Guest Column - February 2012
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Recreation Careers

Shortcut: Defining a Standard for Graduate Assistants

By Mark Hoying, Dr. Peter Titlebaum & Kelly Kwiatkowski

A limited number of students enter college with a career in collegiate recreation as their plan. However, there are nearly 3,000 professionals in the National Intramural Recreation Sport Association (NIRSA) professional registry. The stories of how each of these professionals wound up in this profession as a career choice would be as different as the individuals that you spoke with. However, one common theme is readily evident. You would hear many say, "I worked at the recreation department as an undergraduate and had a great mentor who helped me get a graduate assistantship (GA)."

At the professional staff level, strides are being made to show a consistent knowledge base. NIRSA just launched its Registered Collegiate Recreational Sports Professional program, as a way to credential its members who demonstrate a consistent level of knowledge and commitment. To date, there is no similar process to give consistency to the professional development of the undergraduate or graduate students in the profession.

One idea is to have an industry standard so that individuals would have the experience of a graduate assistantship (GA) on their resume if they plan to continue in the field as a professional. The qualifications needed to earn those assistantships, however, are extremely inconsistent. This is evidenced by the variation that exists in the position descriptions that are posted when searching for GA candidates. Reasonably, one could conclude that inconsistencies in the qualifications that are being required of GA candidates will drive those candidates to build their resumes in similarly inconsistent fashions.

These conclusions are based on a content analysis of a large number of collegiate recreation GA position descriptions that were posted during the primary hiring season in 2010. More than 150 of these position descriptions were collected and analyzed for content related to the qualifications and job responsibilities required of students wanting to earn a GA.

The positions were divided into the five most popular areas of collegiate recreation (Intramurals/Sport Clubs, Fitness/Wellness, Facilities, Aquatics, Outdoor). The data retrieved has significant relevance for both undergraduate students who are working to build a competitive resume for one of these positions, as well as the professional staff members writing the position descriptions attempting to recruit top-tier candidates to their institution.

From the student's perspective, this data is fairly straightforward. To be a top candidate, spend time as an undergraduate building experiences and your resume as efficiently as possible. What better way to do that than working toward the needed qualifications that are requested in these job postings?

Almost all GA positions require the ability to hire, train and supervise a student staff. It would be unwise for someone wanting that position to build a resume that does not demonstrate previous experience with supervising students. The data revealed skills that were the "must haves" against the qualifications that would separate the top of the applicant pool, therefore eliminating the guesswork.