What are we doing, as an association of professionals, to evolve collegiate recreation to meet the needs of emerging professionals? The next generation of professionals—millennials—are the future of our historic organization and Gen Z is right behind them. Consider what has changed in campus recreation and higher education since NIRSA was founded in 1950. Pause and consider what is important to each of the four generations active in our profession…can you see the differences? The similarities? Can you see just how much change has occurred during your time as a campus recreation professional?

As established and influential leaders in the profession, we need to continue to evolve our association to encourage, embrace, and inspire the upcoming generations of professionals to excel in the opportunities and responsibilities presented to them as future leaders.

The opportunity to embrace change and evolve NIRSA to meet the needs of a diverse range of members is right in front of us. It’s time for experienced NIRSA professionals to take action and provide the educational content, collegial idea exchanges, mentorship experiences, resources, and other services the next generations of professionals value most.

Current and previous leaders of NIRSA need to focus on a strategic growth plan for leadership pathways across the profession, not merely a succession plan for association leaders. The first step is to create space for training and education in the formats younger generations prefer. Research shows that when next-gen professionals aren’t getting what they want from baby boomer and gen X-led organizations, they are skilled at organizing in different or new ways.

NIRSA’s strategic values are strong across generations, but our values alone will not be enough to attract and retain younger members to build our future.  We need to be building leadership growth pathways that prepare us for a changing world and new territory for higher education.

All the generations of the humans of NIRSA have their successes and failures, and our association evolves with them. Opportunities for growth have been grasped and failures experienced that have brought lessons; new knowledge is a byproduct of every discovery, and together we continue to advance our profession.

NIRSA leaders are currently investing intentional energy into assessing the products and services of NIRSA and are committed to taking action to better meet the needs of the next-gen professionals.

Using data from surveys and feedback to drive decision making, the NIRSA Board of Directors are envisioning a strategic approach to refreshing or restructuring offerings around what next-gen professionals value most. To meet the needs of emerging professionals, NIRSA needs to leverage new, promising approaches and technologies that are dynamic and hands-on experiences. Online learning offerings may afford flexibility for them to balance work expectations and life commitments.

Established professionals need to ask our younger members what they need to continue their professional growth and we need to be willing to restructure volunteer opportunities to be more flexible. NIRSA leaders are also looking to support accelerated paths to leadership positions because protracted pathways dampen the enthusiasm and loyalty of new members and volunteers.

As an association we need to continually evolve our networking events. Evolving how we offer professional networking and other social experiences to appeal across generations will enable attendees to better connect across generational lines and hopefully be more inclusive of the entire NIRSA family.

Find a mentor or a mentee

So, what do you need to do to support the next evolution of our NIRSA? Do you have experience, tenure, and talent to mentor? Provide career guidance and graciously support the next-gen professionals.

Are you a young professional, ready to pursue the opportunity to grow our profession? It’s up to you, as a member of NIRSA, to be proactive and intentional about sharing your priorities for programs and services. You just might discover that other generations want the same opportunities.

As we each travel through our careers in campus recreation, we move forward with a strong vision for the future knowing that we have the generations that have come before us to thank for their courage to create change. We have a responsibility to mentor those following us and to give the next generation opportunities to grow and evolve our association. Each generation, with their own unique perspective on the world, will passionately drive our collective work and extend the legacy of being a member of the NIRSA family.

I want to be the bridge to the next generation. —Michael Jordan

Director of Recreational Sports at |

Leah Hall Dorothy, Ph.D., is currently the Director of Recreational Sports at Oregon State University and serves as the President on the NIRSA Board of Directors; she can be reached by email at president@nirsa.org.