Since 2010, Mila Padgett has been the Director of Campus Recreation & Wellness at the University of South Carolina Aiken in the Division of Student Affairs. Her campus recreation experience began as an undergraduate at Ferris State University (Michigan) as one of the only female intramural officials for basketball. This experience led her to begin the pursuit of her career in recreation and wellness with the acceptance of a graduate assistantship in aquatics & wellness at the University of Southern Mississippi. Mila holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Recreation & Leisure Management with an emphasis in Corporate Fitness and a Master’s of Science in Exercise Physiology with an emphasis in Cardiac Rehabilitation.
Mila has served in various capacities at the University of South Carolina Aiken including the Crisis Action Team; Chancellor’s Strategic Plan Task Force; Diversity, Equity and Belonging Task Force; co-chair Healthy 4 Life Committee; Tobacco Free Campus Task Force Chair; co-chair USC Aiken Fundraising campaign; exercise and sport science academic advisor; adjunct faculty; and General Advisor to Zeta Tau Alpha. Prior to her role at U of SC Aiken, Mila held professional positions at Ohio University and Oakland University (Michigan) with responsibilities in fitness, wellness, programming and facilities. She has been involved in the opening of three recreation and wellness facilities on three different campuses throughout her career within higher education.
Mila has been an active and engaged member of NIRSA for over 25 years. Her leadership involvement has been consistent throughout her career at the state, regional, and national level. She has been a member of multiple host committees for NIRSA state and regional workshops and a member of several work teams including the NIRSA Fitness Institute, MIRSA Student Scholarship Committee, NIRSA Student Leadership and Development Committee, Region II Conference Program Chair, and NIRSA Executive Leadership Task Force.
At the national level, Mila has served as the NIRSA Program co-chair for the Annual Conference, chair of the NIRSA School of Collegiate Recreation as well as faculty for four years, chair of the Leadership Commission Work Team, and is currently serving on the NIRSA Small Programs Council. Mila has presented at the state, regional, and national levels for NIRSA, Athletic Business, and the American College of Sports Medicine.
What role do you envision for collegiate recreation in higher education?
NIRSA’s vision states “NIRSA is a premier association of leaders in higher education, inspiring healthy people and healthy communities worldwide.”
I believe that collegiate recreation has the ability to be the catalyst in transforming the health and wellbeing of its community. To realize our vision we must be steadfast in our commitment to our strategic values and diligent in the evaluation to determine if we are providing the resources and guidance that our membership requires in order to “inspire healthy people and healthy communities worldwide.”
To do this, I believe we need to be fierce advocates for collaboration and create the space and understanding of how each area on a college campus affects the overall sense of wellbeing. Only then, when we generate synergy between divisions, will we truly influence and transform our communities.
Collegiate recreation needs to continuously evolve and adapt with the goal of remaining relevant in a quickly changing world. We need to be asking ourselves does this continue to add value to our vision and values or is a more forward-thinking approach needed to elicit change?
Lastly, and certainly not least, we need to endlessly search for significant allies that have the same end vision of tackling health and wellbeing; aspire to provide inclusive and welcoming spaces for everyone; seek advanced strategies to deliver a sustainable future; embrace the value of service and civic engagement; and truly look at our work from a global perspective.
As an organization, NIRSA has the professionals who will influence and inspire higher education by providing the environment that creates trust and ultimately enables entities to come together; and to positively impact campus culture.
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?
NIRSA will be a driving force in an integrated approach to health and wellbeing: The health and wellbeing of our communities is complex and it will take multiple entities working in conjunction to impact the overall culture. For NIRSA to be a driving force, we need to continue initiating conversations on what it means to be holistic and engage in the tough conversations that break down the historical silos. NIRSA needs to continue creating resource guides that are relevant and accessible for the membership, and that address integral components of wellbeing such as the “Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Resource Guide” and the “Guide to Health & Wellbeing Resources.” In addition, NIRSA must explore evidence-based practices that move initiatives forward and engage with individuals who have similar goals and objectives pertaining to health and wellbeing but may attack the issues from a different platform.
NIRSA will advocate for the impact of our profession; advance the understanding that campus recreation professionals are higher education professionals impacting student success: The programs, services, and facilities that are offered at each of our institutions on a daily basis have a significant impact on student success. NIRSA will continue to evolve our professional development offerings to give context, understanding and evidence that surrounds our work in relation to the support of student success. Providing a framework for our profession that highlights competencies not only for best practice in each respective area but also with high impact practices for higher education as a whole.
NIRSA will evolve NIRSA’s structures to cultivate timely, relevant, and accessible learning opportunities: In order for NIRSA to remain relevant, an evaluation of educational opportunities should occur on a regular basis for content, organization, and delivery. Sunsetting methods or revamping formats should be an exciting opportunity and not thought of as a failure. As technology evolves so should the framework and creation of platforms to efficiently reach our membership. I also believe as NIRSA’s professional demographic continues to expand we should continue to strategically search out professional partnerships with organizations that complement our strategic values.
What attributes, experiences and knowledge could you contribute to the NIRSA Board of Directors that speak to the competency based requirements?
I have a deep pride and passion for what NIRSA stands for and feel that I have conveyed this over the past twenty-five years by engaging in conversations and actions that preserve the history of NIRSA while looking forward to the future. I truly believe the opportunity we have to influence change within our respective communities is powerful and makes a difference in the lives of the people we serve.
I have served NIRSA in multiple capacities that have showcased my strengths while at the same time provided growth to me as a leader. I was one of six professionals that served in a three-year capacity as a faculty member for the NIRSA School of Collegiate Recreation, a one-week intensive professional development opportunity that dives into self-discovery, challenges thought, and showcases the dynamic of working with a team.
I chaired the Leadership Commission for two years, which led to the creation of a resource guide for professionals through the use of the NDSL Sourcebook “Developing Leadership Capacity through Recreation and Athletics.” This guide focuses on strategies to implement within your department that are aimed at improving student leadership capacity. I have served as the NIRSA Annual Conference Program co- chair and had oversight of the educational content and program schedule. In 2015, myself and a colleague began to focus on women and leadership and created the NIRSA preconference workshop titled Women Leading Women. This endeavor highlighted mentorship and interventions for success specifically for women throughout their professional trajectory within collegiate recreation. I currently serve as a member of the Small Programs Council where a team of professionals from universities of less than 5,000 students and/or five professionals or less collaborate to provide guidance and advocacy for universities with limited resources.
If you were to ask those that have worked with me on any of these various projects, I believe they would describe me as a relationship builder at heart and that my core beliefs in leading follow these principles. I collaborate, reach across the table, and believe in a team approach that provides an atmosphere of trust that I hope allows individuals to speak their truth. I ask questions to seek understanding and, above all, I listen. I believe in leading from a framework that builds community and I am genuinely committed to the growth of others.
I have been afforded opportunities within NIRSA to lead, to grow and to make a difference. I believe this comes in multiple formats but ultimately it is vital to be an engaged collegiate recreation professional. I believe that as professionals, we should continuously strive to learn and do better than we did the day before. In addition, I believe we need to intentionally create relationships with individuals within the entire higher education framework, to value how each area impacts student success, and to work together to instill community health and wellbeing.