Where are they now: Beththena Johnson

A series highlighting past NIRSA Foundation Scholarship winners and their subsequent achievements.

It is no secret that NIRSA continues to grow and thrive because of the dedication, energy, and investment of its student and professional members—people who give of their time and resources to help ensure lifelong habits of wellbeing are fostered in the students they serve. The NIRSA Foundation recognizes this and contributes to the education and development of our current and future leaders through a wide variety of scholarships. These scholarships allow recipients to attend NIRSA educational events and continue to learn, network, and get inspired.

Beththena Johnson isn’t just one such scholarship recipient—she personifies the dedication and work ethic NIRSA members are known for, enacting the Foundation’s mantra of “Supporting Today—Ensuring Tomorrow.” As she has risen through the ranks of student and professional in the world of collegiate recreation, she has been both mentee and mentor, experiencing the duties and responsibilities of both ends of the giving spectrum.

Beth in her current facility home at The Ohio State University, where she is the Training and Development Coordinator for Recreational Sports.

When she began her undergraduate work at the University of Texas at Austin, she was a student interested in clinical psychology who just happened to get involved in recreation. It took her some time, and an attentive academic advisor, to realize she could pursue collegiate recreation as a career. “I didn’t realize how passionate I was about it because it came so naturally to me,” she recalls. Once the moment of clarity came, though, Beth pushed forward at full-speed—and hasn’t looked back since. It was also during her time at Texas that she made the decision to join NIRSA. Membership in a professional organization is a carefully considered step for an undergraduate student on a tight budget, but, as Beth says, “If I could show that it was important enough to me to make a personal investment, then the people around me would know that I was really dedicated to following through and being successful in this field.”

Beth’s big-picture outlook was spot-on, and her energies and enthusiasm were rewarded with a 2008 NIRSA Foundation Scholarship, allowing her to attend the NIRSA Annual Conference & Recreational Sports Exposition in Austin that year. NIRSA conferences are a particularly ripe time to forge connections, beyond just networking, and Beth is a testament to this. “My first scholarship experience helped foster the lasting relationships and friendships that I have in the field. One of the closest relationships I have is with a fellow scholarship recipient I met during that conference,” she says. The Annual Conference confirmed what Beth had been introduced to at her home institution—our community is made up of supportive, high-expectation-holding, wonderful folks.

And Beth continued to thrive in this community. By the time she was in graduate school—obtaining her Master’s in Educational Administration and Policy and holding a Graduate Assistant position with the University of Georgia’s Facilities and Sports Clubs—she had already risen to a principal role in our Association, serving as the National Student Leader from 2009-2010. In her Leadership Notes for the October 2009 Know she wrote, “You never know what type of impact you are going to make until there is a clear effort on your part. . . . to show us how your piece of the puzzle makes us all a little bit stronger.”

Living out these words, Beth made her professional debut in the field at Arizona State University. It was during her time at Arizona State that she received her second NIRSA award, a Will Holsberry Scholarship, which allowed her to attend the 2012 National School of Recreational Sports Management in San Antonio, Texas. From participation in the “Baby Shark” teambuilding exercise to inspiring educational sessions, the School helped propel Beth forward in the field of collegiate recreation. In recalling her experiences with this scholarship, Beth says, “The School helped me to look at myself differently and what I put into the profession. It challenged me to acknowledge my strengths and my weaknesses and pinpoint how I could use those to my advantage on a professional and personal level.” Additionally, the School provided Beth with great insights on collaborative working relationships, which would have a direct effect on her next career move.

Now the Training and Development Coordinator for Recreational Sports at The Ohio State University, Beth is first to acknowledge that it was anything but a stroke of luck that earned her this competitive position. She notes that her well-rounded experience—working within student employment and development, leadership building and facilitation, programming, and facility operations—has given her the “ability to look at student development and training needs from various angles, which has been very unique and critical in my current role.”

In talking to Beth, her gratitude for the opportunities presented to her—at both NIRSA educational events, as well as at her home institutions—is great; however, it’s also clear she is an ideal scholarship recipient, living the advice she penned in the April 2010 issue of the NIRSA Know: “Every experience is what you make it. The only way to really get a lot out of the experience is to challenge yourself and take risks. This is where the learning, development, and growth take place.”

There is no doubt Beth will continue to lead by example, in her current role and beyond. She says that she hopes “to continue to highlight and emphasize the importance of intentional training and development through practical application within higher education.” She’s already been able to pass her training and enthusiasm on to a future generation of students, having been able to watch her very first mentee follow her lead, progressing through not only positions in the field, but also NIRSA. In addition to serving on a Student Lead On Committee, he’s been a Foundation Scholarship winner himself. “It’s really exciting to be a part of someone’s experience on that level,” Beth says, “from the first initial interest in recreational sports to a GA position and then a scholarship. I can’t wait to see him in his first position as a professional.”

About her scholarship awards Beth says they helped her know that if she “gave a lot of [her]self it would most definitely be returned.” She continues to spread this message to her mentees, urging them that though an opportunity “may seem like just another conference or committee to be a part of, the relationships and learning experiences truly make an impact on your career.”

Beth continues to be a NIRSA Foundation donor, participate in Foundation initiatives, and serve on the Scholarship Work Team. “It means a lot to pay it forward,” she says, “I was afforded an opportunity that I hope many students continue to go after.” Even as a student, she knew the value of this, writing in the February 2010 NIRSA Know, “Always remember where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how you got there. Those who’ve come before us have not forgotten, and neither should we.” A leader through action, Beth epitomizes the NIRSA cycle of giving, and, in doing so, ensures the NIRSA Blue will shine bright for many, many years to come.

If you're interested in sharing your story, please contact NIRSA Foundation Board Member, Chris Muller, or the NIRSA Leadership Programs Assistant, Sarah Leskovec.