Dr. Derek Hottell has worked in higher education for over fifteen years in various institutional settings throughout the United States, but he has spent the majority of his professional career working in collegiate recreation. He began his career at his alma mater, Western Kentucky University (WKU), as a graduate assistant of sport clubs and later became the sport club coordinator. After working at WKU for four years, he moved to Seattle University to be the assistant director for recreational sports before being promoted to the director of university recreation. During his tenure at Seattle University, he guided the construction of a $10 million fitness center addition as well as a $6 million renovation of an outdoor sport field. Additionally, he led a team of professionals at Seattle University who successfully increased programming, participation, revenue, and the operating budget.
He left Seattle in 2012 to pursue his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration full-time at Boston College while also working as a doctoral assistant in the Office of the Dean of Students. In this capacity, he acted as a conduct hearing officer and Title IX advocate and assisted with outreach and support for students who identify as LGBTQ+. Since 2015, he has been the Director of Recreational Sports at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). His team at VCU has increased revenue generation, expanded programming, increased participation, and improved patron satisfaction.
Derek received his Ph.D. from Boston College in 2016. He has presented and published on the topics of student persistence, survey methodology, racial bias, campus engagement, and social media. He has been active in campus and national committees throughout his career. Most notably, he has served NIRSA in the following ways:
– NIRSA Research & Assessment Committee Member (2017–Present)
– NIRSA Assembly Member (2017–Present)
– NIRSA Honor Award Committee (2017–2018)
– NIRSA Washington State Director (2010–2012)
– NIRSA Facilities Committee Member (2010–2011)
– NIRSA Wasson Student Leadership & Academic Awards Committee Member (2010–2011)
– NIRSA Sport Club Committee Chair (2007–2008)
– NIRSA Sport Club Committee Member (2006–2007)
– NIRSA Volleyball Sport Clubs Championship Staff (2007)
– NIRSA Annual Conference Host Committee Member (2006)
– NIRSA Southern Mississippi Flag Football All-Tournament Committee Chair (2005)
– NIRSA Pre-Conference Presenter (2007)
– NIRSA Annual Conference Presenter (2007 & 2016)
Derek and his wife, Megan, recently welcomed their first child, Blair, to the world. He enjoys walking his dog, watching sports, being the world’s worst fantasy sports manager, playing golf, bowling, reading, and enjoying life with his family.
What role do you envision for collegiate recreation in higher education?
Since we educate, inspire, and empower through play and fun, we are a powerful tool to help university communities to learn and grow because most students want to engage with us. Consequently, I believe collegiate recreation is uniquely positioned to address societal concerns while simultaneously bolstering the entire higher education enterprise.
From health disparities to sexual violence to recruitment to retention to career readiness, collegiate recreation has a role to play. Shifting population trends indicate stagnant or declining levels of enrollment for many institutions of higher education. Collegiate recreation can play a strategic role to boost institutional recruitment and retention efforts in purposeful and creative ways. Students are reporting increased levels of anxiety, depression, and stress, and they are consequently taxing our beleaguered colleagues in counseling offices who attempt to meet those very real student needs. We can utilize our skills and talents in collegiate recreation to alleviate counselors’ caseloads by using exercise to reduce stress, sports to build social bonds, and experiential education to foster resilience. We also serve a unique segment of the student population who may be unlikely to engage in any other co-curricular programs. How do we use our position on campus and students’ natural desire to engage with us to interrupt damaging narratives around relationships, alcohol, drugs, and help-seeking behaviors? Finally, we provide an important opportunity for individuals of various identities and backgrounds to intersect and engage with one another. In a time of increasing divisiveness, such interactions are more important than ever. We must continue to evolve and expand our outreach efforts to ensure all individuals feel welcomed by collegiate recreation, so we can continue to provide these important engagement opportunities across differences.
Ultimately, I believe life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured, and collegiate recreation professionals are critical educators who assist people in gaining the skills and experiences needed to be able to flourish and thrive, not merely survive.
In alignment with the NIRSA strategic plan, what are three priorities that you would identify and believe NIRSA should accomplish during your time on the board and why are these most important?
I would prioritize the following:
1. Advocate for our profession by fostering strategic messaging to college decision-makers,
2. Be a driving force for an integrated approach to health and wellbeing by creating collaborative relationships with strategic partner associations, and
3. Consider how to evolve the brand by intentionally collecting data and using existing resources like the Assembly to consider the long-range approach.
As the landscape of higher education changes, NIRSA and collegiate recreation must also change. While I do not believe the primary aims of NIRSA should be advocacy, we need to begin to think proactively about shaping the narrative of how our industry is viewed by those who are not in our field. While some NIRSA members rise to positions of institutional senior leadership, very few serve in such capacities. How can NIRSA encourage research, editorials, journal articles, and presentations to provide a richer context of the return on investment institutions receive from collegiate recreation? Whether it be through an expansion of grants to foster such research, strategic partnerships to encourage using recreation facilities as living-learning laboratories, or finding avenues for cross-association publications, presentations, and workshops, we need to ensure the individuals who control the levers of power are aware of our impact. I would prioritize expanding our messaging to ensure we are circulated in the communication channels trafficked by college decision-makers.
Moreover, in the aims of fostering holistic wellness, NIRSA acknowledges the need for many stakeholders to come to the table to shape the vision. I would prioritize finding productive ways to align ourselves with ACHA, ACCA, NASPA, ACPA, ACSM, and other organizations working toward the common goal of college student wellbeing. By doing so, we may be able to provide expanded educational opportunities for our members, begin to re-envision our role in fostering student wellbeing, and efficiently increase our collective impact.
NIRSA has evolved and changed to reflect the evolving and changing needs of our constituencies. I believe NIRSA is correct in identifying the coming decades as a time to begin to rethink the brand identity in order to ensure continued relevancy. What does NIRSA mean, and what should it mean? NIRSA is important to a great many of us, so I would prioritize honoring our legacy while looking toward the future and ensuring that all stakeholder voices are heard through the process. Simply put, we are NIRSA, and I would actively pursue ensuring that the brand best reflects our evolution while continuing its legacy of advancing collegiate recreation.
What attributes, experiences and knowledge could you contribute to the NIRSA Board of Directors that speak to the competency based requirements?
One of the many benefits of working in higher education is being actively encouraged to reflect upon one’s own leadership style and work preferences. In Myers-Briggs, I am an INTJ. In StrengthsQuest, my top five strengths are learner, achiever, strategic, relator, and intellection. All of these metrics and tools speak to me being most comfortable thinking strategically with a trusted group of colleagues to identify creative solutions to issues or concerns. I stay focused upon meeting my commitments and achieving a shared vision. Throughout my career, I have challenged my staff to grow and think beyond the restrictions in front of them—to not find a solution, but to find the best solution for all parties involved. I believe in following evidence to its logical conclusion and collecting as much data as possible to make an informed decision. The best ideas come by engaging as many individuals as possible, probing suggestions and recommendations critically, and identifying consensus to move the organization forward to a shared vision. Finally, I genuinely believe that most of us want what is best for our students, our staff, our institutions, and our association. We may disagree on how to accomplish that goal, but if we can agree on our commonality in our shared desire to make folks’ lives just a little bit better, we can build a bridge of understanding. We may disagree on how to achieve that vision, but if we stay focused on exploring potential pathways until we find the best option, we can achieve a mutually desirable outcome that best meets our varied goals.