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 April 2008 • NIRSA news and information
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A student’s experience of the Emerging Recreational Sports Leaders Conference

Lance Kearns

Lance Kearns

a Sankofa
“Let us look back, to see what the future will bring”

The 17th Annual Emerging Recreational Sports Leaders (ERSL) Conference took place February 8-9 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The theme was "Embracing the Past, Establishing Character Today, Setting a Mark for the Future." The symbol for the conference was a Sankofa, which represents wisdom and learning. It means "go back to the past in order to build for the future." Over the two-day conference, I would come to reflect and embrace this idea.

After being involved with NIRSA over the last three years, I have attended multiple conferences and workshops. This was my first ERSL Conference and I am glad that I decided to attend. After reading the description of the conference, I thought that this would be a great experience for me to expand my knowledge about leadership and professional development. I contacted Demond Pryor, because I didn't just want to attend the conference but also be a part of it. I volunteered my time and Demond, along with the rest of the conference committee, was excited for my help.

The ERSL Conference began at 10am with registration and check-in. I arrived at Xavier University early to assist with the Pre-Registration Desk. I had never met or worked with any of the others from the Conference Committee before. I was greeted warmly and with each additional person I met, I felt more welcomed and appreciated. Throughout registration, I could see that colleges and universities from all over the country were in attendance. Attendees from New Jersey, Ohio, Mississippi, Florida and Michigan represented just a few of the states and helped comprise the more than 100 members that flew or drove in for the conference.

The morning held several highlights. One highlight was a wonderful welcome, which included speeches from Demond Pryor, Tom Kirch, and Paul Wilson. The speeches included personal experiences, which conveyed the passion recreation professionals have for this field. Paul Wilson shared his route through sports, careers and finally to his current position. It was an excellent example of looking back to see the future. Another highlight and touching moment was the presentation of the Herman Williams Founders Outstanding Service Award, which was awarded to Sev’Ira Brown of Syracuse University. The room filled with fond memories and overwhelming respect. Silas Steele, host from Xavier University, also said a few words while in the midst of helping solve issues from parking to connection to the University wireless network. Silas also introduced the last highlight of the morning, which was a wonderful lunch of Cajun cuisine such as fried fish and gumbo.

The afternoon held six educational sessions during three time slots. It was a difficult choice for me to decide which sessions to attend. The first session that I attended was about intrinsic motivation, presented by Michael Danielson. This session reviewed the problems that arise from unmotivated students. I did not get a chance to attend the second session because I was enthralled in a conversation with another committee member about the benefits and challenges of both the ERSL Conference and other conferences. I believe that networking and getting to know fellow recreation professionals is an invaluable part of conferences and I felt lucky to get this chance. The last session I attended on Friday was presented by Mitch Gartenberg, and was about what skills directors are looking for from young professionals. It was innovative and interactive and made the audience think of how various peoples’ perceptions of one common thing can be different. An apple to one person is a granny smith apple to someone else. Both these perceptions are correct but have a different meaning for each person involved. It was my favorite session of the weekend and one of the best that I have been a part of at any conference.

That evening there was a social at Ray’s Boom Boom Room. There was free Cajun food, soda and some lively local music. The restaurant/bar was rustic and had the flair of New Orleans. Most of those who attended the conference attended the social, and the energy and camaraderie was seen on the faces of everyone in the room. Afterwards, people broke off into various groups and either went back to their hotels or went out to enjoy more of the local nightlife.

Saturday again consisted of six sessions during three time slots. The first session I attended was about the differences and similarities between first and second year facility graduate assistants. Stephen Ryder and Richard Bentley-Smith did an excellent job of distinguishing how responsibilities and expectations change as you are at an institution longer. The second session was about professionalism and leadership for a NIRSA student member, and was presented by the Student Leadership Team. There were great discussions about what the Student Leadership Team does and what positions are available for student members. They also discussed the need for professionalism from the student members. “Today’s student members are tomorrow’s professionals” is a phrase that stuck with me. The last session I attended was a mock interview. Student members submitted resumes and then got paired with a professional. I was paired up with DeWayne Norris from the University of Arizona and we discussed some of the things that caught him off guard when he was interviewing for jobs. It was very helpful since I will be applying for professional positions this year.

After the educational sessions was “Take a Student to Lunch.” I know the students love a free meal, and the professionals get to know the next generation of recreation professionals. Our group ate in the cafeteria in the building, while others went off campus. We had some great discussions about our facilities and careers in recreation. After lunch was an “Ask the Board” session, where attendees could ask questions of some members of the NIRSA Board of Directors. After a brief summary of what projects the Board has been working on, the audience asked several questions. The last event of the Conference was the Closing Session, which included some short speeches and a t-shirt give-away. To get a t-shirt you had to answer a question about NIRSA, those who attended, and some general history. It was fun and some people where very enthusiastic and got several shirts. The ERSL Conference came to a close on a fun and positive note with many people asking “Will I see you in Austin?” or saying “I hope to see you there.”

The conference theme of “Embracing the Past, Establishing Character Today, Setting a Mark for the Future” definitely affected me. I was warmly reflective of my past in recreation, I networked and attended sessions to make myself better today, and I am greatly looking forward to the future with an open mind and a positive attitude. I think this a great conference and I hope I can attend it again next year.

Book cover: Campus Recreation
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