Victoria Lopez-Herrera currently serves as Senior Associate Director for Campus Recreation at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In her role, she oversees the development and training for approximately 300 student staff; the management of a 185,000 square foot facility; the aquatics center, members services, and administrative staff. Victoria is a certified indoor cycle instructor, facilitator for The Student Leadership Challenge and True Colors International, and a Strengths Coach.
Victoria’s passion for equity, access, advocacy, and support for underrepresented students has guided her work in the field of higher education for 20 years. She has served in administrative capacities at Columbia University, The New School, Cornell University, and Texas State University-San Marcos where she earned her bachelor and master degrees. Victoria has worked in the areas of residence life and fraternity and sorority life in addition to collegiate recreation. She has taken active roles in the professional associations she has been a member of and has presented numerous times at the affiliated national conferences of each. Outside of her responsibilities as a higher education professional, Victoria is a volunteer leader for Gamma Phi Beta Sorority.
Since joining NIRSA, Victoria has served as a co-facilitator of the Latinx Caucuses, an Annual Director on the Board of Directors, a representative for NIRSA at two NASPA Latin American Conferences, and was a part of the NIRSA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Summit. She has been the recipient of two NIRSA Annual Service Awards for her work with the Leadership Commission and the Strategic Planning Task Force.
How have you advocated collegiate recreation’s value in higher education?
At the association level, my advocacy can be seen through my role as a member of the task force that created the current NIRSA Strategic Plan. Specifically, we prioritized advancing “the understanding that campus recreation professionals are higher education professionals impacting student success.” At UTSA, I partnered with counseling and mental health services and health education to start a wellbeing coalition. We gathered partners from across campus to discuss how we could work together to impact student wellbeing. The coalition later became a presidential initiative and is now a multifaceted campus-wide priority. Internationally, I have served as a representative for NIRSA at two NASPA Latin American Conferences and presented on the integration of wellbeing in higher education in the US, collegiate recreation’s role in that, and its impact on the success of students.
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 extremely proud of the work I was a part of as a member of the Strategic Planning Task Force because I believe the current plan is flexible enough to allow for the association to continue to make decisions that align with our priorities and nimbly navigate the changing global, political, and educational landscapes.
Understanding that the strategic plan is nearing transition, I believe there are many parts of the current plan that remain relevant, like our value proposition, and can be iterated to meet the current and future needs of the association. Moving forward, I would prioritize the evolution of NIRSA’s structures, professional development offerings, and resources. I would focus on identifying how the association can change to meet the current and future needs of members given the changing dynamics of association management and higher education.
Firstly, as new value systems and technologies emerge, I see a need to reevaluate current association structures (systems, policies, and practices). What has the association “always” done and why? What systems are in place that may have created barriers to engagement? Answering questions like these can help identify opportunities to realign how the association does its work. Secondly, further reimagining of professional development offerings is needed. The content and delivery methods of offerings must change. To remain relevant, the association will need to examine what members most value and use that to inform the evolution of programs and services. Lastly, the pursuit of alternative sources of revenue is a necessity, and association resources (human and financial) will need to continue to be redirected, redistributed, or eliminated. These are very difficult decisions, however, as long as we continue to use our strategic values as a filter and mission as a guide the association can continue to be successful.
What attributes, experiences and knowledge could you contribute to the NIRSA Board of Directors that speak to the competency based requirements?
My experience in residence life, as a fraternity and sorority advisor, a volunteer leader for Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, and board member for NIRSA and AORE has afforded me a unique perspective on our profession and association. As a practitioner for 20 years, I have been a member of five professional associations (ACPA, AFA, AORE, NASPA, NIRSA) and can easily make connections between collegiate recreation and other areas of higher education.
To the board, I can bring culturally competent communication at varying levels. As the Co-Chair of the Belonging and Inclusion Task Force for my sorority, I aided in developing communication that was compassionate and genuine while navigating heated debate triggered by the current social injustices in the US. In early attempts to communicate as an organization, I engaged staff in difficult dialogue without making them feel shameful. As a woman of color in a predominately white organization, I was able to easily engage directly with members who were hurt and angry which led to co-facilitating virtual table talks open to all members.
I have a proclivity for identifying patterns, creating innovative solutions, and planning for the future. As Chair of the AORE Bylaws Alignment Taskforce, I took the time to examine the governance model of the past and this helped me foresee the future and more easily convey a vision. I centered the values of the association as a strategic filter for decision making. In the end, the task force not only created a new set of bylaws but identified opportunities to enhance current and create new governing documents to improve the long-term health of the association. At UTSA, I recognized that Residence Life & Housing, the Student Union, and Campus Recreation had similar goals for spring training yet conducted them separately. My previous professional experiences helped me easily discuss the commonalities and connections between the different departments and I was able to initiate a collaborative inter-departmental training for student employees informed by the NACE Job Outlook report. The initiative has grown to include all departments within Student Affairs with approximately 500 student employees in attendance.
I am well versed in what is needed for a healthy board, the roles and responsibilities of a board, and the necessary competencies and skills of board members. My competency can be demonstrated through past service and my involvement in helping others prepare for board-level service. I lead the curriculum development of a preparatory course for Gamma Phi Beta. I have gathered data from past leaders, researched best practices for non-profit governance, kept up to date on issues in higher education as well as equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each of these components is integrated into a hybrid learning experience for women seeking to build competency and skills for board-level service. My professional background, past board experience, and personal identities will bring diverse experience and perspective to board-level work.
Throughout your career you have had to respond to adversity and challenging times. Please provide an example of growth and how you can draw upon that instance to successfully navigate your NIRSA Board experience.
I entered collegiate recreation a little over seven years ago with 13 years of prior experience in higher education. Entering the NIRSA world through a non-traditional professional path opened up the opportunity for colleagues to question my competencies and skills. I was unknown, and my years of experience did not speak for themselves. I saw barriers go up. My approach was to seek to understand the discomfort of my presence. I was different and would have to work to show that I too belonged. I had to continue to be myself. I engaged where I saw alignment with my professional purpose and skillset. Through this, I was able to build meaningful relationships, exercise my talents, and gain respect from my colleagues. I learned to stay true to who I am and my talents. With patience and perseverance, I can be successful in a new arena.
I can draw from my previous experience and be patient while also being myself and lean into my talents. When joining an established board it is reasonable to expect that it will take time to integrate into the group. I will remain focused on the work of the association and the responsibilities of a board member (the duties of care, loyalty, and obedience) to help navigate what may arise.