I remember it like it was yesterday: I was at the 2017 NIRSA Annual Conference in the Gaylord hotel in Maryland. I was sitting in the front row of a packed room for a presentation on authentic leadership. Little did I know that going to that presentation would be the start of one of the most influential mentorships I have ever had.

Dr. Wendy Windsor, at the time Director of Recreation at UCLA, was presenting on authentic leadership. She wasn’t just teachin’, she was preachin’! I say preachin’ because what she was saying truly resonated with me. You see, it hits a little different hearing someone who looks like you speak openly about something that you have been scared to do. For me, that was to bring my true, authentic self to the workplace.

After Dr. Windsor’s presentation, I immediately reached out to her to connect over coffee. This would be the start of a great mentorship and friendship. In just 24 hours, Dr. Windsor taught me three things about herself that not only makes her an impactful mentor, but also an influential leader: she values relationships, values mentorships, and values being true to herself.

About Wendy

Dr. Wendy Windsor has been the Director of Campus Recreation at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana for three years. As the director she provides leadership to 19 full-time staff and 300+ part-time employees. This is not Wendy’s first rodeo as a director. She was formerly the director at UCLA where she oversaw 50+ full time staff members.

Originally from Aiken, South Carolina, Wendy has had the unique experience of working in regions II, IV, and VI. She is a three-time Tiger, earning degrees from both Clemson and Auburn University, and served four years as Associate Director-Programs & Outreach at Louisiana State University (LSU). In addition to her current role at Tulane, Wendy has worked in campus recreation at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and at Middle Tennessee State. During her NIRSA journey she has been recognized by the Association by being awarded a NIRSA Foundation scholarship and a NIRSA Annual Service Award.

Although her work locations have changed throughout the years, what remains the same is her commitment to building strong organizational cultures, mentoring her staff, and serving as a role model within the university and NIRSA community.

Wendy has been an active NIRSA member since 2002 when she attended her first NIRSA conference. Since then, Wendy has been volunteering her time and talents by adding value to NIRSA in a variety of ways including but not limited to:

  • Chair and faculty member of the NIRSA School of Collegiate Recreation from 2018-2021
  • Region IV and VI Conference Planning Committees
  • Keynote speaker for the 2016 Region VI Student Lead On Conference
  • NIRSA Program Committee
  • Commission for Sustainable Communities Member
  • Leadership Commission Member
  • Tennessee State Director
  • Chair of the Student Professional Development Committee
  • Chair of the NCCS Standards Work Team

Wendy is happily married to her wife, Lori. As a couple, they love traveling and spending time with their five nephews and two nieces.

Gracious mentorship

Dr. Windsor has a way of mentoring the whole person, not just the NIRSA student or professional. Initially, our conversations were about NIRSA but as time went on our relationship deepened and we had conversations about family, friends, and our upbringings. We talked about race and what it feels like to be black in America—something that often felt like it changed daily. We related to and discussed some of the barriers that life presented us with, having our identities intersect between several marginalized communities, in addition to the blessings being in those groups granted us.

“Dr. Windsor has a way of mentoring the whole person, not just the NIRSA student or professional.”

Recently, after five years in the NIRSA field, I found my calling out of higher education into youth programming. I remember I was nervous to tell Wendy about this revelation. How does one tell the NIRSA President-Elect, “I found a new job; and it’s not in campus recreation?” Well, when that person is Wendy, you just tell them.

That was the moment Wendy shouted, “Nora, you’re cancelled!!!” Relax folks, you all know I’m kidding! Instead, I was met with a gracious and empathetic response: “Wow, OK great! Tell me more!” One of the beautiful things about NIRSA is even though people may come and go into our association, what always seems to stay is the positive impact that individual leaves.

Beyond the resume

Resumes are a great tool in the professional world to help potential employers learn about a candidate; but a resume rarely portrays the whole person. The prefix to her name and a line in her resume tells you that Dr. Windsor has a terminal degree in sport management; but what her resume will not tell you at a glance is she is also expert in building authentic relationships.

Wendy’s knack for building relationships with individuals on her team serves as an immense benefit to her—this has been especially true over the last year. Working from home, not being able to see staff face to face, and dealing with technology issues are some of the many challenges that teams faced this year during the global pandemic. What I appreciated about Wendy during this time was her willingness to still keep it real with her staff.

“What I appreciated about Wendy during this time was her willingness to still keep it real with her staff.”

Wendy did not pretend like every day was roses, rainbows, and Chick-fil-A nuggets during the early days of the pandemic. Those were uncertain times, unchartered waters. Nobody knew what the next day held. Not to mention all the social justice unrest that was riveting the nation. It was scary.

Wendy would openly express to her staff when she had good days, but also when she had bad ones. She recognized that toxic positivity—the belief that no matter how difficult a situation is, people should always maintain a positive mindset—minimizes, denies, and invalidates any trace of human emotion that isn’t strictly “happy” or “positive.” This can be detrimental to one’s mental and emotional health. Instead, Wendy chose to be vulnerable. She chose to embrace her emotions. And she chose to  emulate what it looks like to lead authentically in a professional workplace.

Impact is a two-way street

On February 1, Wendy made an impact on NIRSA history by being elected as the second black female NIRSA President. This was a significant achievement not just for NIRSA, but for Wendy.

“I am still absorbing this accomplishment and what it means for the trajectory of Black female leaders within NIRSA. I have experienced every emotion possible since becoming President Elect.”

The last POC female NIRSA President was Juliette Moore in 1998. Wendy is hopeful that even though it took over 20 years for another female POC to be elected into this honorable position, she won’t be the last.

“I hope to provide a pathway for other minority women to come. I will be committed to representing the voices of ALL NIRSA members.”

Over the years, NIRSA has made an impact on the future NIRSA President.

“NIRSA allowed me to tap into my passion and has provided me with a fulfilling career. The opportunities provided, and the connections I’ve made along the way, truly shaped me as a professional. Those opportunities positively impacted my life, and I strive to now provide some of those same experiences to others.”

Thank you

Mentorship is truly a beautiful concept because you can always have more than one mentor—you can choose to learn from whoever you would like! I would like to give a special shoutout to a few of my other NIRSA mentors, just to name a few: Julie Wallace Carr, Senior Associate Director/Professor at James Madison University, Chris Jones, aka Bossman, Assistant Director for Sport Clubs and Inclusive Recreation at JMU, Eric Nickel, Director of University Recreation at JMU, Andrea Snead, Assistant Director, Recreation & Wellness Center at University of Central Florida, Rachael Finley, Director of Campus Recreation at York College of Pennsylvania, Paul Fischbach, Associate Director – Recreation at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Dexter Shorter, Associate Director of Programs at Penn State University, David Davenport, Director at Austin Peay State University, and Jessica Ward, Director of Campus Recreation at Princeton University. In conjunction with Wendy, all have helped shape me into the professional I am today.

I mean this from the bottom of my heart when I say thank you to each of you. Thank you for all the support, encouragement, and love (some a little tougher than others!) that you have shown me over the years. My hope is that I too can pay it forward and impact future leaders the way you all have impacted me. And lastly, thank you NIRSA for being the glue that brought us all together. The value this association brings to both students and professionals in the higher education field will continue to stretch further than we may ever know.

  • If you are interested in highlighting your campus or a NIRSA member’s achievements on your campus, pitch us your ideas.

Nora Osei is currently Coordinator of Rugby & Summer Camp at Princeton University; you can reach her by email at nora.osei@princeton.edu.