Project Description

NIRSA Elections
NIRSA Elections

Candidate for NIRSA Student Leader

Sarah Heemstra
Ohio State University

Biography/Summary Resume

Sarah Heemstra got started in campus recreation by trying to join an intramural team during her first day on campus at the University of Minnesota. Shortly after this attempt, she landed her first rec job as an intramural volleyball official. Within a few weeks, she was working a second position as a facility supervisor and began to find a home within the rec center. Over the next four years, Sarah started to get involved in NIRSA and found her calling to become a campus recreation professional. Along the way, she made lifelong friends (whether they were planned or a random interaction in a hallway at the NIRSA Annual Conference). As the RPAC Facility Operations Assistant at Ohio State University, Sarah continues to dive deeper into her calling to the field by studying higher education and student affairs.

Please provide a statement of your personal views on the role and contributions of collegiate recreation in higher education. In your response describe how collegiate recreation has influenced your development.

Collegiate recreation gave me a home away from home when I had my first experience away from my family. When I was in high school, I didn’t know where I would attend college, but I knew I wanted to go out of state and away from small town Michigan. When I ended up at the University of Minnesota, I had no idea where to find friends or how to get involved, but after the first night in the Recreation and Wellness Center (RecWell), I found a place to get involved and to cultivate community. I found the community amongst my coworkers—the people I would see at 5:15am when we opened the facility, or the people I would clean up the field with in the pouring rain at 11:00pm after a night of intramurals.

The community of programs, where people can express their competitiveness or fill their schedule with activity, is so important to many collegiate experiences. Even the simple community of conversing around a weight platform, seeing people in the lobby, or having your locker nearby all create connections across campus. Whether the facility is the shiny new toy on campus or a renovated aircraft hangar from WWII, the community and the people inside help to create the most remarkable moments in a collegiate experience, and created a lifelong desire in me to pursue the field of collegiate recreation.

Within the context of the NIRSA Strategic Plan, what area/item would you say is a major issue students face today? Please identify a student driven issue that we are currently face today and you would like to address during your term. How will you create solutions in your role on the Student Leadership Team to address it?

I think a major issue that students face today is finding the balance between activism and professionalism. There are major systemic issues that exist within our nation and higher education. The freedom of speech that the Constitution grants us often butts heads with the “Way things were.” This past summer, there was national unrest and students elevated their voices in their respective communities, but most were away from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When schools opened back up for the fall semester, the campus administrators didn’t invite activism to their campus, nor did many administrators engage in dialogue about the hurting communities. I think a key way to start change with accepting student activists is to begin the conversation about the growth that can come from allowing these voices to be raised. If I were to serve with the SLT, this would be something that I would want to present on and continue to research ways to elevate the voices of fellow students. Often, staff and faculty act as the gatekeepers into the real world, but the real world doesn’t press pause for the college years—the clock keeps ticking and we keep growing. While the NIRSA community continues to build racial equity and build habits to better engage in racial discussion, we need to continue to allow students to grow and let their voices be heard as well.

In describing your contributions to NIRSA (i.e. presentations, volunteering, previous leadership roles, etc,), identify how your involvement and experiences meet the position criteria and qualify you to advocate for and serve the students of the Association.

Looking back at my contributions to NIRSA, there are a few key moments that emphasize my preparedness for the NIRSA Student Leader position. My first contribution to NIRSA was during my senior year when I served as the Minnesota State Student Leader. In this role I worked with the Region V Student Leader, DeVanee Lasley, and together we presented at the ND/MN State Workshop an overview of NIRSA to a group of students who had a wide range of NIRSA knowledge and experience. Additionally, this role gave me the opportunity to volunteer at the Annual Conference in Boston (2019) where I welcomed students into the Student Lounge and answered questions as they arose.

This role as the state student leader in Minnesota gives me knowledge to connect with the 2021–2022 team of state student leaders. In my current role as Marketing and Sustainability Chair on the Student Lead On Planning Committee, I am tasked with maintaining constant communication with my team as well as with the chairs and, as necessary, the whole committee. Navigating the virtual world and creating a way to connect with ease while also recognizing boundaries hasn’t been the easiest. Taking the time to acknowledge road bumps at the start of our work was important and will be crucial to think about if I were to stand as the NIRSA Student Leader. While I’m currently navigating various schedules and commitments, as the NSL I would be navigating the same things on top of time zones and an ever-changing world. While this is a difficult and seemingly daunting task, I believe my time working to create a virtual conference during a pandemic and a major US election has set me on a path for success.

As a Student Leader within NIRSA, you have the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the field of collegiate recreation. With a focus on Student Member Recruitment & Retention, and Student Development what skills, talents, and perspectives would you bring to the Student Leadership Team?

Having my start in Region V, I know what it’s like to feel like you have a lot of passion but there are not too many people around you. When I had my internship in Region I, I was welcomed into a close-knit culture with so many schools nearby. And as I’m currently in Region III, I’m understanding what it means to be in a place that people love and where they want to be. While there’s much of NIRSA I have yet to see, I bring an understanding of the distinctions these three regions hold—and that is something I would try to help change. Bringing together the regional leaders to discuss what are pivotal aspects they see within their regions and creating actionable ways we can bring the team together, especially at Annual, is a goal I have for myself if I am fortunate enough to hold this role.

Throughout my five years of working within the field of collegiate recreation—as an undergrad, an intern, and now a graduate assistant—I have worked in facilities, intramurals, special events, youth programs, swim lessons, marketing, and group fitness. Having a robust background in experiences would help me engage with fellow students across the nation as well as see things with not only a “facility eye” but also use inclusive cues as I learned in group fitness instructing or keep things orderly as I learned during my time as an intramural official. My multitude of experiences gives me a plethora of perspectives.

A personal philosophy I would bring to the Student Leadership Team is one that is especially important during COVID times: a mentality to continue to seek a pocket of joy within all circumstances. While there are many barriers—seen and especially unforeseen—in the near and distant futures, it’s important to follow the joy however it may look. While this is hopefully not an anomaly—seeking some good in the world—I believe it is a breath of fresh air in a world that has had a fairly dark shadow during this year. And finally, I have a willingness to continue to press forward and ask for the why when decisions are made. When I was in my senior year at Minnesota, I recognized that we were only hosting single-day tournaments for our Special Olympic Athletes but there was no lasting presence on campus. I was willing to speak up and ask for them to be represented within our community. In a similar way, in this leadership role, I would press forward to continue to open doors for all students of NIRSA.

NIRSA Elections: Sarah Heemstra