When it comes to best recruiting, developing, and ultimately retaining student staff, campus recreation professionals should be aware that each generation of students offers new and diverse challenges. In the fitness industry, we place immense value on our ability to provide memorable movement experiences for each and every participant. However, we need to assign the same level of importance to the experiences we provide our student staff.

Research on the newest generation of college students suggests that today’s students crave authentic and immersive educational experiences. They do not want to be passive bystanders in these experiences. Instead, they’d like to be actively involved in the creation and development of such experiences.

So how can we best meet the needs of our student staff? While not an exhaustive list, here are some successful ways I have focused the experiences of my student staff on development and retention.

Building a credible foundation

The foundation of a successful fitness team starts with building a credible and valuable brand to promote. This begins with a commitment to partnering with industry leaders—such as the American Council on Exercise—to provide hands-on learning experiences.

For example, our team offers semester-long training opportunities that provide today’s students with the immersive and applied-learning experiences they’re seeking while at college. Through this work, we’ve established a student experience on our campus that is both valuable and sought after. Students recognize the impact these experiences could have on their future careers and are, in turn, choosing to take advantage of the opportunities to grow.

Establishing a culture of mentorship

For instructors and trainers whose roles are more interpersonal in nature, launching a mentorship program has been vital to establishing the team-first culture we value. Our mentor-mentee program is designed to provide an immediate connection for new employees, an on-going support system, and a progressive avenue for collaborative learning throughout each staff person’s first semester of employment.

Fostering a collaborative learning environment

As a generation with a preference for collaborating and co-creating, providing avenues for peer-learning within your team can lead to greater feelings of fulfillment. Our monthly in-service trainings are designed to connect, engage, and educate through a 360o approach to learning. Instead of the traditional top-down approach to information dissemination, all staff—from the ground up—are involved with the learning process. From peer-led group workouts to article sharing discussions on relevant industry topics, everyone feels connected in the exchange of ideas and information—and this ultimately helps the team grow. Creating this socially-supportive environment at UNC has helped to reinforce our commitment to the ongoing development of our staff.

Inspiring your student staff

Overall, as higher education continues to shift toward an intentional and integrated focus on wellbeing, the importance of student staff as a resource for their peers will only grow. So the more we can emphasize the value of their experiences, the greater the impact they can have on our participants and the university community.

Hopefully I’ve sparked some deeper thoughts on how you too can evaluate your staff experience and build smarter strategies to improve overall development and retention. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to talk more about creating authentic and immersive educational and employment experiences that inspire and excite students.

ACE Certified Health Coaches

If you’re interested in facilitating an ACE-Certification prep course or having your students become ACE Certified on their own, you can learn more and access free curriculum samples by visiting the Become an ACE Education Partner webpage.

Additionally, NIRSA members can access special discounts on ACE education by contacting ACE.

Photo courtesy of ACE Fitness
  • For more information, contact NIRSA Director of Corporate Relations, Heidi Hurley.

Lindsay Brookey is currently the Assistant Director for Fitness and Wellness at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill; you can reach her at lbrookey@email.unc.edu.