreation is the vehicle where many find their niche, figuring out their next steps while attaining transferable skills that can be utilized in every aspect of life—professionally, socially, emotionally, mentally, physically, and on and on,” he explains.
He has learned a lot on his journey that he can now share with students and young professionals. Making time to be a mentor is a pattern that’s common to many recipients of NIRSA Foundation scholarships.
“Enjoy what you are doing and the people you are doing it with and for,” he advises. “Learn what you can in the field and network with as many people as possible. Allow NIRSA to open doors for you.”
For him, being active in the NIRSA Foundation is an important part of recognizing and appreciating the doors that NIRSA opened for him.
“To me, being active is a way to pay back those who gave me an opportunity while paying it forward to future generations of rec professionals,” he says.
Having an impact
When asked what keeps him involved in NIRSA year after year, David says, “It’s simple…THE PEOPLE. They are like our family, our best friends, our cheerleaders, our mentors, our heroes, and our role models.”
These important people have shaped David’s experience in becoming a mentor himself and continue to impact hundreds of other students and volunteers through their work on campus and by their generous donations to the NIRSA Foundation.
If you are a student or professional interested in furthering your professional development, consider applying for your own scholarship or stipend. You never know where it might lead you!
- If you’re interested in sharing your story about how the NIRSA Foundation helped to shape your career, please contact NIRSA Foundation Board Member Lexi Chaput or NIRSA Foundation Coordinator Kelley Hungerford.