As we embark on a new year and a new decade, it’s a good time to pause and reflect. This past decade, our association has been transformed by the evolution of our governance structure; we’ve thrived through the articulation of our mission, vision, and values; and campus recreation professionals have proven ourselves as key players in shaping campus communities across North America (and beyond).

The turn into a new decade also coincides with what is roughly the midpoint of our current Strategic Plan (2018–2021). There are many accomplishments to celebrate to date and even more opportunities on the horizon to be excited about. It’s a great time to be a NIRSA member!

Stepping into 2020 on solid footing

While many organizations complain that their strategic plans “gather dust on a shelf” or are unrealistic in some way, NIRSA can be proud of actively using its strategic plan to focus resources on meaningful and impactful priorities that serve the needs of the profession.

Our recent accomplishments and the opportunities on the horizon for campus recreation professionals are a testament to a process that engaged more member input than ever before. The process to develop the current plan was led by a ten -member task force, engaged over 100 members directly through partner groups, and was informed by over 1,250 professional and student members who responded to surveys.

Many of those who participated in the strategic planning process are now serving in high-level leadership positions in NIRSA, the NIRSA Services Corporation, and the NIRSA Foundation. Three members from the strategic planning task force currently serve on the NIRSA Board of Directors, a testament to the relevance of the plan and excitement among volunteer leaders to bring to fruition the work outlined in this plan.

A good game plan is key to success for organizations

The 2018–2021 strategic plan affirmed the mission, vision, and strategic values for NIRSA, clarified our scope to concentrate our focus on the United States and Canada, and clearly articulated our core value proposition: campus recreation professionals look to NIRSA to provide them with the best learning and networking opportunities and deliver the best campus-recreation-related resources.

With our core purpose and scope at the heart of our plan, the Association outlined four supporting strategic priorities to pursue over the three-year term of the strategic plan. We resolved that NIRSA will:

  • be a driving force in an integrated approach to health and wellbeing;
  • advocate for the impact of the profession;
  • evolve our structures to cultivate timely, relevant, and accessible learning opportunities, and
  • answer the question: giving the changing landscape of higher education and the profession, how do we evolve our brand identity?

You can find a more in-depth account of our progress since the plan was formally adopted by exploring the annals of the NIRSA news (use the tags feature to explore posts about health and wellbeing, advocacy, strategic plan, etc.) or the NIRSA Know archives since the spring of 2018, but we wanted to share a short summary of some of our most notable successes and updates about work that is actively ongoing or on the horizon.

Health and wellbeing

While a focus on health and wellbeing was not new to the Association in 2018, the strategic plan provided focus and anticipated resources for NIRSA to be a driving force in an integrated approach to health and wellbeing.

Learning opportunities about how professionals could lean into this topic were delivered through regional conferences, NIRSA Institutes, and the 2019 NIRSA Annual Conference, which was billed as the time and place to join the health & wellbeing revolution.

Additionally, several virtual learning opportunities with NIRSA’s higher education partners were offered and we collaborated with NIRSA’s preferred media partner Athletic Business to run a series of articles highlighting innovations in health and wellbeing at several NIRSA member campuses.

We appointed a task force of thought leaders and activators to lead this strategic priority along with NIRSA staff. Together, they’ve been curating educational content, developing resources, acting as advisors to NIRSA members, and connecting with NIRSA’s external partners in this work.

In partnership with NASPA, we launched the Health & Wellbeing in Higher Education: A Commitment to Student Success, which now boasts 15 supporting signatory associations. Together with our partners in this work, we actively contributed to inter-association summits on health and wellbeing, worked to develop a definition of wellbeing for higher education, and launched research grant opportunities to continue advancing this critical work.

Looking ahead, we will continue to develop resources for NIRSA members, informed by responses to the survey that launched in 2019. We also will continue to work creatively and constructively with our higher education association partners to advance an integrated approach to health and wellbeing on campuses across North America.

Advocate for the profession

For several years, NIRSA’s been proactively monitoring federal and state legislative issues—sharing information about policy and regulatory issues that impact the profession and advocating for federal policies that are consistent with our values.  This past year we started sharing regular updates with members about federal and state policy and regulatory issues that impact campus recreation and higher education.

NIRSA’s engagement in this work yielded many new relationships and partnerships that have grown awareness of campus recreation’s impact on student success. Rather than elbowing our way to a seat at the table, NIRSA, on behalf of the profession, is routinely looked to as a critical influencer and partner on issues ranging from physical activity to wellbeing, from risk management to advancing a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

As higher education professionals, NIRSA members need access to contextualized resources about enrollment trends, our strategic value areas, and promising practices for student success.

In the coming months, we will continue to bolster resources to help members stay abreast of the challenges and opportunities facing higher education and share perspectives that connect recreation to the broader narrative of higher education. Be sure to follow @NIRSAlive on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for notifications when new updates are available.

Evolve our structures to cultivate timely, relevant, and accessible learning opportunities

Members look to access learning through diverse avenues and to meet diverse needs. NIRSA has grown its online learning portfolio through partner events, we’ve curated more content sourced by peer organizations, and evolved the processes for planning of our NIRSA Annual Conference.

For our signature event, we are increasing the diversity of our presenters, tapping into content from outside of the profession, and thoughtfully inviting strategic partners to share their expertise and materials.

Recently, NIRSA announced two major changes to our lineup of specialty institutes: the combination of the sport club and intramural institutes in 2021 and the partnership with Athletic Business to offer the NIRSA Facilities Institute and NIRSA Triventure in concert with the AB show.

In Canada, a virtual roundtable series of focused discussions is underway and the NIRSA Championship Series is connecting with stakeholder through periodic Series Talk video blogs.

Going forward into 2020 and beyond, we will continue to focus on implementing NIRSA-led virtual learning opportunities, explore partnerships with trusted credentialing organizations, and continue to procure relevant content from a diverse range of experts within and outside of the field of collegiate recreation.

Evolving our brand identity

With the help of an external marketing firm, NIRSA recently completed an assessment of NIRSA Headquarters’ marketing and communications capabilities and set the organization’s interim marketing strategy, ahead of an in-depth brand audit in 2020.

Implementation of assessment recommendations are underway and will be a key part of positioning NIRSA to efficiently evolve the brand and keep pace with ever-changing communication channels.

In 2020 we expect to undertake a thorough process to better understand and align our brand promise with our brand identity. As with all successful NIRSA initiatives, the process will be driven by volunteer leaders and NIRSA HQ staff, guided by members, and supported by third-party expertise.

Jumping into 2020 with confidence and aspiration

NIRSA continues to enjoy a highly engaged membership that cares deeply about the profession. Our most valuable contributions are rooted in the expertise and generosity of our people—the professionals, staff, partners, and students who make up the campus recreation community. The successes of NIRSA’s strategic plan—from its conception through to its execution—are only possible through the efforts of a highly engaged community of colleagues who care deeply about student success and creating communities of wellbeing.

Director of Recreational Sports at | NIRSA Profile

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

Executive Director at | NIRSA Profile

Pam Watts is currently the Executive Director at NIRSA.