Yvette Kell, known as Vetty, is the Director Campus Recreation for Centers, LLC at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She began her career in collegiate recreation as an undergraduate intramural official at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Leisure Studies. She did her graduate work at Sam Houston State University as an intramural graduate assistant, receiving her Master of Arts in Kinesiology. Her first professional position was as the Coordinator of Fitness and Aquatics at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. From there she went on to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to serve as the Assistant Director of Facility Operations, later she was promoted to Director.
Yvette took a year off from her work in collegiate recreation in 2010 to pursue a lifelong dream of living abroad. She spent a year outside Seoul, South Korea teaching English to high school freshman and sophomores. She returned to the United States in 2011 as the Director of Campus Recreation at Morehead State University, and moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 2014 to serve in her current position. Yvette recently completed her PhD in Education Leadership at the University of Kentucky.
Yvette has been a part of three construction projects, opening three brand new buildings and assisting with the opening of an expansion and renovation. She was part of developing and implementing three new collegiate recreation departments. Yvette has served on various committees on the campuses where she has worked, including Staff Association, Staff Congress, numerous search committees, wellness initiatives, and information technology initiatives. Yvette has been a member of NIRSA since 1995, serving on several committees; Career Opportunities Center, Student Professional Development, Fitness Institute, Facilities, Risk Management, Region IV Student Lead On and Conference planning committee, Policy and Legislation, and Government Affairs. Most recently, Yvette served as the Annual Director for the Board of Directors and Faculty for the School of Collegiate Recreation. Yvette has presented at the state, regional, and national levels for NIRSA, as well as Athletic Business, and NASPA.
What role do you envision for collegiate recreation in higher education?
Collegiate recreation plays a vital role in achieving the mission and vision on higher education campuses. Providing an environment that encourages learning and fun creates an intersection of active participation and development of necessary skills to be successful upon graduation. Collegiate recreation provides a learning lab for not only those who work for their respective campus recreation department, but for every student who is touched by our programs and services.
Working within the structure of higher education, collegiate recreation is a bridge between academics and student support services. Providing learning communities for students and being an active part of the creation and implementation of programs on campus positions collegiate recreation to be impactful. Collegiate recreation departments provide an avenue for increasing leadership skills, creating healthy lifestyle habits, and building community for those on campus. Utilizing this platform, collegiate recreation professionals work with a number of different campus departments and community partners to ensure there is an intentional learning component for all students.
Higher education is a place for individuals to develop and improve their leadership abilities, obtain life skills, and learn about themselves. Collegiate recreation plays a vital role in all these learning avenues for not only students, but for faculty/staff and the campus community as a whole. By providing space for the integration of all these groups of individuals, a learning environment is created for a diverse group of individuals. Providing a space for students to learn from their peers, as well as those in their community, gives them several avenues for a collaborative culture as well as creating an inclusive community.
During my time on the BOD this year, I was able to take part in conversations about how NIRSA will assist our membership to position themselves to be thought leaders on their campuses. This will be done through critical and strategic thinking, and intentional collaborations. Being involved in these conversations has made me even more determined to ensure collegiate recreation is a large part of the campus conversations revolving around recruitment, retention, and graduation. As we are entering a time when campuses will see a decline in enrollment, it is more important than ever that we be cognizant of our role on campus and be a part of the conversation about how we are supporting our students.
Collegiate recreation has a unique opportunity on campuses to not only influence the lives of students, but the entire campus community, and often extending into the surrounding community. This requires collegiate recreation professionals to serve as a learning agent for a variety of people. As a result, collegiate recreation professionals must remain diligent in staying up to date with trends, being connected to surrounding communities, and advocating for those we serve. Collegiate recreation professionals should continually explore new ways to connect with our community and support students in their co-curricular and educational endeavors.
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?
Within the scope of NIRSA, I feel the three areas to prioritize during my time on the Board would be leadership, global perspective, and health and wellbeing. These areas are intertwined in how we interact with our students and how we deliver our programs and services. Leadership within collegiate recreation is not simply about providing opportunities for our students, we need to be putting more resources into developing our professionals through intentional learning opportunities to equip them with the skills to be successful at all levels of the profession. This not only includes skills for increased responsibilities, but skills to manage the ever changing landscape of higher education. We must be diligent about keeping up on trends, understanding the current political climate, and being in tune with the needs of the student body we serve.
NIRSA currently offers a number of professional development opportunities meant to focus on numerous facets of recreation (i.e. Triventure, regional conferences, etc). What I feel is lacking is the intentional training of our professionals to build their skills and their confidence, to not only perform, but succeed at a higher level. This is true of young professionals, those in middle management seeking more leadership opportunities, as well as those in senior leader positions who wish to aspire to an executive position. The School of Collegiate Recreation addresses some of these competencies with Levels I and II, but there needs to be a continuation of this work to address the gap that currently exists for professionals. Providing pointed training and development webinars, small group work across the profession, and intentional workshops aimed at specific competencies would be beneficial for the entirety of our membership. As collegiate recreation grows and evolves as a profession, we need to become savvier on campuses to further our reach, as well as help our professionals reach their respective definitions of success in the field.
As the landscape of higher education evolves, we need to deliver a more global perspective to our students and professionals. It is imperative that we work with other higher education agencies to ensure we are providing well-rounded opportunities for the membership to build on their knowledge and skills in order to administer the best possible services for our constituents. By offering development opportunities not just limited to NIRSA sponsored events, we provide members with a bigger picture of how collegiate recreation fits into the overarching area of higher education. This increased perspective will support our goals and purpose on campuses as well as assist us in developing alignment with our student affairs based organizations, associations, and departments. My role on the BOD this year was to assist in evolving the Policy and Legislation Committee to Government Affairs. This has been a great step forward for NIRSA and will help to provide more perspective and information to the membership and position NIRSA as a partner in higher education.
What attributes, experiences and knowledge could you contribute to the NIRSA Board of Directors that speak to the competency based requirements?
My 20+ years of experience in collegiate recreation has afforded me the opportunity to interact with and supervise a great variety of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as a number of full-time professional staff. I have also been afforded several opportunities to lead colleagues and fellow NIRSA members on various committees and task forces. Each of these opportunities required me to be flexible with my communication, management, and leadership style, while also displaying an ability to adapt to changes to maintain being effective and efficient progress in attaining goals for each respective group. I have improved my communication skills through attending, coordinating, and leading various trainings. In all my positions, I have learned to work with a number of different personalities, learning styles, and leadership techniques, with each adding to the depth and breadth of my experience in working with diverse populations. As a director, I not only supervise numerous professional staff, but am charged with their development. As a leader, I find it is best to help others learn to lead and provide them with experiences that will give them the necessary skills to succeed on their chosen path, whatever that path may be. This past year I was provided with the opportunity to be a part of the BOD as the Annual Director, which has provided me with another level of understanding of our impact on students, professionals, and higher education. I believe I will be able to build upon the work I have been be a part of this past year by continuing my journey with NIRSA BOD.
Working in collegiate recreation first as a student then a professional, I have watched the profession evolve and have continued to be a part of the progression by serving within the NIRSA and continuing my education through training and development opportunities. My desire to continually learn and develop my skills has assisted my development in becoming a strong leader, understanding and developing and implementing strategic plans, making research-based decisions, developing and executing budgets in an effective manner, and working with my teams to create an inclusive, productive, and fun working environment.
I believe in supporting others in their pursuit of increased responsibility and knowledge, as we are better when we are all striving to achieve more. Bringing the whole team together to work as equals is the best way to improve the productivity of the entire organization, as we are collectively greater than the sum of our individual parts. I believe I have shown my ability to work well with the NIRSA Board team this past year, and believe I would be able to contribute more through continued service. My passion for collegiate recreation and higher education has driven me to continue my education, as well as determine the best ways to continue to serve. I believe remaining a part of the Board is the best way for me to continue to contribute and advocate for our profession, and I feel my experiences to date have prepared me for this responsibility.