Laura Hall serves as the Senior Director of Campus Recreation at Pennsylvania State University. She is responsible for supporting and advocating for the success of six program areas and eight recreational facilities. Before Penn State, Laura spent 16 years at the University of California, Davis as the Assistant Director for Intramural Sports, Associate Director for Programs, and Director of Campus Recreation. Prior to UC Davis, Laura started her career in collegiate recreation at California State University, Sacramento.
Laura has been significantly involved in a wide variety of campus leadership opportunities throughout her career including leading four strategic planning processes at both the department and divisional levels at UC Davis and Penn State. Laura was a founding member of the University of California Office of the President Youth Protection Work Team, Chair of the UC Davis Senior Year Experience Work Team, and member of the Student Affairs Organizational Structure & Culture Work Team. Laura has been involved in several capital facility projects including the $87 million renovation and expansion of the IM Building (primary recreation center) at Penn State, a $39 million construction of the Activities & Recreation Center at UC Davis, and additional projects totaling more than $20 million.
Dedication and service to NIRSA has been an integral part of Laura’s 21-year collegiate recreation career. She has been engaged in various leadership opportunities in state, regional, and national roles such as State Director, three-time Chair of the William Wasson Student Leadership Committee, Region VI Conference Chair, State Workshop Chair, member of the Nominations & Appointments Committee, Annual Conference Program Committee Work Team (twice) and Co-Chair (three years), and member of the Governance Work Team. Laura has also been fortunate to have been awarded the Region VI Award of Merit and a National Service Award and has presented at state, regional and national NIRSA conferences. Additionally, Laura deeply values volunteerism in her community serving as a member of the City of Davis/UC Davis Alcohol and Other Drug Community Coalition for seven years, a Special Olympics coach for seven years, and Special Olympics Board of Directors member for six years.
What role do you envision for collegiate recreation in higher education?
It is commonly understood within our Association that collegiate recreation plays an integral role in higher education, especially as it relates to success around student recruitment, retention, and engagement. It is also universally known that our students are facing mental health challenges in frequencies that are simply staggering. Collegiate recreation programs, services, facilities, and professionals must continue to evolve as meaningful contributors and facilitators towards the holistic wellbeing model. We must remain central in providing “upstream” preventative programs and services to help reduce the number of students in crisis seeking much needed –yet overburdened –psychological services.
It is imperative that our association and its members are viewed beyond the traditional “physical activity” realm of holistic wellbeing. While physical activity will remain supremely important and the core of who we are and what we provide to our campus communities, we should also strive to be accepted as central to the delivery of services for the other seven realms of wellbeing that NIRSA recognizes. Our facilities, programs, and services are undoubtedly important. Yet the “why?” of what we do must be emphasized when we articulate the role of collegiate recreation in higher ed. For example, through our facilities and programs we bring members of our campus communities together via shared interests. That’s what we do. However, if we frame this as providing opportunities for “real life” social connectedness, we are then not just the physical activity folks, but also providers for social wellbeing. This is an incredibly important narrative as we see escalating numbers of students feeling isolated, unconnected, and lonely.
Similar to the above example, we can examine our role in higher ed through all of the realms of wellbeing. Many of us in collegiate recreation offer fantastic outdoor recreational offerings. The question then becomes: are we framing these through the lens of the holistic wellbeing model? If so, this really helps our students understand how to fulfill their various realms of wellbeing. If we aren’t articulating our offerings this way, we should feel an urgency to do so.
The importance of integrating campus recreation throughout the holistic wellbeing model does not mean we must “own,” or be the primary providers of services for all eight realms. With our incredible breadth of offerings and reach to the vast majority of students on campus, collegiate recreation has an emerging opportunity to model how to be effective collaborators and contributors across all dimensions of wellbeing. We can model effective servant leadership when we focus on the needs of our students rather than who gets credit or “owns” what in terms of wellbeing. We can also model how to work collaboratively with our colleagues across campus to make the delivery of wellbeing programs and services as seamless as possible for our students. In the coming years collegiate recreation has abundant opportunities and responsibilities to facilitate the learning and growth of lifelong healthy habits and skills—those that transcend far beyond the collegiate experience.
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?
In order to continue to actualize the commitments of the NIRSA Strategic Plan, three priorities I view for my potential time on the Board include:
1. External Advocacy & Inter-Association Collaboration – It is incredibly important for NIRSA to continue to work intentionally and strategically toward being recognized in higher ed as a leader and major contributor for student health and success. Ensuring dedicated and continuing resources allotted to research, governmental advocacy, and strong influences in public policy are important not only in informing the senior leaders on our campuses, but also with policy makers at the local and national levels. With NIRSA’s focus on more global collaboration we have made meaningful progress with a number of associations in Higher Ed (ACHA, NASPA, CCMH, AORE, etc.). Foundational to this success is a commitment by the leadership of these associations to come together and collaborate in an intentional way. It is absolutely critical that we continue to support these efforts.
2. Professional Development & Networking – I am committed to building upon the renewed efforts to provide a variety of educational and staff development opportunities that speak to the wide spectrum of professional members’ desires and resources. As the recreational needs of our campus populations continue to change and evolve, it remains critical that we are deeply dedicated to providing accessible and effective life-long learning and professional development opportunities for all members of the Association.
3. With our current Strategic Plan designated to retire in 2021, the Board must begin the foundational planning process for the next round of strategic planning. This last strategic planning process provides a tough act to follow. The plan effectively set the stage for actionable and significant growth for the Association. It is important for the planners of the next process to fully understand, learn from, and build upon the elements of that process allowed for the successful outcomes (e.g. how the planning group was selected to create a diverse, dynamic, and forward-thinking team; what type of planning approach or approaches were utilized; when and how were the outcomes established for the process; etc.). For our current strategic plan to remain effective, we must integrate the next iteration as seamlessly as possible. This will allow for the unfettered continuation of our Association’s growth and evolution.
What attributes, experiences and knowledge could you contribute to the NIRSA Board of Directors that speak to the competency based requirements?
In my 22 years of work in collegiate recreation, I have been afforded amazing opportunities to learn and grow experientially and via amazing mentorship. It is an absolute honor and privilege to be in a position of impact and leadership within collegiate recreation at my various campuses and through my roles in NIRSA. Very few people get to say that their work can definitively, and positively, influence the collegiate experience of thousands of students each year. Likewise, very few have the opportunity to help a population develop lifetime habits and skills that will contribute to their wellbeing beyond their collegiate experience. As a values-based leader, I work diligently to model the expectations I have in others. At times this can be difficult, but ultimately, equity and consistency with my leadership and decision making allows for organizational evolution and growth that might be challenged otherwise.
When I began my role three years ago at Penn State I was tasked with building, from the ground up, a completely reimagined and contemporary model of recreation for our campus community. This involved transitioning many existing staff from a variety of different organization models into new roles and under one umbrella of leadership. It also required the addition of a large number of new positions and staff for our evolving department. I tried to carefully honor the work of our staff prior to the reorganization while clearly and collectively outlining, developing, and articulating our newly established values, goals, expectations, and direction. For the most part, these collective elements were substantially different than what was previously in place.
Building a campus rec department from scratch was a challenge I was ready for, but now one I know I underestimated. I knew it would be hard. However, significantly shifting the culture (internally and externally) as it relates to the contemporary expectations of campus recreation has been a monumental and rewarding process. Critical to this process has been the reliance on NIRSA benchmarking data, best practices, and national standards. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve also utilized trusted colleagues from throughout the country to provide open and honest feedback along the way. We’ve had to adjust our path multiple times yet have consistently relied upon foundational values to guide our decision-making processes.
As a leader of four strategic planning processes for both student affairs and campus recreation, I’ve come to value a clear, concise, and actionable plan. The successful planning processes I’ve been a part of were foundationally driven by a clearly-articulated and understood set of values. These values empowered our staff to activate our strategies through an inspiring “road map.”
Lastly, as a six-year BOD member for Special Olympics, I was afforded an amazing opportunity to learn and grow in that experience. Having been mentored by incredibly bright, selfless, and humble fellow Board members, my intent is to transfer these experiences in non-profit intricacies, ethical governance, and responsible fiscal oversight to help position our Association for the ever-evolving landscape of higher ed and collegiate recreation.