Two of the biggest buzzwords in higher education are resilience and grit. Since about 80% of collegiate recreation programs fall under the umbrella of student affairs and with NIRSA and NASPA partnering together on a commitment to student wellbeing, I felt this would be a great opportunity to explore this topic. Angela Lee Duckworth’s Ted Talk titled “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance” has a basic outline for what the concept of grit means but also discusses the need for future research in that area. Resilience has also become a popular term, describing how students bounce back from failures that they experience during college life. The biggest question for me is how can we as collegiate recreation professionals help build resilience and grit in our students? The more I think about how we can, the more I realize that we already do. I’m excited to share stories from NIRSA students that show how they were resilient and demonstrated grit through their involvement with collegiate recreation. It shows what a true powerhouse we are in the student experience by making a difference in student lives.

It takes a special kind of grit to master the aerial arts, so it’s no surprise that Region IV Student Leader Cie Cie Leonard’s favorite quote to live by is “With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.” The fearlessness Cie Cie shows in practicing the aerial arts translates into her work as she dares to take risks by developing innovative programs in her graduate assistantship. For example, she’s rolling out a new program at Texas A&M Commerce that will unite all facets of student wellness on campus through recreation for students to engage in. There’s a certain restlessness about Cie Cie and I think it comes from her daring to take risks, push further into the unknown, and really see what can be accomplished by thinking for the future. She brings an inner strength to our team and compassion for others. I think that she embodies this quote and I am proud of the work that she has done so far on the Student Leadership Team and I’m proud to call her my friend.

In his article “How Some Colleges are Building Student Resilience and Grit,” Paul Marthers, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at Emory University, outlines the three main traits of a resilient student as discovered in a study from Rice University:

  1. Students adopt a growth mindset
  2. Students develop a sense of belonging and become socially integrated on campus
  3. Students exhibit an intrinsic motive to achieve

Collegiate recreation is foundational in building and growing these traits and contributing to student resilience and grit. Riley Spenningsby, Graduate Assistant of Operations at the University of Houston, said in her first six weeks of college, “I was having a hard time finding a connection on my campus or even attempting to get a single faculty member to remember my name. Working for recreation, it took me awhile to open up or view my role as more than just an after school job; however, I started to form connections, even build friendships with my fellow co-workers.” Riley talks about the impact that NIRSA continued to have on her building connections after attending her first Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. “I not only felt a connection with people on my campus, but even alumni or others who shared similar interests with me that lived halfway across the country. I brought this sense of belonging home with me and wanted to ensure that others could feel the same way, that others knew that who they are and what they do matter.” She also says it influenced her intrinsic motivation to succeed as she was empowered by those that surrounded her. “When I think about my undergraduate years my favorite memories come from the rec center and with the people I worked with—these people truly made me into the woman I am today. Maybe they will even be lucky enough to experience the culture, tradition, and life of their university’s campus recreation center.”

Xzaveion Price, Graduate Assistant for Fitness at Oklahoma State University, comments on how campus recreation helped him adopt a growth mindset as well as belonging. “Campus recreation and the great leaders I found in it, helped me discover my passions. I, like a lot of students, came to college with a good plan on paper. Whether I knew it or not at the time, my heart wasn’t invested in that perfectly laid plan. Getting involved in campus recreation allowed me to put my heart into my work both academically and professionally. I began to master new skill sets, adopting a growth mindset and a passion for learning. For every fact and skill I learned, campus recreation gave me a place to apply it and dig deeper. I quickly found my place in the bigger picture and have never had a reason to look back.”

To those of you who find yourself supporting students who may be yearning for the sense of belonging and connection, remember the impact of what you do. Be courageous in your work. Take risks this year. Implement a new program, innovate your trainings, hire the underdog. We need to make sure that as leaders in collegiate recreation we adopt a growth mindset, socially integrate ourselves to our department and campus, and find our intrinsic motivation to succeed. Once we do that, we will move from innately building resilience and grit through our programs and services to building it intentionally. You are needed and valued contributors to student success and retention. Thank you for what you do. As always, You stay classy, NIRSA family!

Graduate Assistant – Facility Operations at University of Mississippi | NIRSA Profile

Caroline Ciell, NIRSA Student Leader, is currently Graduate Assistant – Facility Operations at the University of Mississippi.