Project Description

NIRSA Elections
NIRSA Elections

Candidate for Region II Student Leader

Katherine Totten
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Biography/Summary Resume

Katherine Totten entered into the field of collegiate recreation during her first term as an undergraduate student at the University of Oregon. She started as an intramural volleyball referee before making the transition to Operations, working as an equipment issue attendant. Katherine worked all four years at her university’s recreation center, holding positions such as Operations Specialist, Operations Manager, and Equipment Issue Lead. It was after attending her first conference that Katherine decided to pursue a career in this field, drawn in by the incredible relationships and support that she witnessed within the NIRSA community. Katherine’s experience with collegiate recreation has been incredibly impactful, and she is the first to tell you how being involved with collegiate recreation changed her college experience, helping her feel a deeper connection with her university and allowing her to meet her closest friends.

Katherine is now at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she is working as the Facilities Graduate Assistant and pursuing a master’s degree in recreation and sport management.

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.

Collegiate recreation is one of the most beneficial and simultaneously one of the most underrecognized benefits to the student experience in my opinion. A majority of students either use the facilities or participate in programs offered consistently across the nation, and this means we are reaching a huge population of students and they are being impacted by what we are providing for them. We are helping students who are often experiencing major life changes find ways to stay active and healthy throughout their college experiences. These students are likely living on their own for the first time, making their own decisions on what to eat and do with their free time, and without help, this can potentially lead to unhealthy life choices. Collegiate recreation provides the opportunity to establish healthy habits, like regular exercise, such as group fitness classes, personal training, or open recreation, as well as education resources to learn about living a lifestyle dedicated to holistic wellbeing.

In addition to the health benefit that involvement in collegiate recreation can provide, it can also have impacts that are less tangible. Involvement in collegiate recreation services can improve retention rates, improve transferable skills (such as time management and communication skills), and what I think is most important, establish a sense of belonging. There are so many different avenues of involvement opportunities and this can be anywhere from engaging in programs to being employed by the department, and because the involvement opportunities are so diverse, it allows a wide variety of people the chance to find a group that resonates with them where they can feel like they belong. This is something that I strongly relate to, as my involvement with collegiate recreation allowed me to form connections that I never would have made otherwise.

Before my employment at my campus recreation center, I did not feel like I had a strong support system, mentors, or a connection to my university beyond attending classes. A few months into my employment I felt a deeper connection to the university through my engagement with recreation, and I participated in more campus events than I ever thought I would. I was able to meet my closest friends through working at my recreation center, and this alone is something that makes me forever grateful to my recreation experience. But I also had the chance to attend NIRSA conferences and develop a passion for this field, that has led me to pursue a career in collegiate recreation. Collegiate recreation has many fun aspects that make it easier to gain participants, but it is crucial to recognize and support the lifechanging impacts it can have on student success, both academically, socially, and professionally.

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 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 context of the NIRSA Strategic Plan, I think one issue that students face today is understanding the value of their experience in collegiate recreation and knowing how the skills they gain in this field are transferable to their future careers, be that in collegiate recreation or elsewhere. I believe this relates to the Strategic Plan because it coincides with the process of advocating for our profession and providing relevant and accessible learning opportunities. In my experience, many of the students I have worked with in collegiate recreation are aware that their job is cool but not enough of them are realizing the variety of the ways their job is allowing them to develop a number of transferable job skills, many of which are listed as NACE core competencies, such as critical thinking, teamwork/collaboration, leadership, etc. Hiring committees are looking for people that check boxes yes, but it is just as important to employ people that are competent and experienced handling situations that could be similar to those they might experience at their organization. This is where I see a strong disconnect.

Student employees are enforcing policies daily, but they are not recognizing that enforcing dress code policies can translate into communication skills, or that being a facility supervisor is experience in leadership and professionalism. Recently, I have seen some effort to encourage students to understand the development opportunities they are presented with. I have seen multiple education sessions at NIRSA conferences that are speaking on this specific topic, which I think is an excellent start to address this issue. The problem that remains is that this is only reaching the individuals that are attending the conferences, while this information about the impact their employment has on their futures should be available to all students, even those that do not attend NIRSA conferences. We are invested in the success of all our students, not just the ones involved in NIRSA and looking to pursue a collegiate recreation career. The question is now, how can we reach this part of students if they aren’t engaging with NIRSA?

I think it must begin with create resources for student employees that won’t require they belong to an organization they don’t have present interest in. This can be blog posts about resumes, experiences on the job that you used in interviews, campus services to take advantage of, messages from collegiate recreation graduates that both work in the field and that don’t (and how their journeys compare), and it can be video clips that we think are important, that we film ourselves talking about relevant topics, and so much more. I think that we, as the Student Leadership Team, can put a lot more effort into engaging with students that aren’t members, and maybe as a result they do sign up for NIRSA memberships and become interested in the field, but as long as they are gaining valuable information on how to be successful, it will be enough. This would require a great deal of buy-in from our member institutions, as we would rely on them a lot to help us distribute this material since we would want it to reach more than just our current members, but I think it is a feasible goal.

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 past few years that I have been involved with NIRSA, I have tried to maintain a consistent level of involvement. To list some of my involvement experiences, I presented at a regional and state conference, volunteered at the registration tables, at the NIRSA Foundation table, and as a session monitor, as well as serving as the Oregon State Student Leader, during which I helped plan Region VI Student Lead-on, and plan and host the Oregon State Meeting.

At my institutions, I have served on a number of hiring committees, advisory boards, training teams, and professional development workshops. These experiences have helped me develop skills that will allow me to be successful as the Region II Student Leader, based on some of the duties outlined in the position description. I have helped plan workshops, collaborate with regional and state representatives, actively participated in conference calls, and more. I believe I am qualified to be an advocate for the students of this organization because I am willing to fight for their best interests. It can be a difficult thing to speak up when you are new to a role, and unsure of the dynamics of the position, but that is something that I think I can bring to the table.

This is not to say that I will challenge every existing structure in place, but when something is not serving the students as well as it could be, I will not hesitate to draw attention to it. I am one to speak my mind, and I think this is necessary for a role where we are representing a member group that does not have the strongest voice in our organization because they are new and aren’t sure what they should be advocating for. My role as an Advisory Board Member for the University of Oregon Student Recreation Center was incredibly beneficial in building my confidence in these situations where it was necessary to bring attention to issues that were occurring in order to best represent the student’s users of the facility.

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?

When thinking about my skills in a broad sense, some that come to mind is my commitment, attention to detail, and team-based mindset. When undertaking a task, I am going to devote myself fully to it. I don’t take on responsibilities such as this without fully understanding the dedication required to be successful at it, and I won’t undertake something that I don’t think I can devote the necessary amount of time and effort to the tasks. I am a detail-oriented worker, and this means that while I can operate in big picture mindsets, my greatest strength comes from taking one the big picture ideas and breaking it down to a detailed plan to realize the goal. I think this is crucial to be able to successfully implement new ideas and programs, and it is something that I enjoy the process of.

Finally, I thrive in team-based operations. I have always been a part of teams, from athletics to my work history, and I believe that teams can be functional if people are able to recognize where their strengths lie and how they best fit into the team dynamic. This means that not everyone can be a leader, and that some people will perform better when they are given tasks that capitalize on their personal strengths. These personal strengths will allow me to take on the initiatives that the Student Leadership Team decides on and play my part in getting us to the end goal that best serves our student members. When focusing on member recruitment & retention and student development, I hope that I can leave a lasting impression on this field.

The perspective that I specifically bring to the table is one of a woman working in a historically male-dominated field. I have been fortunate enough to have some incredibly strong female mentors in this field, and that has benefitted me more than I can describe. Because of these influences I have had over the course of my involvement in collegiate recreation, I have been able to recognize my own strengths in the work I do. This is something that I hope to carry on. I want to provide the same strong female role model for student members that I benefited from then and still do currently. When students see people that they can relate to in leadership positions, it shows them that they can achieve it also. And that is the type of impact I want to have.

NIRSA Elections: Katherine Totten