When I was choosing the university where I would spend four years of my life, I didn't look at who had the best dining courts or the nicest residence halls, and I especially didn't look at who had the nicest recreation center. What I was looking for was a school where I could find my community. Purdue gave me a sense of belonging as soon as I went on my first campus visit, when I learned there was a group for everything that could pique one's interest.
As I searched for my community during my first year, I stumbled across an open position as an entry-level employee at the France A. Cordova Recreation and Wellness Center, or CoRec. No one I knew worked there, so I went in on a whim not realizing how transformative this accidental discovery would become.
Within the first month of working in the member services department at Purdue's Recreation and Wellness Department — known as RecWell — I knew this place was something special. Everyone was eager to come into work, and professional staff made it a point to connect with students. The accidental campus job was developing into something more.
As I transitioned into a member services position, I found excitement in talking to patrons and helping extinguish issues. Growing closer with my coworkers and supervisors, I learned how a "desk job" is much more than people make it out to be. I realized the major I was in at the time wouldn't allow me to help, train and work with people in the ways I envisioned for myself. After much reflection, discussion and research, I was guided into a major that allowed me to learn how to manage people, adding a fifth year to my university experience.
As my third year at Purdue came and went, I moved from student manager to a lead within our department and was offered a position for the upcoming summer as one of the member services interns. Through that experience, I was able to assist in the implementation of Fusion Software, establish connections with professional staff during a large locker room renovation and connect on a deeper level with other student staff members.
One day after a 12-hour shift, I walked out of the CoRec exhausted, and that's when I had "The Moment." The day had been long. There seemed to be one dilemma after another, and no one was able to catch up. Yet, as I walked out of that building, all I could think was how much I was looking forward to the next day. It was the moment I realized that everything that had occurred over the past three years was not an accident. That was when I knew recreation was what I wanted to pursue as a career.
As I entered the building the next day, I went to my supervisors to tell them about my epiphany. Campus rec is a career that people from the outside world don't always understand. Hearing a college student say she wants to work with college students as a career is unexpected. But getting to train, aid, develop and encourage students who are going through a unique time in their lives is a prideful experience.
Starting in the summer before my fourth year, I worked as the member services undergraduate intern. Not only have I learned how to train, schedule, advise and instruct students, I have also learned the most valuable question anyone can ask — Why? Why this policy? Why this decision? And why now? I learned the importance of answering "Why?" questions from patrons, as well as from the professional staff at Purdue RecWell. In their own way, each of the dedicated workers strive to help students no matter what they are going through or what career path they are on.
I envision the future of campus rec to be one in which a greater network for undergraduate student staff helps individuals from schools across the country collaborate and improve departments that exceed expectations. The connections in life are never-ending, and a greater impact is made in masses.
Campus rec may be unfamiliar to those who have not lived and worked in it. However, as one enters into the rec-work atmosphere, a beginning is created.
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Rec-Work Epiphany Changes Student’s Path" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.