As current president of the NIRSA Board of Directors, Dr. Wendy Windsor kicked-off her Hidden Talents in NIRSA series on July 13 by talking with four professionals who are first-generation college graduates and leaders at campus recreation programs across the country: D.J. Preston, Director of Student Recreation and Wellness at Radford University, Natalie Rosales-Hawkins, Assistant Director, Recreational Programs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Ashford Evans-Brown, Assistant Director for Fitness Facilities at Florida State University, and Carlos Garcia, Director of Aquatics at Texas A&M University share some of their hidden talents.
Meet Wendy’s guests
A football injury set D.J. Preston his path to campus recreation. He credits some incredible mentors with providing him an opportunity to experience NIRSA. Through his hard work, he has been afforded an opportunity to lead a department in a university setting.
Natalie Rosales-Hawkins graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio where she worked in campus recreation for five years, gaining experiences in intramural sports and facilities operations. After graduation, she went on to Southern Illinois University – Carbondale for graduate school. She also served as the facilities operations graduate assistant and interned in aquatics. Her first full-time professional job in campus recreation was at Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville, where she started as the Intramural and Aquatics Coordinator, before being promoted to the Assistant Director of Recreational Programs position, a role she’s held since 2016.
Ashford Evans-Brown completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio where he also worked as the student marketing coordinator. Ashford would complete his master’s degree from Prairie View A&M University, where he served as a graduate assistant before taking on full-time professional responsibilities in 2016, first as an Administrative Assistant and then as Coordinator of Facilities & Marketing. In 2019, he took on a new challenge, moving to Tallahassee where he ow works as the Assistant Director for Fitness Facility Operations at Florida State University.
Carlos Garcia is the Director of Aquatics in the Department of Recreational Sports at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX.
Hidden talents in NIRSA
All four of Wendy’s guests this month are first-generation college graduates who have gone onto become leaders in the collegiate recreation profession. They share some of the challenges they faced during their educational and career journeys and exchange strategies for thriving under pressure. “In today’s terms, I was a triple-threat college student: first-generation, low socioeconomic status, and a student of color,” says D.J. “Navigating life at an upper-middle-class PWI was ALOT for my young mind,” he adds.
Natalie echoes D.J.’s experiences and emotions: “It was hard communicating my motivations and experiences to my parents who didn’t understand why I had to leave the state of Texas to pursue a master’s degree, or why I couldn’t get a graduate assistantship in Texas,” she says. “Leaving home for the first time meant moving to a different state, dealing with a life experience that no one else in my family had gone through.” Finding a cohort is beneficial for all students, but it can be especially critical for first-generation college students. Campus recreation participation and employment can be a lifeline for helping those students feel a sense of belonging and community.
“I had to be resourceful as an undergraduate student to overcome a lack of financial support; so, I actively looked for a job as a student which led me to campus rec as one of the two jobs that I worked in order to pay my rent and living expenses,” says Ashford. “I spent countless hours with advisors to overcome my own shortcomings as a student in the classroom. I had to attend community college during the summer to stay on track. All the trials along the way have taught me to be resourceful and not to fear hard work. I have learned to be unwavering in uncomfortable environments. The challenges may have made me take some unexpected turns, but they haven’t stopped me from seeking out and accomplishing new goals.”
With campus recreation, student affairs, and higher education all rapidly changing, fearless vulnerability is a technique that leaders in campus recreation can employ to continue progressing and advancing in the field. Fearless vulnerability describes a mindset of not allowing fear, embarrassment, or shame hold you back from achieving your goals. Spend a few minutes this month with D.J., Natalie, Ashford, Carlos, and Dr. Wendy Windsor to hear more about their stories, and to find out what inspires them to be authentic and bold leaders in our profession.