Cara Lucia begins NIRSA presidential term, publishes research on women working in collegiate recreation

The chair of the Sport Management Department takes the reigns of the leading collegiate recreational sports association, which consists of more than 4,500 members hailing from 850-plus institutions.

Cara Lucia, associate professor and chair of the Sport Management Department, began her term in May as president of NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, widely considered the leading resource for professional and student development, education and research in collegiate recreational sports. With a membership of more than 4,500 individuals, the association offers professional development, educational workshops and networking opportunities to those active in the collegiate recreation profession. Lucia’s term in office follows her election to the presidential track of NIRSA’s Board of Directors in 2019.

Associate Professor Cara Lucia

NIRSA’s legacy was established by the progressive, dedicated individuals who have comprised the association since its inception in 1950. It first began with 20 male and female intramural directors who gathered at Dillard University in New Orleans to discuss intramural recreation offerings at historically Black colleges and universities.

According to NIRSA, Lucia is the first full-time faculty and department chair to serve as NIRSA president. Lucia explained that her passion for campus recreation began when she was an undergraduate student at Elon University in fall 1998. Before college she served as the lead sports writer for her high school newspaper, playing basketball, competing in martial arts, and working for the local parks and recreation department supervising youth sports and summer camps.

Lucia transferred to Elon in 1998 to complete her bachelor’s degree and graduated in 2001. She became a NIRSA member in 1999 and attended her first conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since her early 20s she has valued her experiences in campus recreation, and it is evident in her record of volunteer service to the association over the past two decades. She said she has relished serving the association as a volunteer leader and contributing to healthier people and healthier communities.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of women being reinstated into the NIRSA association after being eliminated from the membership by leadership in 1959. Lucia is the 14th female president of the association and collaborated with her colleague Mila Padgett, director of campus recreation and wellbeing at University of South Carolina Aiken, on the recent article titled “Passage Through the Leadership Labyrinth: Women’s Journey in the Collegiate Recreation Profession.”

“It gives me chills that our work is being published 50 years after women were reinstated to the NIRSA membership and on the eve of the anniversary of Title IX,” Lucia wrote in a social media post.

Lucia was recently interviewed for an article titled, “How to Create an Inclusive Campus Recreation Environment for Athletic Business,” where she emphasized that there is more work to be done in terms of inclusivity.

“We need to identify inequitable spaces in our organizations that create environments where individuals may not feel — or are not — included by exploring intersections of identity, evaluating department culture and creating intentional mentor-mentee relationships,” Lucia said. “We can’t continue to ignore the vestiges of prejudice or barriers that still exist.”

Lucia added in the Athletic Business article: “These disparities make it apparent that more work needs to be done regarding the history of marginalized groups and the systems needing change. The hope is that we will be able to guide and support women as they enter the field and throughout their career. Creating implicit bias literacy programs for staff to address organizational culture and providing women with concrete feedback about why they are selected to serve in a specific role is critical. We also need to think about how we’re being supportive and welcoming of colleagues, with the goal of creating a culture where people feel included and can show up at work as their authentic self.”

Speaking on behalf of the NIRSA staff, Chief Executive Officer Pam Watts shared how excited her colleagues are for Lucia’s leadership and input in the organization – especially during trying times.

“In the coming year, she will lead the NIRSA board as it strategically guides the association through the impacts of a global pandemic, resulting economic realities, and renewed spotlight on systemic racism,” Watts said. “Cara’s thoughtful leadership and experience as an educator will be particularly helpful as we advance our strategic priority to reimagine learning, education and networking in a post-pandemic environment.”

Lucia said she believes in the importance of sharing the work of others and empowering individuals to step in and lead. To kick off her presidency, she plans host a vlog series called Change Makers of NIRSA. In a recent announcement to members of the association, Lucia wrote: “We experienced a huge learning curve this year with the pandemic and with increased exposure to systemic racial injustice. And, as we move forward, the rate of change will only continue to increase over the coming years.”

She added: “We will all continue to navigate social changes while working in environments made up of four generations, sharing information through various modes of communication, competing for environmental resources, addressing systemic structures that perpetuate injustice, and constantly reimagining how we do what we do — all while trying to give attention to the importance of our personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of those we serve. My goal is to create synergy around the concept of critical hope (hope with action) during times of change. I look forward to sharing stories, insights, and resources from colleagues and peers across the United States and Canada.”

Lucia will serve as NIRSA president through April 30, 2022.