I am excited to welcome all my campus recreation colleagues back to school. If you’re on the semester system, you are probably already in the swing of things; those of us at schools on the quarter system are in the final stages of gearing up for the return of students. With more than 18 million students flocking to college campuses across the United States alone this year, it makes for an exciting time of new beginnings and fresh starts.

As higher education professionals we sharpen our focus with the start of each new year and get ready to set our students up for successes both in the short and long term. I want to use this opportunity to encourage you to do the same for yourself this fall—set yourself up for success. Do you need to be re-energized? Are you looking for ideas to take on challenges—new and old—facing the students of today? Are you looking for a thought partner to work through ideas or a change facing your department or your broader campus?

Just like the students on your campus, part of the joy in starting a new school year is to embrace the axiom that we are privileged to belong to a community that encourages trying new things and meeting new people.

Do you remember your first day at university or college? That nervous edge that comes from being unsure and in a new place with unfamiliar surroundings? Close your eyes and take yourself back to that day. Try to imagine what it would be like for the you of today to catch a glimpse of yourself as a first-year student. Can you remember what it was like to make new friends? Can you remember the worry of finding your way around campus?

Now flash forward to today: you are spending long hours working to create memorable experiences for today’s students. We all know the first few weeks of the academic year can be draining on us and on our staff; so, take a few minutes to remember how big of an impact this back-to-school time was to you as university student. As you welcome the Class of 2023 and the other returning students, I hope you find value in reflecting on what has changed since your first day on campus as a student.

Here are few points from the latest Marist Mindset List to ponder what has always and never been true for the Class of 2023:

  • The primary use of a phone has always been to take pictures.
  • PayPal has always been an online option for purchasers.
  • Most of them will rent, bit buy, their textbooks.
  • Blackboards have never been dumb.
  • They have grown up with Big Data and ubiquitous algorithms that know what they want before they do.
  • Like Pearl Harbor for their grandparents, and the Kennedy assassination for their parents, 9/11 is an historical event.
  • Cal Ripken, Jr., has always been retired.

I encourage you to remind yourself what it’s like to be back in a space of nervous anticipation; now, remind yourself just how much there is to gain by taking a chance at connecting with new people. Those people are here, in our NIRSA community. Is there a new professional on your campus in need of mentoring? Is there a colleague at another institution that you can support from a distance? Might there be an opportunity for you to attend a NIRSA regional, state, or provincial conference or lead on event with them this fall?

NIRSA regional and state conferences are coming up and one of these local learning opportunities might be a great place for you to find a new friend or connect with an old one; to share resources; to network with colleagues from beyond your institution and build community. Creating a sense of belonging for and with your peers and the students in your campus community is vital work; but it’s work that may also too easily get lost in the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day responsibilities. When we design our work in higher education this fall—whether through programs, initiatives, services, staff development, we need to be intentional about creating spaces where students can lead and develop.

Take time at the beginning of this school year to intentionally design your own space and time to develop professionally and create a sense of community in your professional life. Reach out to other schools in your area and invite a colleague that may have never attended a regional or state conference. Or invite a colleague from your department to join you for an upcoming online training.

Wherever you are in your professional or student journey, know that we are excited to share the adventure of this new year with you and can’t wait to see the ways in which you stretch, grow, contribute and define what it means to be a higher education professional in campus recreation. Enter this time of year with the curiosity to pioneer new programs and services that serve as a catalyst for student success.

“Successful people do ordinary things with extraordinary consistency, commitment, and focus.” –Jon Gordon

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.