This issue of NIRSA Student Leader’s Notes is the final installment of the anthology of student leadership lessons that I began back in July. I hope that through sharing the stories of our Regional Student Leaders and the students in their regions, NIRSA members like yourselves have grown proud of what these students have accomplished and are excited to see them flourish in the years to come. If you’re interested in taking a look back, you can find these articles archived on the NIRSA website.

“Opportunities don’t happen. You create them.” -Chris Gosser

I always think of the old adage, “Opportunity knocks” when I think about the word “opportunity.” However, my perspective has shifted since meeting Region I Student Leader Jonathan Sanders. I could not think of a more fitting concept to talk about for Jonathan’s article than creating opportunities. On our team, Jonathan is a stabilizing force. His confidence and composure during stressful times assures our team that we are moving in the right direction. He reminds me that as long as we keep NIRSA students at the center of why and what we do, we can tackle any challenge. He knows that each obstacle we tackle, no matter how big or small, will better our team and afford new opportunities to NIRSA students and ourselves.

When I asked Jonathan what experiences he feels most directly relate to creating opportunities, he had two major takeaways. The first is that before he started officiating intramural sports at the University of South Carolina, he had never really seen a game of basketball. Now, he officiates basketball at the collegiate level and attributes that to his hours of practice and the mentors who helped him along the way. The second was stepping outside his comfort zone and finding a graduate assistantship with Boston College. After living in South Carolina his entire life, he knew he wanted a new experience that would allow him to create more opportunities for his personal and professional growth. It has really paid off for him and we are thankful to have him running point on the Student Lounge with Cie Cie Leonard and Corrine Pruett at the Annual Conference this year.

De’Jha Pontoo, Graduate Assistant at the University of Rhode Island, shared with me how she created some opportunities to further her development. “At the beginning of my second semester of my graduate assistantship,” she said, “I started looking for ways to become more involved in NIRSA and campus recreation. I wanted to branch out of facilities and learn more about all the areas that create collegiate recreation. I first started off working five additional hours with club sports doing things such as helping with purchase orders, inputting data, scheduling and much more! Working with club sports helped me realize there is a lot of work behind the scenes that keep the program moving forward. After I noticed this, I wanted to explore more!”

“I reached out to our intramural sports coordinator and found out about a NIRSA basketball tournament coming up. I applied for the all-tournament staff and with the help of a few references I was accepted and got to be a part of my first NIRSA tournament. Not only did I gain more knowledge about intramurals and extramurals, I also got to connect with other NIRSA students and professionals. Some of these connections established friendships that have helped push me past what I thought my capabilities were. By getting more involved I was able to use my knowledge and resources to become the Rhode Island and Connecticut State Student Leader, gain the confidence to present at state workshops and regional conferences, and make memories that I only dreamt of. These opportunities were created because I stepped outside of my comfort zone, asked questions, introduced myself to someone new, and kept an open mind. Your opportunities are as big as YOU create them!”

Shan Paracka, Graduate Coordinator at Rowan Campus Recreation, also reflected back on times that he felt resonated with the quote “Opportunity knocks.” Shan was kind enough to share his story with me. “Coming to graduate school and being involved in a higher education program that puts an emphasis on reflection, I have had many chances to look back on my path to where I am now,” he says. “This personal reflection has shown me how fortunate I have been and the number of opportunities that have been put in front of me. I believe that every opportunity that comes up in your life does not happen by chance, you can put yourself in position to create better opportunities for yourself. I have never felt that in the biggest moments of my life that I have not been in control of the opportunities that I have had.—such as where to go to college, what to major in, to stop pursuing engineering and pursue collegiate recreation, or move to a different state.”

“I think that the biggest opportunity that I created for myself was making the decision to take the unconventional route to a graduate assistantship,” Shan continues. “Coming from a small private school in Georgia, I did not have the same experiences as those at larger institution and my grades made it difficult for collegiate recreation programs to take a chance on me not getting into graduate school. As a college senior, I applied to 30 or so different graduate assistantships across the country. After being rejected by nearly all of them, I was offered an internship as well as a graduate assistantship. This decision I believe was a turning part in my life, not only professionally but personally. I decided to spend a year in a competitive sports internship. During the internship, I was able to refine my skills, as well as learn new ones. I was also able to create lasting friendships and connections. I also believe having this time to truly live on my own helped me mature and see collegiate recreation and my impact on students in a new light.”

“Choosing to take the long road to a graduate assistantship created many opportunities for me the following year. While my grades did not change; however; my experiences, skills, and confidence did. This made me a more marketable and desirable candidate. I was able to land not one but four different graduate assistant offers from great institutions and programs. I created this opportunity for myself. I controlled and changed what I could. There was nothing that I could do about my grades at the time, the only thing that I could focus on was improving myself. When I look back at this decision I have no regrets, only positive memories of the time I spent in my internship.”

I think that Jonathan, De’Jha, and Shan can all help us think back to a time where we took initiative or gained a new experience that opened up new doors of opportunity. I think by reflecting on the opportunities we feel we created we can determine a trajectory for our future. By having a vision of where we have been and where we would like to go, we can make intentional decisions about embarking on new journeys and creating our own opportunities.

NIRSA 2019—What to watch for!

Can you believe the NIRSA Family Reunion is so soon? Me neither! I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you all of the opportunities that you can create for yourself by engaging in these offerings for students at this year’s Annual Conference in Boston!

Saturday, February 16th

9:30am-3:00pm: J. Michael Dunn Student Professional Development Workshop
2:45pm-3:15pm: “Navigating NIRSA” (for new NIRSA members and first-time student attendees)

Sunday, February 17th

9:00am-10:00am: Student Lounge, Talk to A Pro/GA, Aquatics and Outdoors
10:00am-11:00am: “The Value of You: Articulating Your Worth in Campus Recreation” (educational session presented by the Student Leadership Team)
11:00am-12:00pm: Student Lounge, Talk to A Pro/GA, Fitness and Wellness
12:00 pm-1:00pm: Student Lounge, Talk to A Pro/GA, Facilities and Marketing
1:00 pm-2:00pm: Student Lounge, Talk to A Pro/GA, Intramural Sports and Sport Clubs
2:30 pm-3:30pm: Annual Meeting of the Members

Monday February 18th

8:00am-9:00am: Student Lounge, State Student Leader Panels
9:15 am-10:15am: Student Lounge, State Student Leader Panels
10:30am-11:30am: Student Member Connection Meeting (William N. Wasson and Horace Moody Awards Presentation)
11:30am-1:00pm: Take a Student to Lunch
1:00pm-2:00pm: Student Lounge, State Student Leader Panels
2:15pm-3:15pm: Student Lounge, State Student Leader Panels

Tuesday February 19th

8:00am-9:00am: Student Lounge, State Student Leader Panels
9:15am-10:15am: Student Lounge, State Student Leader Panels

Throughout the conference be on the lookout for a social media challenge each day, giveaways at the Student Lounge, opportunities to donate to the SLT’s Give to Grow campaign, and for a memorable week of engaging and connecting with each other. We hope you bookmark these events in the Guidebook App to help make your conference a successful one! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @NIRSAStudents for conference tips and more!

You stay classy, NIRSA Family!

Graduate Assistant – Facility Operations at University of Mississippi |

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