Project Description

NIRSA Elections
NIRSA Elections

Candidate for Region II Student Leader

Kaleigh Gabriel
Clemson University

Biography/Summary Resume

Kaleigh is Graduate Assistant for Fitness and Wellness at Clemson University (CU). She is pursuing a master’s degree in counselor education with a concentration in student affairs and is expected to graduate from CU in May 2022. She is originally from Concord, North Carolina and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Dance Studies with a Minor in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) in May 2019. At UNCG, Kaleigh worked as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, patron service assistant, and program assistant for group fitness. In addition, Kaleigh spent the 2019–2020 school year working as a graduate, research, and teaching assistant at UNCG. In developing her passion for all aspects of campus recreation, she has served as an Annual Conference volunteer, regional presenter, Region II Communications Committee member, and as a co-chair for the Region II Student Lead-On Committee.

Please provide a statement of your personal views on the role and contributions of collegiate recreation in higher education. In your response describe how collegiate recreation has influenced your development.

Campus recreation is a gateway for change and a huge tool for students to utilize while navigating through college. Before understanding all that campus rec encompasses, I would have assumed that the recreation facility at any school was nothing more than a place where students worked out. However, through multiple personal experiences and learning about the experiences of my peers and coworkers, I have seen firsthand the ways campus rec has provided a safe, inclusive, and playful environment for students.

No matter what a student’s interests are, campus recreation can provide opportunities for everyone. Whether individuals step into the buildings to crush a workout, hang out with a friend, or take a break from the chaos of school in a wellness lounge, campus recreation is there to provide them a space to do so. When students are welcomed into a place they maybe were not sure they belonged, their sense of belonging can skyrocket and act as a catalyst for them to become more involved in campus activities and events.

Campus recreation provides student employees the opportunity to not only work with student members, but community members, faculty, and staff members as well. I never imagined I would have the opportunity to connect with faculty and staff members like I did while working at UNC-Greensboro (UNCG). Teaching yoga for employees, working with staff members through personal training, and helping out with events across campus, my network of individuals grew more than I could have ever imagined. While a campus recreation department only makes up a small part of a greater institution, the way its programs expand across the campus community can have an immeasurable impact.

Campus rec can also provide an essential support system for its student employees. When talking about mentorship prior to my experiences in recreation, I never realized how essential it is to have someone encouraging and guiding you in your role. In addition, from the start of my graduate assistantship, my previous supervisor made it a point to recognize my humanness instead of solely seeing me as a student and employee. I am a highly relational person to begin with, and knowing she valued not only my work but also my person, allowed me to see the drastic impact a supervisor and leader can have on an individual.

Through studying student affairs, it is a growing priority to see students from a holistic perspective. Navigating through my roles in recreation, I have been constantly reminded that the only way forward is through. When we allow ourselves to lean into each other for support, come together, and work towards a common goal, that’s when amazing things can happen.

Within the context of the NIRSA Strategic Plan, what area/item would you say is a major issue students face today? Please identify a student driven issue that we are currently face today and you would like to address during your term. How will you create solutions in your role on the Student Leadership Team to address it?

Within the 2018–2021 NIRSA Strategic Plan, a priority is to be a driving force in an integrated approach to health and wellbeing. NIRSA recognizes that supporting students on a personal, social, and professional level is key to their development. While supporting students has always been an integral part of collegiate rec, the current climate of today’s world and the changes occurring within higher education make supporting students even more of a necessity. Raising voices, offering space, and initiating hard conversations is and will continue to be a crucial aspect of addressing overall wellbeing among students.

As a transfer student, I never imagined I would have such a positive experience entering a new school and a new recreation center surrounded by all new people. The transition was smooth, but it was not seamless, and my hope is to bring awareness to the fact that change is hard in whatever capacity you are facing it. There is no doubt that students are struggling, arguably more than ever, to engage and connect and have the experiences they thought they were signing up for. The amount of loss, change, and unfamiliar territory associated with COVID-19 has also left many students struggling to simply feel like they belong.

I believe the efforts of collegiate rec professionals and all staff members of colleges and universities to engage and connect with students through these new, ever-changing circumstances should continue to be celebrated. However, I will never dismiss the impact that simply listening and hearing pieces of someone else’s story can have on an individual.

Social media and virtual platforms have become incredibly useful as avenues for change and discussion, and the opportunities platforms have brought to the table seem unlimited. Both undergraduate and graduate students are facing a multitude of stressors, so using my background in dance and love for movement I would like to create a virtual fitness and wellness webpage for students where NIRSA members from multiple regions can participate and add content—such as participant or student staff highlights, wellness calendar templates, and 15-minute “brain break” videos of activities from all different program areas, and workshop ideas—to a virtual fitness and wellness library. Every institution takes a different approach to how they run programs, so having a place to house together ideas, initiatives, and fitness and wellness challenges can take the concept of collaboration to another level.

In describing your contributions to NIRSA (i.e. presentations, volunteering, previous leadership roles, etc,), identify how your involvement and experiences meet the position criteria and qualify you to advocate for and serve the students of the Association.

In the spring of 2016, I began my role as a group fitness instructor at Wingate University. After transferring to the University of North Carolina Greensboro later that year, I soon realized that a career in collegiate recreation was a field I was interested in pursuing. Out of all the things collegiate recreation has taught me, learning to value people, relationships, and the impact community can have on college students have by far been the most important.

After two years of working in collegiate rec, I attended my first regional conference as a NIRSA member in the fall of 2018. I had no expectations in attending this conference but was immediately captivated by being surrounded by so many people who shared similar passions to my own. Shortly after attending, working as a group fitness instructor seemed like only a small steppingstone to all of the opportunities that NIRSA holds for its students.

Later, I found myself not only working as a group fitness instructor, but also gaining experience as a patron service assistant, program assistant, and personal trainer. Through conversations with class participants and clients, building relationships with staff members, troubleshooting problems in a new facility, and recruiting, training, hiring, and supervising a group of 30+ fitness instructors, I was able to practice critical thinking and problem-solving skills, in addition to seeing and understanding perspectives outside of my own.

In spring of 2019, I attended and volunteered at my first NIRSA Annual Conference and later became a student member for the Region II Communications Committee for the 2019–2020 year. Continuing to network with individuals across the Region and search for graduate assistantships, I ultimately landed myself outside of collegiate rec as an academic graduate, research, and teaching assistant at UNCG. While continuing to work as a personal trainer throughout this role, I had the unique opportunity to see gaps in the student experience that academia simply cannot fill, and I was constantly reminded of the vital role that collegiate recreation holds on campuses.

Throughout the past several months, I have had the incredible opportunity to work alongside the Region II Student Leader as a co-chair for this year’s Student-Lead On Committee. While working to create this year’s Virtual Student Lead-On is far from ideal circumstances, my role in this process—from leading meetings to creating conference graphics for multiple NIRSA regions to expanding my network of individuals—has motivated me even more to continue showing up for myself and others, no matter the circumstance.

Since starting my Fitness and Wellness Graduate Assistantship at Clemson University, I have had the chance to step up and lead a team of group fitness instructors and fitness and wellness interns. I believe it is essential for students to feel seen, heard, and valued by their supervisors, peers, and coworkers, and my commitment to advocate for and connect students to professional staff members, NIRSA opportunities, and other campus resources will guide my efforts in holding a student leadership position.

As a Student Leader within NIRSA, you have the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the field of collegiate recreation. With a focus on Student Member Recruitment & Retention, and Student Development what skills, talents, and perspectives would you bring to the Student Leadership Team?

Roughly three years ago, I vowed that I would always see myself as a learner, no matter what position or title I hold. In addition, I told myself that I would no longer wait for a door to open in order to make an impact on others, but rather focus on leaving an impact in small, ordinary ways in my daily life. As a regional student leader, I would continue my attempt to bring joy into ordinary moments through conversation and collaboration.

Completing my undergraduate degree in dance, I had the unique opportunity to work with individuals from across the globe and share experiences with them both inside and outside the classroom. Processing with and moving alongside individuals with the collective nature of music bringing us together, I was able to experience an embodiment of collaboration that I would have never experienced anywhere else.

In my current role, I am primarily responsible for recruiting, training, and managing group fitness instructors as well as a team of fitness and wellness interns. In doing so, I have had the opportunity to appropriately challenge them with tasks and responsibilities, as well as support them through their graduate assistantships and job searches. Communication, honesty, and adaptability are three of my core values, so sprinkling this into the way I supervise my staff has also been key to them moving forward in a positive manner.

It would be my hope as a regional student leader to acknowledge and celebrate the perspectives and strengths of everyone in the room as I have learned that doing so can only heighten the connection between individuals. Through supporting one another and showing up for ourselves and those around us, the Student Leadership Team will be able to recruit, develop, and radicalize the impact of collegiate recreation as a whole.

NIRSA Elections: Kaleigh Gabriel