“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson

As NIRSA continues to celebrate the diverse culture of campus recreation professionals (through avenues like caucus discussions), we want to take a moment to explore some seminal figures who have trailblazed the way for Black professionals to make an impact within and beyond NIRSA. I took time recently to speak with six NIRSA pioneers about why and how they have taken steps into leadership with NIRSA.

A common theme among the group was a sense of responsibility to carry forward—with courage and servant hearts—the torch set in motion by the original 20 Black founders of NIA.

See related: NIRSA History

Over the coming weeks, I invite you to explore the leadership journey of past, present, and future black leaders in NIRSA through the lenses of these six pioneers:

  • Jocelyn Hill, Director of Recreational Sports & Fitness at American University
  • Kevin Marbury, Vice President of Student Life at the University of Oregon
  • Jean McClellan Holt, Assistant Director of Recreation & Wellness at Old Dominion University
  • Juliette Moore, Retired Director at the University of West Florida
  • Stan Shingles, Assistant Vice President at Central Michigan University
  • Mirum Washington-White, Director of Athletics, Curriculum Chair for Physical Education, Dept Faculty at St Cyril of Alexandria School

About Jean McClellan Holt

Jean McClellan Holt is an Assistant Director of Recreation & Wellness at Old Dominion University. Her areas of responsibility include sport clubs, summer camps, and assessment. In her career, Jean has held different positions in higher education, including Assistant Dean of Student Life at Elizabeth City State University, Director of Student Activities at the University of Central Florida, and the Director of Campus Recreation at the University of Mary Washington.

In addition to her work with Recreation & Wellness at Old Dominion, Jean is active with the American Camp Association as a standards visitor and instructor, and with the National Council for Behavioral Health as an adult and youth mental health first aid instructor.

Jean earned a doctorate degree in educational leadership from the University of Central Florida, a master’s degree in parks, recreation & tourism from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a bachelor’s degree in physical education from James Madison University. She currently resides in Chesapeake, VA with her husband and three fur babies.

Jean’s pathway into NIRSA leadership

When starting her journey in NIRSA, Jean was focused on the growth and fun she was experiencing in the field of recreation. However, as she continued to grow and navigate the world of higher education, she realized that as much fun as recreation brings to the student experience, academic frameworks are needed to communicate the business decisions and value of campus recreation for the profession to assert relevance in higher education.

Through NIRSA, she worked to form connections and even hosted a state workshop. While in Hartford, Louisiana she worked with the NIRSA Collegiate Sport Club Symposium and Fitness Expo to educate sport club athletes about the personal, physical, and nutritional needs that recreation could meet. The opportunity connected her to additional professionals in the field.

In time an opportunity to run for Region II Director came up and she took the chance to lead, expanding the conversation about the business of recreation and how the profession could expand perceptions of its role in student affairs and student life. Her vision and volunteer service contributed to our cachet as serious leaders in higher education.

Jean’s call to service

Jean is currently active in NIRSA and engaging in the subgroup of Black women of NIRSA with whom she actively networks and mentors future leaders.

She hopes that recreation professionals will continue to join the conversation and use NIRSA as an avenue to learn more about how collegiate recreation fits into higher education. NIRSA is a great resource for expanding knowledge about collegiate recreation beyond the walls and fields of the rec center, illustrating our value as a profession on a more global scale.

“You’re not just a jock out there with the basketball, you’re an informed professional who can open people’s eyes because you understand the value we bring,” says Jean. As young professionals we must understand that just as academic programs are vital to student recruitment, campus recreation is vital to student retention.

We offer students community and teach them transferable skills not just for their careers but for their lives. Jean wants to encourage young professionals to continue investing in research to show our value and then use it to “bust the door open and say I’m here, take notice.” She also reassures those who identify as soft spoken or as an introvert that there is a place for them in this profession; “Do not allow others to devalue what you have to offer because even in your reserved manner you can be impactful,” she says.

Shine a spotlight on your mentor

NIRSA has a great history and the opportunity for a bright future. Our founders and the Black leaders who have come after them have set an example for all of us—they encourage us to actively engage and be the change we want to see on our campuses, in this profession, and within our association.

I’m proof that, as young professionals, we have the opportunity to connect directly with the leaders mentioned in this series.

See related: “Pioneering the way: Spotlights on Jocelyn Hill, R. Kevin Marbury, Juliette Moore, Stan Shingles, and Mirum Washington-White (debuts February 8),”

If you are a leader in collegiate recreation or strive to be, then I invite you to be brave and use your voice. Reach out to me if you’re interested in contributing an article to honor a pioneering Black leader and inspire the next generation of NIRSA leadership.

We will not be an organization that repeats its past or gets stuck in its present. Instead, we will connect with our past and set course for our shared future with a mindset that everyone is welcome on the journey. The future is in you!

  • For more information, contact Katherine Geter, Coordinator of Rec Sports & Family Programs for University of Houston’s Campus Recreation.
  • If you are interested in highlighting your campus or a NIRSA member’s achievements on your campus, pitch us your ideas.

Katherine "Katie" Geter is currently Coordinator of Rec Sports & Family Programs for University of Houston’s Campus Recreation; you can email her at kgeter@central.uh.edu.