In mid-June, the Member Network took off to Phoenix, Arizona to check out the site of the 2020 NIRSA Annual Conference. After what was the craziest travel of my life, I got to spend five awesome days with the newest additions of my NIRSA family.

One of the first things we were asked to do as a team (students, professionals, HQ staff, Past NIRSA Presidents) was write down our five reasons for “Why NIRSA?”; sitting in this room full of extremely well-established and successful NIRSA professionals, I caught myself trying to think of buzzwords like “co-curricular experience,” “professional development,” and “networking.” Basically, words that I thought these professionals might have in their answers. But after only being able to come up with three words, I had one of those movie-like flashbacks where it feels like time stops and you travel back in time to relive all your memories. This flashback reminded me of the stories I wanted to tell with my five reasons.

Reason #1 & 2: Purpose through passion

I found campus recreation at a point in my life where I truthfully felt like I was at an all-time low. I had spent ten years of my life in competitive swimming, until mid-February of my freshman year of college when I decided to step away. This decision was difficult to say the least, and I truthfully felt like I had lost my identity because I couldn’t remember my life without competitive swimming. I was convinced to transfer schools because I felt like there was nothing left for me where I was. (Cue the most epic love story of all time.) But then I found the campus recreation department through the Assistant Director of Fitness and Wellness. She brought me on as a personal trainer and I instantly had found my new calling. I was able to combine my passions at a place that aligned perfectly with my personal values.

Reason #3 & 4: Growth because of opportunity

Identifying my passions to determine my purpose was an important piece of my NIRSA puzzle, but it was just the beginning. Looking back at my time as an undergraduate student—and even into my first year as a graduate assistant—this field has encouraged and supported more personal and professional growth than I can put into words. When I began, I didn’t have a resume or the slightest clue what a cover letter was. I was pushed by supervisors, colleagues, employees, and mentors alike to get outside of my comfort zone and seek opportunities that challenged me to grow closer to the best version of myself possible.

Reason #5: Friends to family

With each opportunity I’ve had in NIRSA or the field of collegiate recreation at now two amazing institutions, the one thing that will without a doubt always happen is relationship building with new people. If you’re at all familiar with the Gallup StrengthsFinder, my number one strength is Woo (winning others over), which means meeting new people is where I thrive. But what I didn’t understand until a few years into all of this is that those people that you meet become your friends and then your best friends and, ultimately, end up as your family. The relationships formed in this association are real, they are meaningful, and they will last a lifetime, which is the very best part of what we do. Personally, I can tell you that no day would be what it was for me without the people I’ve met through NIRSA and campus recreation.

We were creating a video using this “Why NIRSA?” activity and we had to put all our reasoning into one to two sentences. If you just read everything I wrote, you can probably imagine what I was thinking. There was no way I could tell my story in one to two sentences. It took me a while, but I then realized why I needed to be able to. I told myself to think of this activity as a thirty-second elevator speech, but taken to the next level. Chances are you wouldn’t meet someone and instantly give your elevator speech, which means that thirty seconds is just slowly dwindling away. You have to stand there awkwardly for a few seconds and think about how you’re going to break the ice…twenty-five seconds left. Then you strike up a conversation that typically begins with introductions…twenty seconds left. Next comes the small talk…fifteen seconds left. And finally there are about eight seconds left for both of you to get the other person to understand what you do, what you love, your passion, and all the reasons why.

So I’m curious. Can you explain what you do, what you love, and your biggest passion in life in eight seconds or less?

Seems difficult, right? Try it for yourself. Take one of your three biggest passions—maybe it’s what you want to do for your future career (or even what you’re currently doing), maybe it’s a sport you play or a hobby you have—and follow the process I followed. Take time to reflect on the moments in your life when you were doing your passion of choice. Write down your memories and then turn them into reasons. Find a friend—maybe even find a new friend, or reach out to me—and see if you can explain your passion in eight seconds or less.

Thinking about the future

NIRSA state workshops, regional conferences, and the Annual Conference are right around the corner. This skill will prove to be valuable as you begin to network around those events. There’s not a lot of time in between sessions at workshops and conferences, so if you can nail these eight seconds or less, you’re more than likely to be successful in finding shared passions with others to build your network, create friendships, and have the best NIRSA experience of your lifetime!

Curious how it went for me and the rest of the SLT?

Email me or any of the regional student leaders to hear our eight seconds or less, and stay tuned for our “Why NIRSA?” video coming out in a few months!

Until next time NIRSA family.
Peace, Love, NIRSA.

Fitness Graduate Assistant at University of Mississippi |

Cheyanne Clouse, NIRSA Student Leader, is currently Fitness Graduate Assistant at the University of Mississippi.