For most of the past 20 years, David Peters has attended the NIRSA Annual Conference and Campus Rec & Wellness Expo.
By the Numbers: NIRSA Annual Conference
Days of NIRSA, April 18-21, in Phoenix, Ariz.
Sessions and roundtable discussions
Facility tour options
"Why do I and so many others keep going back? Because we have the ability to reinvent ourselves every year," says Peters, senior associate director for campus recreation at Florida State University. "Every year, there's always some 'aha' moment, and I come home with something new. My intent is to bring back information to campus that can help my peers do their jobs better and also help me be better at my job."
Peters isn't just saying that because he's a frequent session presenter and happens to be chair of the 2020 NIRSA Annual Conference Program Committee. Rather, he's echoing what he's heard from colleagues over and over throughout the years. With a broad NIRSA membership that ranges from campus recreation professionals at the pinnacle of their careers to undergraduate students who aren't planning to — but just might — stay in campus rec beyond graduation, the annual conference and expo consistently helps attendees strengthen their skills and expand their professional networks.
NIRSA's 71st Annual Conference and Campus Rec & Wellness Expo will take place April 18-21 at the Phoenix (Ariz.) Convention Center, and Peters and his committee team of 20 or so colleagues from around the country are finalizing a program of sessions and roundtable discussions intended to spark or reignite attendees' passion for their profession.
"Campus recreation is a progressive field," Peters says. "Students push us to be on the cutting edge, and we can't just rest on the things we've been doing the same way for a while — even though we may be doing those things well."
Something for everyone
Highlights of the 2020 conference's educational program include topics focused on financial management, fundraising, risk management, and expanding health and wellbeing opportunities throughout campus.
"Not every student wants to play a sport or take an outdoor adventure trip with us," Peters says. "That's why it's critical to bolster successful campus partnerships that support underrepresented groups and let people know that campus recreation goes far beyond a fitness center."
Several session topics will cater to middle managers and specialists from the various domains of campus recreation, including fitness, intramurals, aquatics, facilities management, outdoor adventure, club sports marketing, esports, and wellbeing and health promotion. Presenters will strive to provide practical solutions and help attendees discover what peers are doing to infuse the values of collegiate recreation into their programs, services and facilities.
Similarly, campus recreation leaders and decision-makers have made the annual conference their go-to event for learning more about emerging trends, recruiting new employees, making significant purchases for their facilities, presenting at seminars and participating in panel discussions.
"I'm excited about the diversity of topics and what people can learn," Peters says. "The depth of our membership allows us the ability to share a wide range of perspectives."
Helping student staff members also is a top priority, according to Peters, noting that the recreation center is among the largest student employers on any given campus. By attending the NIRSA conference, those students have access to resume-development workshops, mock interviews, a career services center and an expo hall, where more than 150 companies will be exhibiting their products and services and where a number of special events will be in full swing.
"A lot of NIRSA members are interested in giving back to the profession," Peters says. "We value collaboration over competition, which gives the conference a very collegial and a family-reunion-like atmosphere. I know that may sound cliché, but our members really do like to sit in a room to talk, share and work out issues. It's what we do."
Advice for first-timers
Peters attended his first NIRSA annual conference and expo in 2001 as a graduate assistant in the campus recreation department at FSU, where he received an undergraduate degree in meteorology and later a graduate degree in sports administration. Along the way, he was an active intramural sports official in flag football, basketball and softball. "I like to tell people I came here as a student in 1995 and never left," Peters says.
He's one of many students who changed career trajectories after working in the campus recreation realm, and he thinks current student employees and other young professionals are the future of NIRSA's annual conference and expo.
"One of my favorite aspects of this event is meeting up-and-comers in the profession and then seeing how successful they are four or five years later," Peters says. "My advice to young attendees and other newcomers is to come with an open mind — ready to learn, ready to ask questions and, if you're comfortable doing so, ready to contribute. This is a judgment-free learning zone."
This article originally appeared in the January | February 2020 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Why you should attend NIRSA’s 2020 conference & expo." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.