Project Description

NIRSA Elections
NIRSA Elections

Candidate for NIRSA Student Leader

Tanika Santos
University of Kentucky

Biography/Summary Resume

Tanika Santos embarked on her journey of promoting wellness by studying exercise science at Wingate University. She joined campus recreation as a group fitness instructor where she taught the ancient art of combat through her kickboxing classes. Tanika then obtained her personal trainer certification, became a program assistant and a facility supervisor. In her four years, she was able to use her superpowers to program events, evaluate staff, and fight the battle against campus boredom. Tanika met fellow heroes at NIRSA conferences where she also presented and volunteered along those who helped her to where she is today. As the Graduate Assistant of Fitness at the University of Kentucky, Tanika continues her lifelong goal by pursuing a master’s degree in kinesiology health promotion.

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.

“Jab, cross, hook.” In my first kickboxing class, I was an outsider. With no prior knowledge and a lot of anxiety, I stumbled my way through combinations feeling awkward and out of place. At the break, I started to pack my things when my instructor came up to introduce herself. She reminded me that the first time doing anything new is always the hardest, and if I stuck with it, I would be amazed by my progress. I stayed. I came back the next week and the next. My discouragement turned to determination and by the end of the semester I was a certified instructor. From the back of the class to the front, I could see how alive people were in that setting. This was my home, but it was only the beginning.

The front desk—an oasis for personal connections. Working as a facility supervisor I received the opportunity to conduct interviews and have critical conversations. My fear of a negative interaction met head on with my responsibilities. In this position, I learned to listen, give feedback, and understand people on a deeper level that made me feel more connected to my campus. Campus recreation facilitates interactions to create interconnectedness, increase student satisfaction, and drive a sense of community at a time when many students feel most alone.

Rather than put people in boxes, campus recreation opens doors. There is something for everyone in the facility, on the field or in the trees for people to explore. Campus recreation reaches people from all areas by providing open spaces for relationships to grow. This is the most important part. No matter how great or poor an event is on paper, the relationships that people build through these avenues keep them coming back. It’s these relationships that fulfill the mission of NIRSA.

We are more than a gym. Four years in campus recreation and this is how I have started every conversation with people who do not know what campus recreation is. From the outside looking in, someone may see a facility full of fit patrons and peppy staff repeating the all-too-warn-out phrase “You got this.” Being one of those staff members, perhaps the peppiest of them all, I don’t want to just broadcast what we offer. My goal is to speak to that someone on the outside, to listen and understand what brings them joy.

Campus recreation provided me with confidence, friendship, and a platform to create this transformation for others. Working in the bubble of recreation, it is easy to recognize the positive effects of what we do. The challenge is meeting people where they are, taking all that we know and providing it in a way that speaks to their hearts. When I look at these people on the edge, I think of the boxing glove extended to me all those years ago encouraging me to just leap. Here, I extend my hand.

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 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?

As a society we have never been more technologically connected and yet we are more socially disconnected. Students face this the most as they are in a pivotal time of creating their own identities. Dorm rooms are a safe space for students, away from the changing world, where there is no pressure to explore, create, or grow. The isolation, while beneficial in increments, is detrimental to student wellbeing and thus student success.

For this reason, I believe NIRSA’s strategic priority to be a driving force in an integrated approach to health and wellbeing is so essential. A holistic wellness approach combines physical, mental, emotional, environmental, and social factors. Taking this spectrum into account, I hope to focus on three key pieces when developing solutions: education, outreach, and collaboration.

Quality must be maintained to ensure members and patrons buy-in. Regarding the student leadership team, timely, organized, and well-thought-out decisions are the key component to ensuring quality service. Acknowledgement of individual strengths and weaknesses helps to determine the roles of members. Being the NIRSA Student Leader means guiding a team of dedicated students who have already taken initiative to better themselves and their campus populations. Directing that energy in ways that benefit the mission of NIRSA sets an image to NIRSA and outside members of the significance of this team. Staff pride in their work speaks in volumes to the students they serve.

Education is the foundation to decision making. On a leadership team it is easy to assume that everyone cares as much as we do. Recognizing that students have choices on campus, and campus recreation is not their only option, humbles this organization to be a resource rather than a burden. The unique and wonderful thing about campus recreation is that our agenda is student wellbeing. Providing information about what we offer, how we can help, and connecting students to our many resources is one way I would encourage my student leaders to begin program implementation at the student level. Meet people where they are at. We aren’t looking at numbers, we’re looking at individuals. Adapting to our student’s environments and social settings will earn our programs a seat at the table. Having communication skills to educate in ways that implore understanding versus simple retention is important for the adoption of our information.

Outreach is vital for spreading our message, but more importantly for building relationships with other organizations. These relationships facilitate diverse conversation to assess the current state of programs, procedures, and campuses. Becoming a part of these conversations improves the understanding of campus wide issues, broadens the perspectives of our leaders, and facilitates creative adaptations to a changing society. The main point of outreach is increased understanding where solutions can flourish. Educating ourselves about campus resources and sharing the skill set obtained through campus recreation will make the leadership team a stronger force and lead to better connection across campuses. Today’s students are focused on being a part of something. Campus recreation has the opportunity to be that something.

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.

It was like a coming home party. Genuine connections were the primary effects I felt at my first NIRSA conference. My assistant directors whirled me around the conference rooms to engage in conversations with people from all over. From small schools to big universities, across the country everyone had a different story. But they all share the same goal. The vision of NIRSA is to be the premier association of leaders in higher education, transform lives and inspire the development of healthy communities worldwide. This vision is realized in all the avenues of recreation through all the people I met. That passion is tangible.

I have volunteered as a presenter, session monitor, and worked the registration table. Through these roles I felt rewarded in giving back to the organization that has provided me with many opportunities. As a presenter I focused on the pertinent topic of overcoming barriers to success in campus recreation. I made it applicable to my audience of varying positions, and guided further discussions. My hope was to not only share my experience, but to encourage conversation and reflection among participants. This conversation allowed audience members to relate to each other by addressing common obstacles and sharing different techniques to overcoming them. This process replicates weekly meetings the leadership team has. It requires critical thinking, organization, and presentation skills to ensure matters are dealt with effectively.

Being a session monitor requires me to introduce a presenter. In preparation, I access Guidebook to read up on the presenter and their presentation. This translates to the necessity of recognizing stakeholders in NIRSA and topics that motivate them. Following the sessions, I stay to speak with the presenters to reflect on their ideas and continue the conversation. As a NIRSA Student Leader, active listening is an important skill that uses concentration, understanding, and response to ensure effective communication. In a position of influence groups will want to be heard. A strong leader understands that hearing these opinions is more valuable than sharing predetermined beliefs. As a student leader I believe we are constantly learning and I am always open to hearing new ideas.

As a registration table volunteer, I am one of the first points of contact. For this reason, I focus on individually engaging with members, providing detailed instruction, and remembering names. Remembering someone’s name can be challenging and an undervalued practice. In the leadership team we will interact with members, vendors and outside sources. Prioritizing the effort to personally remember these people is critical for building partnerships and ensuring our members feel valued.

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?

My ability to capture an audience appeared after winning a poetry contest in 2015. On stage, I feel a certain energy from the audience and within myself. Since then, I have given more presentations at conferences, lectures for academic classes, and guided discussions in group and individual settings. My comfort with public speaking is essential to the promotion of NIRSA to outside resources and the NIRSA Student Leadership Team to future members. Being a NIRSA student leader means you are always on stage. Members look to you for guidance, ideas, and input to assist in driving the organization forward. I feel empowered by this attention and hope to emulate the values of NIRSA through fulfillment of this position.

Maintaining a composed complexion is a talent I was recently informed of having. Teaching a class on substance abuse, I strive for open discussion where participants can share their experiences and ask for assistance. During these discussions, I navigated topics as serious as alcohol poisoning and rape; many worrying stories came out and without realizing it I felt implored to comfort and help. My faculty mediator noticed my complete lack of judgement in my words but more importantly on my face. She claimed keeping a composed complexion was a difficult talent that few possessed. I believe this newfound talent could be vital when working with our Member Network, particularly with the mentor program. The mentor program bridges members of different professional areas, aspirations and backgrounds. I can facilitate these relationships and provide advice to guide difficult conversations with mentees, staff, and fellow members.

My diverse perspective has been influenced by my varied experience. I have studied abroad three times in three different continents where I challenged myself daily by meeting new people in a different language, navigating a foreign culture, and being bold enough to go beyond my own front door to see what is out there. Every day is an adventure and overcoming daily obstacles is the fun part that proves my capabilities in adaptive situations. I would like to share this belief with my team to overcome rather than to be overwhelmed by the challenges campus recreation faces. I can provide this perspective to members to show the unity of NIRSA and its mission. Having moved many times in my life, I have learned to love the feeling of being outside of my comfort zone. I believe in taking every opportunity, even the ones that scare you, and this position is exactly that: a chance to learn and grow.

NIRSA Elections: Tanika Santos