Dr. Cara McFadden is an Associate Professor for the Sport Management department in the School of Communications at Elon University. Her career began as a graduate assistant at Central Michigan University. Cara holds a Bachelor of Science in Sport Management, Master of Arts in Recreation Administration, and Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with an emphasis in Higher Education. Cara served as the Coordinator of Facilities for URec at Central Michigan University and as Assistant Professor for the Sport and Recreation Management Program at James Madison University. Cara’s leadership mindset is a thread in all she does as an active NIRSA member and a collegiate recreation professional.
Cara has served in various roles at Elon University: Faculty Fellow for Leadership Education, Chair for Student Life Committee, Research Seminar Leader for Residential Learning Communities, Member of the Campus Recreation & Wellness Advisory Council, Faculty Director for the Wellness & Leadership Campus Themed Neighborhood, Faculty Advisor for the Health & Wellness Living Learning Community, Board Member for the Leadership Studies Advisory Board, Member of the University Curriculum Committee, Coordinator of Assessment for Sport Management, and Facilitator for the Consortium of Diversity and Inclusion Community Experts.
As a collegiate recreation professional for 18 years, Cara is an engaged member of NIRSA. Her leadership involvement has predominantly been at the national level, including NIRSA Assembly, Faculty for the NIRSA School of Collegiate Recreation, Co-Convener for the NIRSA Leadership Commission, NIRSA Program Chair for the Annual Conference, NIRSA Strategic Planning Task Force, NIRSA Research and Assessment Committee, Facilitator for the NIRSA Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Summit, and NIRSA Governance Committee. During Cara’s time serving as the Co-Convener for the Leadership Commission from 2012–2015 her dedicated work led to an opportunity to serve as co-editor for a source book titled Student Leadership Development through Recreation and Athletics. The book is significant for collegiate recreation and higher education with over 800 NIRSA institutional members receiving a copy. Cara has presented at the state, regional, national and international levels for NIRSA, ACPA, NASPA, and ILA.
What role do you envision for collegiate recreation in higher education?
NIRSA’s value proposition states, “NIRSA provides the best professional development offerings, the best networking opportunities, and the best resources so that campus recreation and wellbeing professionals can inspire healthy people and healthy communities worldwide.”
To measure the impact of our contributions as collegiate recreation professionals we must consider our overarching proposition to be the “best” in all we do. We must consider the substance, reach, and relevancy of what we do and be able to demonstrate our influence in collegiate recreation, higher education and society as a whole to inspire healthy people and healthy communities worldwide. With the continued press for accountability in the higher education landscape, collegiate recreation professionals will be responsible for providing evidence in our contributions toward recreational programming, services, facilities and student success.
1. We will demonstrate substance. To do this, we will address challenging problems through research-based evidence, partnerships with experts in areas of health and wellbeing, and collaborations across our campuses related to student success. Our objective is to deliver tangible outcomes to assist us in meeting our strategic planning goals and to advocate for the advancement of recreation, sport and wellbeing.
2. We will demonstrate reach. To do this, we will address the challenges in the higher education environment and reach across the table to our partners on our campuses regarding concerns related to the health and wellbeing in our communities. In addition, we will want to continue to develop partnerships with higher education associations and health and wellbeing organizations to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
3. We will demonstrate relevancy. To do this, professionals will need to continue to assess specific program, facility, management, and operational goals by providing quality evidence. To accomplish relevancy we will be responsible for addressing strategic planning priorities and securing data that promotes collegiate recreation efforts to the ever-shifting landscape of the collegiate recreation field.
We have an opportunity to thrive as an association by engaging in action on our campuses, our communities and the world. We will accomplish this by living out our strategic values (Leadership, Health & Wellbeing, Service, Sustainable Communities, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, and Global Perspective).
I believe our role and responsibility is to pay attention to the diverse higher education and institutional goals while being an integral part of the contemporary university environment.
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?
1. Integrative approach of our strategic values. To develop an integrative approach of our values we will engage in holistic approaches to wellbeing that promote healthy lifestyles. Creating intentional opportunities to share our story for how our values are moving health and wellbeing initiatives across the association, on our campuses and our communities. We are already making dynamic strides in the areas of our values. I believe we will embrace past accomplishments, engage with current projects and develop strategies to meet future obstacles by developing intentional initiatives.
To create healthy people and communities we strive to live out the goals to be sustainable (economic, environmental, social). To meet the expectations of social sustainability we want to create programs, services and facilities that are inclusive, equitable, and diverse. By integrating the EDI (Equity, Diversity & Inclusion) and Leadership values, we can tap into the overlaps to accomplish our vision as leaders in higher education. To assist in accomplishing this goal we will develop our ability as professionals to engage in socio-cultural conversations and difficult dialogue about pressing issues that lead to productive decision making.
2. Advocate for the campus recreation profession. Education of our membership is key to advance the understanding that campus recreation professionals are higher education professionals contributing to student success. Finding intentional avenues to develop our members is important. I believe in connecting with members informally and formally to advocate for collegiate recreation. I believe as a collaborator, who builds partnerships; I commit myself to actively listening, dialoguing about difficult situations, and synthesizing information from a variety of sources.
I believe we will continue to provide intentional educational opportunities for professionals in the various sub-fields (facilities, fitness, aquatics, intramurals, sport clubs, outdoors) while also acknowledging our responsibility to develop practitioners who are educators that intentionally contribute to student learning and student success with an overarching goal to inspire healthy people and communities.
3. Elevate our relevancy. To best prepare our professionals for tomorrow we will need to continue to review our professional development offerings for relevancy as our profession evolves. To be relevant, we have a personal responsibility to continue our professional development as well as the development of our colleagues and students.
After the formation of NIRSA’s strategic values, we have made important gains to elevate our relevancy by contributions from the values commission work teams. A series of models are available and aimed at assisting members and practitioners to translate our strategic values into practice. For example, the Sustainability Commission published, Valuing Sustainability in Collegiate Recreation and the Health & Wellness Commission published, Valuing Health and Wellbeing in Collegiate Recreation Model. To follow suit, during my time serving on the Leadership Commission our efforts led me to an opportunity to co-edit a publication titled, “Developing Leadership Capacity through Recreation and Athletics” that provides context for developing students’ leadership capacity.
We will cultivate timely and accessible learning opportunities for our members, partners in higher education and others outside the walls of campus recreation through substance, reach and relevancy.
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-rooted passion for advancing collegiate recreation. I have made purposeful decisions related to my contributions through service, education, and research. My commitment to collegiate recreation is invaluable. I believe in the development of professionals and students. I am an engaged member that serves NIRSA and higher education and an advocate of our strategic values.
I believe I have a growth mindset, I understand that I have certain talents and knowledge that I bring to our profession, however, I see my qualities as being something that can be developed through continuous dedication and effort. I stay abreast of best practices for the industry and the higher education environment.
I have served NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation in multiple capacities. I was one of six professionals in the industry to serve as a faculty member for three years for our professional school, NIRSA School for Collegiate Recreation that is a one-week intensive school for professionals at different times in their career. Coinciding with my time as faculty for the NIRSA School, I co-convened the Leadership Commission and later co-edited a source book titled, “Developing Leadership Capacity through Recreation and Athletics.” From this work, I have led multiple presentations, workshops and consulting regarding civil discourse and decision making strategies during complex times. I served as the NIRSA Annual Conference Program Chair for the 2016 conference and had the responsibility of oversight for all of the educational content for our annual conference. Recently, I served on the Strategic Planning Task Force to assist in the development of the next strategic plan for NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation for 2018–2021.
With the myriad examples listed regarding my service, it is important to point out my intentionality regarding opportunities to serve NIRSA. I have been deliberate in choosing service so that I am able to contribute in meaningful ways that align with my passions and highlight my strengths. In addition, many of these experiences have overflowed into my teaching and scholarship activities at my university and my commitment to higher education as a whole. To develop our capacity as collegiate recreation practitioners and educators, my hope for all of us is that we intentionally tap into the strengths and talents of our members at all levels of the Association.
I believe it is important to be an engaged collegiate recreation professional. To do this by interacting with members and colleagues to assist in building relationships across collegiate recreation, and contribute to the development of our members. In addition, I believe it is imperative to be engaged in the wider higher education community as a key stakeholder at the table to inspire healthy people and community worldwide.