“Do you know who I am?” Those were Dexter Shorter’s first words to me. Even though they hit my ears in my first week as a Graduate Administrative Assistant at The Ohio State University back in July 2018, they still echo in my head today in my current role as the Student Development Coordinator for Rec Services at Iowa State University.

My first position working in campus recreation came when I was an undergraduate student at the same university where I met Dexter. As an undergrad at Ohio State, I worked in facility operations with Kelly Shorter, Dexter’s wife. “Kelly has told me a lot about you,” he said as he introduced himself as an Intramural Sports Coordinator. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dexter would become one the professional mentors who would influence my successful pathway into this profession.

About Dexter Shorter

A native of Detroit, MI, Dexter Shorter graduated from Central Michigan University with a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in Sport Studies. (Fire Up Chips!) Earning a Master of Science degree in Health and Human Performance and a Master of Arts degree in Communication Arts, he is a two-time alum of Austin Peay State University. While there, he worked as a GA of Intramural Sports and Summer Camps (2008-2009) and a GA of Fitness Programs (2009-2010), part of David Davenport’s University Recreation team. (Let’s Go Peay!)

His professional career path includes two years at the University of North Alabama and seven years at The Ohio State University. He currently serves an Associate Director of Programs within the Department of Campus Recreation at Penn State University. In this position, he gets to be part of a team that creates extraordinary opportunities for students to get involved and have transformational experiences within the Penn State campus community.

Dexter has been an active NIRSA member since 2008, volunteering his time and talent by serving on multiple committees in various positions; he regularly presents at the state, regional, and association-wide levels of NIRSA. His current involvement within NIRSA includes chairing the NIRSA Championship Series Basketball Work Team. He is also a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

Dexter says he is blessed to be the husband to his loving wife, Kelly. In addition, he considers himself lucky to be the father to their two amazing daughters, Ruby (4) and Raya (3).

Mentorship is a two-way street

When I became a GAA at The Ohio State, I shared an office with four other GAAs; their focus was in competitive sports and two of them were under Dexter’s supervision, so I saw him often. Even though I didn’t report to him, he checked in with me every time he went to talk to his staff. As a graduate student, it can be intimidating to relate with professional staff members in different functional areas; but Dexter dispelled these feelings from the start.

One thing Dexter provided us advice about was putting ourselves in positions – strategic physical positions – to increase networking and run into people on campus. We would walk from our office to spaces such as the Ohio Union or the Blackwell Restaurant to meet in different locations on campus.

“Some people wait for the next step to come to them, but Dexter taught me how to make it happen on my own.”

From week to week, we would run into previous colleagues, faculty, or just other professionals that one of us knew, and we all introduced each other. I often asked Dexter more about professionals and he would ask me about the Higher Education-Student Affairs (HESA) faculty in my program. Not only did the change of venues provide a nice break from our usual office space, but it reinforced the habit of taking my career into my own hands. Some people wait for the next step to come to them, but Dexter taught me how to make it happen on my own.

Take a student to lunch

Take a Student to Lunch is a signature event coordinated by the NIRSA Student Leadership Team during in-person NIRSA Annual Conferences. Dexter amplified this tradition on The Ohio State’s campus! Taking students from his own institution to lunch was a regular event on his calendar, often weekly. “We have this [mentoring opportunity] every year at NIRSA, but I never understood why we do not do it in our own departments?”

What started as an association initiative was brought to new life on campus. These kind gestures evolved into regular talks between us in the office. We discussed our shared experience in a higher education graduate programs (him in the EdD program, me in the MA), next career steps, and navigating changes at our own department. Our meetings helped me grow as a professional and make sense of the campus recreation field.

Lifelong mentorship

Both of us have now supervisory positions at other institutions. Now that our offices aren’t across the hall from each other, we don’t eat lunch together. But we still talk frequently. We also have plans to present together at future NIRSA conferences. Dexter is someone who understands my struggle with moving to a new city for work and the feelings of starting over. When he asks how I’m doing, I know it’s not just in a professional sense. He cares about my personal wellbeing.

“I serve our association, knowing I might be able to inspire others in a broader sense.”

He often shares advice that he has received from his mentors that I hope to pass down as well. I try to embody his energy in my own oversight of graduate assistants and practicum students. I also work to serve on NIRSA’s Student Development Task Force and other capacities within our association, knowing I might be able to inspire others in a broader sense.

As I move up in NIRSA, it is important to me to mentor others, just as Dexter has done for me. His mentorship should be a guide for all, and it will be deservingly showcased at our annual conference when Dexter is honored with the Horace Moody Award this year.

The Horace Moody Awards are given to one NIRSA professional member from each of the seven NIRSA regions to recognize their contributions to student development. Dexter’s encouragement, support, and commitment to excellence have indeed made mine and many others educational pursuits exciting and rewarding.

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Liz Feldman is currently the Student Development Coordinator at Iowa State University and a member of the NIRSA Student Staff Development Task Force; you can email her at lfeldman@iastate.edu.