Nigel Harris is the Director of Programs and Facilities at Kennesaw State University north of Atlanta, Georgia. He is responsible for the strategic leadership, direction, and administrative oversight of a 175,000 square foot recreation facility. Prior to his Kennesaw State University experience, Nigel’s career began as a lifeguard at Georgia State University where he obtained his Bachelor of Business Administration in Computer Information Systems, Master of Science in Sports Administration and his first full time position as the Aquatics Coordinator. After his tenure at GSU, Nigel expanded his progressive recreation experience and worked at Virginia Tech and the University of Texas at San Antonio.
During his professional career, Nigel has aided campus recreation departments with navigating the evolving higher education landscape and strategically positioning them to succeed while putting students first. He has served on committees to develop strategic plans and review campus recreation programs using the Council for Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). Nigel has fulfilled vital roles with managing a variety of capital projects totaling $15 million. Throughout his career, he has had exceptional experiences that have shaped his professional and leadership philosophy such as the Student Development Committee, the Professional Development and Staff Recognition committees at the division level, Staff Council, Emergency Medical Technician, Campus Emergency Response Team, and Alternative Spring Break.
As a collegiate recreation professional for almost twenty years, Nigel is an engaged member of NIRSA. He has attended the National School of Recreation Management Level I and Level II. He has served on the following committees: Emerging Recreational Sports Leaders Host Committee, Aquatics Institute Program Committee, Triventure Host Committee, and Program Committee for the NIRSA Annual Conference. Additionally, Nigel has been active with serving as a mentor for many student and professional members of NIRSA. Nigel has presented at state, regional and national levels for NIRSA and at the national level for NASPA.
What role do you envision for collegiate recreation in higher education?
Collegiate recreation provides transformative experiences that promote learning and student success. Recreation provides a unique programming offering that meets the needs, interests, and expectations of diverse campus communities. These programming opportunities establish and reinforce the mindset of lifelong learning and enjoyment; they also assist in the development of community. Like many student affairs divisions, collegiate recreation focuses on learning outside of the classroom and developing students from a holistic approach. Through participating in recreation programs, and even employment, students can boost their self-esteem, enhance social relationships and improve interpersonal skills. From the student employment perspective, student employees refine and improve their proficiency in key competencies that benefit their campus communities and global society during and beyond college. These include time management skills, problem solving, leadership development, and working within a diverse team.
The benefits of collegiate recreation extend beyond simply recreation. NIRSA, with NASPA and ACHA, recognizes the important connection between the wellbeing of students and their success. These associations have mobilized task forces and committees to further the conversations and document tangible efforts of institutions to create a culture of wellbeing in our communities. To support these efforts, more data is needed to show the correlation and impact on students’ participation in recreation programs and facilities and their overall health. Recreation professionals, along with their campus partners, are shifting their mindsets and conversations about how intentional programming with an opportunity to reflect can greatly enhance a student’s engagement, retention, diet, sleep, and health.
As a board member, I am committed to furthering these conversations and advocating for more resources such as research to document collegiate recreation’s contribution to students being successful. I will connect with NIRSA members to listen to their needs and share the association’s commitment to advocating and addressing the evolving role of collegiate recreation in higher education.
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 am excited about the opportunity to serve on the NIRSA Board of Directors and contribute to the association’s strategic initiatives. Specifically, I would like to help evolve the association to address the changing landscape of higher education, ascend our work with wellbeing, and advance NIRSA’s structure to cultivate timely, relevant, and accessible learning opportunities.
With the expected decline in enrollment in the next decade, some institutions will see reduced revenue streams from student fees. Unfortunately, for most, the current known expenses are not expected to decline, and recreation departments will have to maintain their operations with less revenue. The strategies recreation departments will have to develop and implement will require creative problem solving and out-of-the-box thinking to analyze the complex educational and socioeconomic factors. For example, if a department generates or increases other revenue streams, their institutional or system policies and standards may have parameters to permitting those funds to be utilized as a supplement to the reduced influx of student fees. Furthermore, as a board member, I would like to provide resources to institutional members to have high-level conversations with their university leadership about minimizing or eliminating programmatic elements to evolve their departments.
Coinciding with the enrollment decline, institutions will need to progress the conversations on furthering their documented contributions with students succeeding outside of the classroom such as their overall wellbeing. Many institutions have their foundational frameworks, standards, and traditions in place on how they operate and contribute to the university’s mission. Alterations to some of these elements are necessary to implement sustainable change on college campuses targeted toward improving wellbeing. Due to the efforts of some exceptional recreation professionals and departments, partnerships and collaborations have formed to accomplish wellbeing initiatives. Despite these partnerships, it is not the responsibility of one department nor division to create a sustainable campus culture of wellbeing. I look forward to putting in the work to evolve these discussions and partnerships to assist our members with being able to shift paradigms and minds to collectively, within their respective campuses, create a culture of wellbeing.
As our members prepare to address the above mentioned and other emerging issues, they will need guidance and resources. NIRSA has provided a solid foundation and roadmap for programs and learning opportunities. We need to evolve our current program to equip members with the knowledge, skills and resources to navigate and overcome non-traditional challenges. Recent advancements with the NIRSA school for mid-level managers and annual program committee objectives are moving us in the right direction, and I want to further that progress. I will fully utilize my competencies to connect face-to -face with members to ask and listen about topics and opportunities they desire to further their knowledge and enable them to build upon their current skills sets. I plan to be instrumental with gathering ideas and feedback from the entire membership. In summary, I am dedicated and excited to analyze the qualitative and quantitative data and engage in dialogue with members about how we can advance campus recreation to guide the association with reaching new milestones.
What attributes, experiences and knowledge could you contribute to the NIRSA Board of Directors that speak to the competency based requirements?
Over the past fifteen years, I have served in a variety of roles as a collegiate recreation professional at large institutions in regions II and IV. My strengths are best demonstrated through my experiences with divisional and departmental reorganizations, managing satellite campuses, and providing student-centered programs and facilities. My diverse professional achievements can be attributed to my visionary mindset and ability to think strategically. I have served on committees that required me to think conceptually, imaginatively, systematically, and opportunistically to accomplish a defined goal and further my department’s mission.
During my experience on the Council of Advanced Standards Review at Virginia Tech, I systematically reviewed and consistently evaluated the various components of the recreation department. While at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I assisted with the review and alignment of the strategic plan which required a commitment to consistently apply the department’s core values to make the best decision. These are a few notable experiences that have prepared me to be an exceptional member of the Board of Directors.
When I arrived at one of my previous institutions, I faced budget deficits and numerous complaints from students, faculty, and staff regarding the condition of the facility and fitness equipment. In the first four months, I listened to key stakeholders to assess the current operations and discover the core issues. With this information, I restructured and reclassified my staff to better position them to address the department’s needs. During the process, I communicated the changes to those indirectly impacted and conducted meetings with those directly affected to clarify expectations and establish priorities. Three months later, I reached out to those effected and was pleased to hear the previous issues were resolved. Additionally, they complimented my approach to listening to their perspectives and sharing my vision of the decisions.
As a recognized leader, I am known as a visionary professional who is clear with communicating objectives and aligning resources to achieve success. My past experiences have refined my leadership philosophy and prepared me to lead various organizations and entities. My inquisitive approach has helped identify opportunities for improvement and implement solutions to complex issues. I pride myself with communicating honestly with people and holding myself accountable when expectations and outcomes do not match up. Furthermore, I am respected by my colleagues for being able to understand different perspectives, particularly those of new and seasoned professionals and campus partners. I demonstrate regularly a positive collaborative spirit when assisting my colleagues in a variety of ways.