Springtime is one of the best times of the year. Flowers are in full bloom, the sun is out and warming the air, and the days are longer. In higher education, springtime means commencement and graduation. These important milestones are the reason why we are all here. The 10,000 employees of the University of Arizona share one common goal – helping and supporting students to the point of graduation.
Professors have a strong impact on student success, helping them to reach the finish line…graduation. After all, classwork is the common core of a ‘student’ in any educational facility. As a student, the many exams, projects, study sessions, assignments, and others aspects involving school are commonplace. But life outside of the classroom is also key for students and student success. That is where Campus Recreation comes into play.
Campus Recreation isn’t only a gym space for students to come for exercise or working out; it’s so much more than that. We are a social space, a space for calm, for wellness, for interaction, for relaxation and stress reduction, and probably our best asset…we are also great for LEARNING!
Learning, you ask? We don’t have classrooms in the Rec. There are no professors teaching classes here, yet my staff is full of educators. Our education is not necessarily from books, but comes in the form of a pair of ears to listen; a way of teaching sensibility, maturity, knowledge, life-skills, balance, and so much more. Our classrooms are the front desk, managing an intramural basketball game, answering a telephone, teaching a group fitness class, or leading an outdoor trip. These are our classes, and we are proud to offer these learning and growth opportunities to our students.
May is an incredibly sad time for me in knowing the relationships we’ve built with our senior student employees are coming to an end as they graduate. We have worked alongside them for a long time. We have listened to them, counseled them, guided them, and cared for them. In many cases, they have guided us as well. That’s what is so special about higher education. It affords an opportunity to see people grow, and that is what I love about my work. Students grow and mature with us, just as we grow and mature with them.
I witness first-hand the importance of our work. Earlier this month, we closed the Rec center at 6:30p to have a formal awards presentation and meal for our student employees. There were a few awards and yes, the Illegal Pete’s dinner was great, but that is not the reason for the occasion. The motivation for having this ceremony for our students is to let them know and feel the appreciation that this staff has for them. Seeing student employees laugh, interact and take hundreds of photos was priceless. Some students may share academic courses together and have interactions, but my bet is that it’s not to the same magnitude that we saw at this event.
“Family” is a word I commonly use to describe my staff and our interaction with students. Very few days are typically 8am-5pm at Campus Recreation. Early meetings, late activities, or nighttime events – you name it. That’s the life of someone working in Campus Recreation. Student employees work as early as 5:30am, or as late as 12:30am almost daily here. They run multi-million dollar facilities, they save lives, they provide excellent customer service, and they are the lifeblood of what we do. There are almost 500 student employees this year. And for many of them, the Rec is an essential part of their lives, as it is ours.
Our role within the framework of the University is to provide these opportunities outside the classroom, as we have done for years here. The directors preceding me and those that come after my time will continue to provide the very best opportunities and services for all UA students. That’s our job. We treasure our roles and we treasure our students.
But now, it’s May. Commencement time. A time to celebrate all of the hard work, personal and professional growth, the many accomplishments, and overall success. I look back at several of our graduating seniors or graduate students and I smile. I know that they made a difference in my life and I know that we made a difference in theirs.
As a parent of two college students that go to school miles away from Arizona, I hope and pray that staff on their campuses care about them the way we do here. I hope they are provided the same tools and opportunities for success, engage in situations that foster growth and maturity, and the understanding that learning happens best outside of the classroom. I hope my own kids understand the attainment of a college degree is more than just a diploma framed on a wall. But that it’s about life and building and refining those skills you will use for the rest of your life. I can only hope that my kids are in as good of hands in their respective schools, as the students are here at the UA.
During the past week, a few students have stopped by to pay me a friendly visit. Students in various roles who, in my short time here at the UA, have contributed something to this department. They all shared one common thing with me…that Campus Rec and my team of professionals added to their lives, and made them more prepared for what life holds for them after graduation.
I smile knowing that we have accomplished our jobs. I smile knowing that while some worked for us just for the money that was paid to them, the vast majority worked here to learn and understand, and will use the experiences gained in Campus Recreation for the rest of their lives. Truly, that’s all we can do and hope for.
I am so proud of my team. My professional staff spends so much time training and working with these students, and have enriched their lives in so many ways. Many of the professional staff truly enjoy the close working relationship we have with students. For me, this is a dream job to give back to these young people.
So as commencement has come and gone, my thoughts are with those that have left us, starting their own lives, and making a difference in the lives of those around them. It’s truly an honor and privilege to be associated with all students and I feel I have the greatest job in the world.
Con-“GRAD”-ulations 2019 graduates from the UA! We are excited for your futures and are thankful for what you have given to the greater UA community.