Harmonizing on the value of NIRSA 2014

You can’t stop the excitement beat—NIRSA 2014 is coming soon!

Hello, NIRSA-land. My name is Erin, and I’m new here. I joined the NIRSA Team at Headquarters as the Communications Specialist just a few months ago and am still getting to know all you wonderful folks. One thing that I do know, though—one thing that was imparted to me in my very first hour on the job—is that the NIRSA Annual Conference is a really, really big deal.

However, while I wait eagerly for my chance to head to Nashville and experience NIRSA 2014 for myself, I needed some know-how—beyond just the basic who’s-involved and what’s-going-on facts—to work with in the meantime. I wanted to get at the emotion and connectedness that makes this event so talked about all year long. Cue, Kimmi Sterner. NIRSA student member, Ole Miss Campus Recreation Graduate Assistant, long-time fitness instructor, and general whirl of positive-energy, campus-rec-love, and genuine dedication to helping others be the best, healthiest versions of themselves, Kimmi seemed the perfect person to help me get to the core of why Annual Conference matters so.

Kimmi Sterner: NIRSA student member, Ole Miss Campus Recreation Graduate Assistant, long-time fitness instructor, and general whirl of positive-energy.

Kimmi’s love and appreciation for NIRSA and the NIRSA community was made clear in a heartfelt thank-you email sent to many of the NIRSA Board of Directors after last year’s Region III Conference. She wrote that after every NIRSA conference she attends she leaves feeling “inspired and motivated to make changes…to become a better employee, student, friend, and citizen. Everyone wants to feel like they belong, and NIRSA goes above and beyond to make [everyone] feel welcome no matter what kind of experience [in the collegiate rec field] they have.”

“NIRSA Fever”

When I spoke to Kimmi recently, it was clear her excitement and gratitude hadn’t dwindled over time. “I just feel so blessed,” she kept reiterating. “I’m so blessed to be a part of something so many people are so passionate about.” In her email she wrote, “I know my life is amazing because of my experiences working at the Recreation Center.” When I asked her about this, about what has kept her passion for campus recreation so strong and her commitment to NIRSA so steadfast, she answered in the vein of so many NIRSA members: “There’s more to it than just being physically fit; it’s about getting more out of life than oxygen. In life, you need to find the one thing that will push you to always be positive—for me, that’s my job, and, with it, the ability to help others find their own positives.”

I have to admit—at this point, she had me hooked. I was ready to sign up for her fitness classes on the spot! And, yet, it also made me wonder—if you already have such amazing passion and energy, such motivation and ideas, do you really need to travel all the way to a conference?

“Ever since I attended my first NIRSA conference, I caught the NIRSA fever."

Kimmi’s response makes it clear—“need” has nothing to do with it. “Ever since I attended my first NIRSA conference, I caught the NIRSA fever. Each conference has the perfect combination of fun and professionalism. Whether it’s presenting on customer service, dancing the night away, or teaching a group fitness class, I find myself learning more about the field and having a great time doing it. I leave each conference inspired and motivated. The NIRSA community is like a huge focus group that’s there all the time; you never feel lost in your job.”

Indeed, our NIRSA value of inclusion in campus recreation is vital within our NIRSA community as well. Kimmi provides the example of running into NIRSA Past-President Moe McGonagle and NIRSA President-Elect Stan Shingles at a conference and being shocked that they remembered her by name. “To be honest,” she says, “I felt honored because even though they meet thousands of people every day they still remembered my name, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s the efforts like this that give me a reason to better myself because if two people with such busy lives can still take the time and care to remember the name of an aspiring student, I can also take extra time and care to enhance and enrich the lives of others.”

Get involved—and get out of your comfort zone

I recognize now that attending conference is an essential part of growing one’s place in NIRSA from community member—which, thanks to technology, one can be almost anywhere—to family member. But, as if she knows my mental picture of NIRSA 2014 is being covered in group hugs, she lets me know that the practical and concrete aspects of a NIRSA conference can hardly be called second place. Not only do you “learn how to network in a festive atmosphere and how to put yourself out there”—crucial skills in the job market—but there are many opportunities to get out of your comfort zone, open yourself up to new experiences, and grow personally and professionally.

During NIRSA 2013, Kimmi was chosen to instruct a fitness class. "I cried tears of joy when I got that notification," she says.

Kimmi speaks highly of the experience of presenting to peers and colleagues at the Annual Conference—however, if you’re not quite ready to take the spotlight just yet, practical and concrete aspects are still totally achievable. “Look at the schedule of events and programming before you go,” Kimmi suggests. There will be things that line up perfectly with your own specialty area of campus rec, but try to attend at least one or two things that focus on areas you’re less familiar with. “I love the fitness-focused events,” she says, “but I’ll try to find something I have less experience with, such as sustainability, and explore that area. It opens up doors, both in terms of meeting new people and gaining new insights and ideas.” Ah, I think, so this is that experiential learning thing folks keep talking about.

Not to mention, as a student, the networking and professional preparedness conference brought was invaluable. “Everyone in NIRSA really wants you to succeed,” Kimmi says. “They want to help. You give them a résumé and red pen, and you’ll get some amazing feedback.” Though she acknowledges her go-getter attitude is a huge asset—NIRSA members love to help, but want you to help yourself first—she clarifies for me that not every student has to chase the all-stars of collegiate recreation down conference hallways, résumé copies in one hand and a fist-full of red pens in the other.

At the NIRSA Annual Conference, help is always ready and waiting at the Career Opportunities Center, which “is just so beneficial,” Kimmi notes. Though she felt her undergraduate university prepared her well for a job search with mock interviews and workshops, having a space to see this process unfold—for real—is invaluable. So much so that Kimmi highly encourages underclassmen to attend as well “just to get a feel for it, see what résumés look like, set up a mock interview.” The tools are there; it’s just about using them.

Hitting the perfect chord: NIRSA 2014

It’s pretty obvious I don’t even have to ask if Kimmi’s excited for NIRSA 2014, but I am curious as to what she thinks of the conference being in Nashville. “I love it,” she says, “love it!” She does indeed; it turns out she has a blog post on just that! I couldn’t help laughing as I read along, watching Kimmi, unknowingly, preview all the conference hotspots.

Opryland, our Conference base, is “just the coolest thing,” Kimmi writes. “It amazes me that people can dream up something like [this property] and watch their dreams come alive.” As for Wildhorse Saloon, site of this year’s All Conference Social, it’s the place to go for a “true Nashville Country Experience.” With its line dancing and great live music, it’s the type of place “you want to share with a lot of people.” (Like, say, two thousand members of your NIRSA family!)

In Nashville, Kimmi reflects, “every person you pass, you meet eyes with and exchange smiles. The live music brings you back to reality and makes you feel lucky that right now, this is your reality. The streets are fueled by the music of dreamers and as you walk, you find yourself hoping that their dreams come true. Just like the way the architects of Opryland built their dreams into a reality, you hope that these hopefuls reach that same goal. Their dreams become your dreams.”

“Not every organization puts its values out there so clearly. At conference, everyone has the chance to come together and know what they’re working towards."

What better place, then, to “harmonize our values”? In NIRSA, with its large membership and the multitude of specialty areas within campus recreation that it encapsulates, it can be challenging to work towards a common goal. Getting everyone under one roof, then, is a great way to help keep us on track. “Everyone wants to advance the field,” Kimmi says, “but it’s not always clear why. NIRSA is a huge help here. Not every organization puts its values out there so clearly. At conference, everyone has the chance to come together and know what they’re working towards.”

And that work matters—not just to the students NIRSA members strive to serve, but to everyone who is touched by this amazing and dedicated community. “I will always be loyal to NIRSA and its values no matter what I do in life,” Kimmi’s conference experience moved her to write to NIRSA’s elected leadership. And, after just a few months of learning about and preparing for NIRSA 2014, I have to say, so will I.

For more information about NIRSA 2014 please visit the conference web page or contact NIRSA Assistant Director of Professional Development, Brittany Rejda.