Project Description

NIRSA Elections
NIRSA Elections

Candidate for Region III Student Leader

Aliyah Valdez
Ohio State University

Biography/Summary Resume

Aliyah Valdez earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in sport and exercise science. It was at UCF’s recreation and wellness center that Aliyah began her career in collegiate recreation. In Fitness, Aliyah became a group exercise instructor to increase her involvement at the rec center. After attending EVOLVE Fitness Symposium and presenting on inclusive cueing, Aliyah realized that development, education, and supporting of students was her passion. To pursue her goals within collegiate recreation, Aliyah got involved in NIRSA. She served as the State Student Leader of Florida and was involved in the mentor/mentee program. Three years later, Aliyah is currently Group Fitness Graduate Administrative Associate at the Ohio State University, studying higher education and student affairs.

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.

I strongly believe that collegiate recreation plays a crucial role in helping college campuses work toward their goals and missions to help and support students. Collegiate recreation offers students intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive growth (three domains of development within higher education and student affairs). This development happens through the various capacities students can be involved in a collegiate recreation center. From playing competitive sports to deadlifting on the weight floors, students are learning and growing. These activities can be overlooked as “just for fun” but the fun is where student growth and development happens. The interactions students have and the bravery to bring themselves into each space is one step closer to making them better for their future.

As a higher education and student affairs master’s student, my answer to this question has changed tremendously. A year ago, I would’ve stuck to saying that collegiate recreation helps with students’ time management, teamwork, and happiness. While I still believe that response to be true, I now know how much more collegiate recreation contributes to higher education and the development of students. My personal experiences throughout collegiate recreation and my current master’s program are the reason I have grown to a much better understanding of the development that can occur.

When I began my college career at the University of Central Florida, I had aspirations to attend medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. Soon after beginning my employment at the UCF Recreation and Wellness Center (RWC), I learned more about my passions and goals for the future. As a new group exercise instructor, I took the opportunity to present at my first conference (EVOLVE Fitness Symposium at LSU) on the topic of inclusive cueing. I spoke on how acknowledging diversity and creating a more inclusive environment can enrich participant experiences in classes and personal training sessions. Being surrounded with individuals who valued development and growth solidified my interest in campus recreation.

In order to gain more experiences, perspective, and knowledge, I sought opportunities within NIRSA to develop myself in the field of campus recreation in order to maximize my potential. From the time at my first conference to now, as a graduate assistant in collegiate recreation, I have watched myself grow in many ways. My communication has become more intentional, my organization and attention to detail have flourished, and my ability to think bigger picture has evolved.

In 2019, I was honored to be selected to serve as the State Student Leader of Florida. Being in this position allowed me to use creativity and forward thinking to innovate and implement strategies to increase student engagement. I worked to create a more inclusive and productive team and that helped me enrich my relationships within my institution and NIRSA as I continued to learn and grow. Reflecting back on my experiences, I realize how much the lessons I learned and skills I gained in collegiate recreation impacted my overall life experiences. I am committed to helping other students experience the same growth and development.

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?

One aspect of NIRSA’s 2018–2021 Strategic Plan is to “Evolve NIRSA’s structures to cultivate timely, relevant, and accessible learning opportunities.” I find that students are currently fighting many battles. Zoom burnout, lack of human interaction, and mental health are big issues mostly brought about from COVID and current events. While those are big issues that we all hope will improve, students are facing issues that may not always present themselves in our collegiate recreation centers. Racial battle fatigue and racial injustice, to name a few, are very real battles many students on our campuses are facing. These issues tied to the strategic plan encourage us to prioritize and acknowledge the challenges our students and professionals are dealing with. Beyond the acknowledgement, we must “open our doors” to these individuals and offer intentional programming to address these things. As opposed to being reactive and offering services, roundtables, and sessions after our students and staff have become overwhelmed and unwell, we must work faster. Everyone can benefit from a proactive response and acknowledgement of these topics. Thereby helping us cultivate timely, relevant, and accessible learning outcomes.

Oftentimes we can be blind to issues that we aren’t facing. This ties me into one of my goals if awarded the opportunity to serve as the Regional Student Leader, which is creating better representation and involvement of marginalized communities and identities in NIRSA. If we are able to support each other, we will be better equipped to offer students with timely learning opportunities and support. With awareness of the individuals fighting certain battles comes our responsibility to fight the battles alongside them. Although not always an option, the best practice would be a proactive approach in the education and support of topics. We should not wait until there are larger issues happening in our communities to address them. We should always be educating one another on the things that are important not only in collegiate recreation, but in our lives and in the world.

As a regional student leader, my focus would be intentional conversations, relationships, and programming. The roundtables, presentations, in mentorship that we provide should cover personal and professional learning competencies. Supporting students of color in calls and “how-to“-conversation roundtables are the first steps in ensuring NIRSA is functioning as an inclusive space. To further the inclusivity, I hope to create committees or task forces that better serve underrepresented students and professionals. This can offer NIRSA members involvement opportunities but also show students that they are supported and acknowledged in this Association.

The collaboration with the State Student Leaders can be powerful to touch more students. I hope to create content and training materials that state student leaders can use as a comprehensive education and support system to reach more students. My mission and vision for serving as the Regional Student Leader will support NIRSA’s strategic plan to cultivate timely, relevant, and accessible learning opportunities.

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 my four years working in collegiate recreation and my three years as NIRSA student member, I have capitalized on my lifelong goal of learning and growing. I have attended two NIRSA regional conferences, two Florida state workshops, and three Fitness symposiums. At two of the symposiums, I presented as a way for me to share my knowledge and spread best practices. As one of the only undergraduates in a NIRSA student leadership role in 2019, it became my mission to motivate other students to achieve their goals. I preached the importance of confidence in one’s self and encouraged students to take pride in the roles they fill.

One of the projects that I implemented in my state student leader role was a “NIRSA 101” information guide. Alongside the state director, one of my goals in that role was to educate students on collegiate recreation, a field that is often unexplored. Therefore, it became important to me to share this information not only for students to pursue potential career paths but to pursue a better college experiences.

As a NIRSA student member, I have taken opportunities to be a part of Student Lead-On, the Mentor/Mentee Program, sub-committee for Student Lounge, and was lucky enough to be a NIRSA scholarship recipient. Diving into these experiences provided me with more than professional development. I gained networking skills, knowledge on other colleges and universities, and confidence in what I have to offer to students. Furthermore, I was able to work closely with the Region II Student Leader which prepared to take on the responsibilities I saw them handle. I am excited to continue to share my experiences and help guide students toward their goals.

With two of my personal values being diversity and relationships, I continuously challenge myself to bring those values into my work as a group fitness instructor and graduate assistant. During my “Inclusive Cueing” presentation, I emphasized the importance of understanding that everyone comes into our recreation centers with a different story and how the language we use to address these students can respect those difference. Beyond the salient identities students hold, they also carry different lived experiences. To make our collegiate recreation centers and campuses welcoming for these lived experiences, we must begin with how we treat one another. Students experiences in collegiate recreation can offer transferable skills into their personal and professional development. Valuable lessons on intercultural competency, inclusion, and intentional programming can make students better employees and better people.

My ability to incorporate these lessons into the student collegiate recreation experience would make me an excellent advocate for students and the Association. My willingness to learn and grow and find ways to share my knowledge proves that I will make it my top priority to serve as a resource for students. One year is a crucial time as a regional student leader, and I am excited to use that time to help create positive change for students.

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?

With NIRSA’s mission of advocating for the advancement of recreation, sport, and wellbeing, the Association has the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on collegiate recreation and the students that interact with the field. As a NIRSA member and student leader, I have begun advocating for the field of collegiate recreation and am prepared to use my skills and perspectives to impact the students in Region III. The value I place on relationships helps me prioritize the interactions and effort I put into student development. My personability and authenticity make it easy for me to relate and communicate with students and professionals.

As someone who has served in a NIRSA student leadership position, I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people who value many of the same things I do. With a few of my personal values being relationships, challenge, diversity, and inclusion, I do my best to bring those values into the work I do for my personal and professional development, as well as my work with students. With regard to recruitment, I am a firm believer that those who fill positions strongly impact those who wish to fill those positions in the future.

Within NIRSA, one of my goals is to have better representation of people of color. As a woman of color, I know how powerful it is to see professionals who look like me in higher leadership roles. This reminds me that I can achieve greater. Within NIRSA, I hope to recruit students of all backgrounds. I want to work toward acknowledging diversity and practicing inclusivity for students of all different races, genders, and experiences. This can be done with intentional work on how we share information about NIRSA, who can work these jobs, and how the students we supervise can do it one day.

As a master’s student in the higher education and student affairs program, I am constantly thinking about the aspects of student affairs that attract and retain students in our collegiate recreation spaces. Having consistent, quality programs, conversations, and interactions with the current NIRSA members is extremely important. Our focus, in conjunction with these quality programs, must reach those students who are not already involved in our community. These efforts will add to the continuing education of those who already offer their skills to our recreation centers. Having experience within NIRSA and an understanding of the regional student leader role helps me understand the various levels of work and commitment others have to our field. This way I can better show appreciation for others work and ensure we are creating a collaborative and productive team.

In the 2021–2022 year, I will be entering my second year of my graduate assistantship. In this year, I hope to maximize my potential as a young professional with the opportunities I have to mentor and educate students. Becoming a regional student leader would further push me to establish these relationships and provide my skills and talents to enhance students’ development.

NIRSA Elections: Aliyah Valdez