Dr. Jen Gudaz is the Director of Physical Education and Recreational Services at Cornell University. Jen holds a Doctorate of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University and has degrees from The College at Brockport and Washington State University.
At Cornell University, Jen was previously the Director of the Noyes Recreation Center and the Director of the Cornell Fitness Centers. During this time, Jen also worked as a professor of Recreation Management at Ithaca College.
On campus, Jen currently serves on the Student and Campus Life Divisional Leadership Team, Diversity Recruitment and Retention Team, North Campus Residential Housing Expansion Team, Cornell Outdoor Education Advisory Board, Faculty and Staff Wellness Advisory Committee, Faculty Advisory Committee for Athletics and Physical Education, and Delta Gamma Advisory Team. In recent years, Jen has served on the campus hazing committee, Greek Judicial Review Board, Mental Health Programmers work team, Student Leadership Network, The American Red Cross Health and Safety Board, and as the United Way Ambassador.
Prior to Cornell, Jen was the Aquatics, Youth Programs, and Climbing Wall Coordinator at Western Washington University.
Jen first became a member of NIRSA in 2001. Over the years, she served the Association as the Chair of the Member Network and Board of Directors visiting member, Region I Representative, Assembly, Nominations and Appointments Committee, Bylaws Committee, New York State Director, Washington State Director, Regional Realignment Work Team, and several work teams, task forces, and committees.
Jen is a member of the Legacy Society and committed to supporting the NIRSA Foundation in various ways. In addition, Jen has hosted the Region I Conference, Ivy League Meetings, and served on the host committee for the Region VI Conference; worked various regional flag football and basketball tournaments; and presented at various Regional, Annual, and Canadian NIRSA conferences.
In her spare time, you will find Jen with her husband as they seek out their next adventure on a bike, surfboard, snowboard, or boat.
What role do you envision for collegiate recreation in higher education?
Many recreation professionals have a vision for collegiate recreation to be a key player at the decision-making table. I believe we can be more than just a player. My vision is for collegiate recreation to be at the forefront of supporting our students and campus communities. We will have the respect of our leadership and faculty, by showing, with the latest research and trends, how collegiate recreation supports all of our students.
We need to understand and articulate what we want our role to be on campus and have the research that supports our vision.
The first part of my vision is for collegiate recreation facilities to be a place that creates belonging, relationships, and health. We want to be the place where students want to work, the place to which our colleagues in student employment direct students, and the place that has a reputation for developing and preparing students to leave college and enter the workforce. Research shows that students persist and thrive on campus when they have a feeling of belonging. We can create that sense of belonging, those relationships, and the healthful life for the entire campus community. We can be a place where every person can find an activity to enjoy and a community where they belong.
On many campuses, we are that place, but not all of our counterparts understand our value. Although we have been busy growing our programs and facilities over the last 25 years, we now must shift and grow our reputation: we are more than just a fun place on campus.
The second part of my vision is for collegiate recreation to be the entity working with our health centers to improve student health and wellness. In the book Spark, Ratey clarifies the value that physical activity has on students when they participate in physical activity before class as well as the value it has on mental health. One would think this would be enough information to convince the academic side of our institutions that all students need physical activity before attending class; therefore, the academic side of the institution should be pushing the value of collegiate recreation as well.
The third part of my vision is for research to elevate our status on campus: Collegiate recreation research has come a long way over the last 30 years—I know, as someone who has suffered through numerous rewrites of a dissertation, a task that requires reviewing literature in our field. My vision is more research that reaches and relates to all campus communities. Whether the campus has 500 or 50,000 students; whether public or private; or whether HBCU, Canadian, or any number of other differences—we need research breadth and depth to relate to any of our campuses that have collegiate recreation. Yet the data also needs to be specific and relatable enough, so that we can show how it relates to our specific campus community.
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?
During my time as NIRSA President, I would like to see NIRSA focus on and achieve results with these three priorities:
Increased research that supports our profession: Currently, an assortment of research spreads among areas of collegiate recreation. For instance, NIRSA currently has the aging Kerr Downs report and the NIRSA/NASPA Consortium research, but neither is all encompassing for the diverse populations within NIRSA.
NIRSA needs to have research that institutions can tailor to (and use to support) our needs. I will work to increase research that will support a broad range of institutions and populations. For example, I will collaborate with NIRSA researchers and our partners to build a research study that is cost effective for all institutions to participate.
Through collaboration and partnerships throughout higher education, I hope to support current and future research that will benefit our field. I believe it is important for institutions to have research that shows the value of our presence on campus. I also hope to show the value that we can have working collaboratively with other departments on campus: e.g., collaborations with our health centers can further demonstrate the value that physical activity brings to mental health, wellbeing, and even academic success.
Increased reach globally to collegiate recreation professionals: I will work to increase the global reach of NIRSA and collegiate recreation. As the Chair of the Member Network, I worked on this topic with the Regional Realignment Work Team and Canada.
But more work remains to be done: NIRSA as a whole needs to start strategically working with other countries, as appropriate, to share our wealth of knowledge and help programs grow. NIRSA is the leading association within collegiate recreation: NIRSA members come from the premiere institutions in collegiate recreation. With the knowledge we have gained over the last 25+ years of building facilities and programs, we can support our global colleagues that may be building programs or are looking to expand. I will prioritize work to continue to explore where we can benefit our global partners in collegiate recreation.
Increased leadership development: I will increase leadership-development opportunities across the Association. NIRSA is a leader in student development, and so to continue being a leader, we need to invest in our middle managers and directors. These professionals, too, need further development. In partnership with the current board of directors, I want to provide an executive institute. I will talk with and learn from current members to better understand the needs of middle managers; then, we can use that information to provide appropriate leadership development.
What attributes, experiences and knowledge could you contribute to the NIRSA Board of Directors that speak to the competency based requirements?
I will contribute a great deal to the NIRSA Board of Directors: namely, my knowledge, strategic planning experience, critical-thinking skills, and leadership.
My knowledge: For 20+ years, I gained collegiate recreation knowledge as a student, professional staff, professor, and volunteer. I’ve worked in aquatics, intramural sports, club sports, facilities, outdoor pursuits, youth programs, fitness, and as the Director of Physical Education and Recreational Services. Those experiences offered vast knowledge about what it takes for our programs to be successful (internally and externally).
Additionally, I spent a semester as a student at the University of Manitoba. Months abroad gave me direct exposure to Canadian collegiate recreation: I better understand how serve their students.
For years, I’ve also served NIRSA in many capacities that helped me grow: the Member Network, Board of Directors, Assembly, Nominations and Appointments, Bylaws Committee, State Director, and volunteer.
Strategic planning experience: As Region I Representative, Chair to the Member Network, and Board of Directors participant, I assisted the NIRSA President with the current strategic plan and led the Member Network to contribute to the plan, and building in and aligning their goals.
Moreover, I have led strategic initiatives and planning at the department level and division level at Cornell.
Critical thinking skills: Strategic planning and major initiatives require communication, strategic thinking, and critical thinking about complex issues. That thinking reveals where an organization is and makes clear where to best position for the future.
In my current position, I am tasked with critically thinking about how I can best move my team of 50+ professional staff forward—with little money from the institution and in the reality of 60-year-old facilities. I analyze information, gather more as needed, and seek to understand the situations so that I can lead my team and grow our program.
Leadership: Although I have a doctorate in interdisciplinary leadership, I don’t rely on credentials or degrees to be a leader. I believe that a leader is someone that works for the team, listens, reflects, and is respected by those around them for their actions as a leader. My leadership skills have been displayed in my leadership positions within NIRSA and at Cornell.
Within NIRSA, I led the Member Network for two years by supporting my team and decisions they made with member input. At Cornell, I’ve been a successful leader for many reasons: mainly by knowing and understanding my whole team and their individual values.
Although I don’t put myself above anyone else, I have the courage to step up and be the leader when a situation demands it. Leadership takes will, perseverance, and heart. Perhaps my clearest example of these traits comes from completing my first Ironman in September 2017. The mental resolve required is tremendous to complete a 14-hour race, despite the physical challenges and mental anguish when the going gets tough. But I did it. And I am confident that my mental toughness, paired with my listening to and respect of others, will make me a successful NIRSA president.