Returning Annual Conference attendees at NIRSA 2020 will notice some exciting changes regarding the format of the 71st NIRSA Annual Conference and Campus Rec & Wellness Expo in Phoenix. Among changes to the educational content schedule and networking opportunities like the popular “Take a Student to Lunch” program, the Association is also introducing significant changes in how we celebrate the Association’s highest distinction: the NIRSA Honor Award.

About the NIRSA Honor Award

The NIRSA Annual Conference is a core experience for career campus recreation professionals—its annual reunion of members can be traced back to the genesis of our Association in 1950 and much of the professionalization of the field of collegiate recreation in subsequent generations. An integral part of the Annual Conference program each year since 1963 has been the conferral of the highest award given by the Association. The NIRSA Honor Award recognizes a member for outstanding achievements in the profession and exemplary service to the Association.

“The love and meaningful congratulation messages you receive as the Honor Award recipient is like no other experience. I’ve done what I’ve done because I’m passionate about the growth and development of others. To be recognized by those within my profession for these years of service is the ultimate compliment,” says Vicki Highstreet, Associate Director for Recreation Programming at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and recipient of the NIRSA Honor Award in 2018.

While the presentation ceremony and the initial unveiling of each year’s recipient have seen some modifications from year to year, a tradition of celebrating them at a capstone banquet dinner for the Annual Conference dates back to the mid-1970s. But in 2020, we’re going to change it up!

Changes for NIRSA 2020

A significant evolution of the Annual Conference in 2020 will see the presentation of the NIRSA Honor Award moved to the Opening General Session program, which is consistently the highest-attended session of each year’s conference. A reception for the Honor Award recipient will be held immediately following the Opening General Session.

This new format will hopefully encourage members of the NIRSA family to celebrate the honoree throughout the duration of the conference. We hope too that our emerging professionals and younger members in attendance at the Opening General Session will be exposed to the important history of our Association and acknowledge the pioneering professionals who’ve had the vision and courage to make our NIRSA what it is today.

“Each year NIRSA comes together for it ‘annual reunion’ to celebrate and recognize those values of the development and support of others, the fostering of innovation and creativity, the sharing of our knowledge and experiences, the serving of others, and the joy we experience in all we do,” explains Tom Kirch, retired Recreational Sports Director at Oregon State University and recipient of the NIRSA Honor Award in 2013. “The presentation of the NIRSA Honor Award is one way in which we demonstrate our uniqueness and contributions,” Tom adds.

What’s happening to the Honor Award Banquet?

The presentation of the Honor Award will happen during the Opening General Session program and there will be a reception immediately following the session for people to congratulate the Honor Award recipient. The Closing General Session will be followed by a reception to conclude our NIRSA family reunion. This new format will provide ample time and space for connecting, sharing one more NIRSA hug, and taking the NIRSA family photos so many of us cherish as part of our last-day of the Annual Conference experience. The official programming for the final evening should be wrapping up around 6:30pm local time, allowing individual groups to make dinner plans as a staff or with new friends.

As a result of this change to the program, NIRSA will be able to provide more meals for a greater majority of attendees—especially our student attendees—by reallocating catering dollars into grab n’ go breakfasts for attendees on a couple mornings during the conference.

Ultimately, we want to celebrate the most outstanding drivers of our profession on the biggest, brightest possible stage. We also want to create meaningful and memorable programs for our conference attendees. We’ve listened to feedback from attendees over recent years and are introducing this change in good faith that it will help us better accomplish our goals on both of these critical fronts.

“This evolution for our Honor Award celebrations is phenomenal. It gives ALL of those in attendance at the conference time to celebrate the recipient and not feel rushed by a tight timeline. It also gives the recipient an opportunity to take-in the honor for the duration of the conference,” says David Davenport, Director of the Foy Fitness and Recreation Center at Austin Peay State University and President-Designee on the NIRSA Board of Directors. “It also shows members that our Board and Association Headquarters are adjusting to the needs of the members while celebrating our highest honor with respect and reverence for tradition.”

Learn about the NIRSA Board of Directors here.