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Kathleen Hatch is the 2023 recipient of NIRSA’s Honor Award


The NIRSA Honor Award Committee is excited to announce that Kathleen Hatch has been selected as the 2023 NIRSA Honor Award recipient! The NIRSA Honor Award is our association’s highest and most prestigious honor, bestowed annually on one member who has provided exemplary service to NIRSA and made significant contributions to the field of collegiate recreation—both on their campus and in their communities. Kathleen is without a doubt a most deserving recipient of this honor!

Kathleen graduated with her bachelor’s degree from the University of Calgary in 1985 and started her career in recreational sports in the United States as a graduate assistant at Oregon State University (OSU). She received her master’s degree in 1987 from OSU and furthered her education at the Presidio Graduate School where she completed its Sports and Sustainability Certificate Program in 2014. She has served in leadership positions at three institutions: Washington State University (WSU), The Ohio State University, and Kansas State University. She has also served several institutions, associations, and organizations through her work with NIRSA and as an international consultant.

In 2001, as Director of University Recreation at WSU, Kathleen opened a newly built recreation center that served as a hub for a comprehensive suite of recreation programs and services. She was promoted to Executive Director at WSU in 2005 and served in that role until 2011 when she was once again promoted—this time to the role of Assistant Vice President for Campus Life. After leaving WSU, Kathleen worked several years as a consultant in higher education, advancing campus and community opportunities in recreation and wellbeing. In 2018, she accepted a three-year term as Executive Director of Recreational Sports at The Ohio State University. She is currently the Morrison Family Associate Vice President for Student Well-being at Kansas State University.

A NIRSA leader and change agent

After nine years of continuous service to the NIRSA Board of Directors and in Association governance, Kathleen served as NIRSA President in 2014. Kathleen’s list of accomplishments within NIRSA is lengthy, and among the more significant is her role in changing the governance model for the Association. 2021 NIRSA Honor Award recipient Stacey Hall, Assistant Vice Provost of Student Life at the University of New Hampshire, says, “My first engagement with Kathleen was when she facilitated one of the initial discussions of the NIRSA governance process with the Board of Directors in 2007. I was struck by her passion and deep commitment to helping NIRSA transform and achieve more to support professionals in the field of collegiate recreation. That session left me inspired and eager for the future of our association. Since that first meeting through today, my awe of her tireless contributions and respect for her approach to volunteer leadership has deepened.”

Alex Accetta, Executive Director, Recreation & Wellness at Stanford University, adds, “Kathleen was an essential and integral part of changing the way that NIRSA works to be more inclusive and more strategic. Her thinking, her leadership, and her values have had an indelible impact on the Association that will be felt for decades to come. It is rare that someone can have the foresight to see what the future needs and the skills to be able to implement it. Kathleen has both of those.”

“One of my favorite early NIRSA leadership opportunities occurred in Vancouver, Washington in the spring of 2010, recalls Chris Dawe, Assistant Vice Provost, Health & Well-Being at the University of Houston. “It was the first planning meeting of the newly formed Member Network. I can recall vividly the passionate speech that Kathleen gave this group of new leaders. She was in the Presidential track and representing the Board as well as the sunsetting governance team. She talked about the years of visioning and governance work that she had participated in and that had led us to that time and place. She gave us a ‘coach’s pre-game’ speech for the ages! She fired us up, she inspired a realization of the importance of our work, she illuminated the weight of that moment and our responsibility, and we felt the exhilaration of the opportunity to create part of NIRSA’s next chapter. This set the tone for us to come together as a team and create a foundation and vision for what the Member Network would become.”

Another of Kathleen’s significant contributions to the advancement of NIRSA came from her unique ability to foster strategic alliances with mission-adjacent organizations. The National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) partnership with NIRSA is just one example; Kathleen worked with colleagues across associations to develop, plan, and deliver the International Experiential Learning Institute. Other contributions include the groundbreaking Nike LGBT Sports Summit, and making connections with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Green Sports Alliance, and several Canadian governing bodies related to the Canada in Motion project which ultimately established Canada as a NIRSA region. Kathleen’s efforts frequently led to cross-association partnerships. These examples demonstrate her commitment to supporting our diverse membership, to supporting NIRSA’s Strategic Plan, and to expanding NIRSA’s visibility.

Kathleen’s ideas, her ability to create strategic action, and her personal will and motivation to get things done are admirable,” says Pam Su, Interim Assistant Vice Provost and Associate Dean of Students at San Francisco State University. “Since coming off the Board, she continues to give so much to the Association and the field, positioning NIRSA by being an able representative to external organizations like the Green Sports Alliance. She has given a strong voice to greening sports and recreation, as well as to LGBT rights in sports and recreation.”

A passionate servant leader

2016 NIRSA Honor Award recipient Mick Deluca, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Campus Life at UCLA, says, “Kathleen’s contributions in NIRSA have been countless with a common thread of selfless leadership always working for the betterment of the Association and our members. In each role or position— whether it was committee member or chair, Regional Vice President, commission member, Foundation Board member, NIRSA Board member, or NIRSA President—Kathleen’s passion, inclusive style, data-driven insights, and value-driven leadership has proven inordinately effective and truly moved many major initiatives forward in the Association. Her commitment to inclusion, wellbeing, and sustainable practices has been an invaluable asset to NIRSA in telling and positioning the story, building collaborations within higher education, and focusing strategic directions.”

Kathleen’s leadership consistently focuses on advancing the student experience though she never loses sight of the larger context and many communities in which the work takes place. “To appreciate Kath’s contributions to the national collegiate recreation community, it’s important to understand the depth of her contributions as a young campus rec leader and her vision that leveraged a building into a campus health and wellness conglomerate that stands out as an example of excellence across the nation,” says Steve Wymer, WSU Student Body President (1998–2001) and President & CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley. “Kath refused to allow a building—no matter how stellar it was—to define ‘campus recreation.’ Long before the facility was complete, Kath had set her mind to lead a significant update and relocation of the university’s outdated Outdoor Recreation Center, add sport courts and fields at an impressive clip, expand an already nationally acclaimed intramural program, supplement the department’s offerings related to mental health and wellness, and deftly navigate town gown dynamics that immersed community members into campus programs without diminishing the student experience.”

He adds, “Today, the elite program you see in Pullman ostensibly exists because of Kath’s determination and leadership. The transformational power of sport as an equalizer that catalyzes empathy and acceptance is not lost on Kath and she has played a pivotal role as a respected voice that has unquestionably made the world a better place through sport, expanding its role in the pursuit of social justice and community building.”

Jonathan Stahl, Associate Director, Adventure Programs & Experiential Learning at WSU, says, “Kathleen’s contributions to the WSU campus were vast and deep and continue to have positive impacts. Kathleen fought for students and made it her place to amplify their voices. Kathleen’s commitment to involving students in key decisions fostered tremendous buy-in and support for what we do, and we continually strive to follow in her footsteps today.”

Jessica Whitt, Associate Director, Fitness Services & Education at WSU, says, “Kathleen embraced a culture of leaders empowering leaders. In staff meetings, she would provide professional development opportunities, challenging our thoughts and actions to look at the bigger picture or someone else’s perspective. I had never thought about equity, diversity, or inclusion until Kathleen was in my life. She challenged me every day to see a bigger picture.”

“In addition to her many roles in NIRSA and her excellent leadership on campus at Washington State University, Kathleen always found opportunities to mentor students and young professionals,” adds Jeff Elbracht, former Director at WSU and current Finance Director for the City of Pullman. “Her ability to challenge individuals in a supportive structure allowed her to be an invaluable teacher, mentor, and supervisor. Her impact on the development of countless individuals extends beyond Washington State University to numerous campuses across the United States and Canada.”

Advancing the integration of health, recreation, and wellbeing

Kathleen has embodied the “healthy campus, healthy communities” vision of NIRSA throughout her career. In 2005, before wellbeing was discussed widely on college campuses, Kathleen led a collaborative effort to launch a multi-unit, university-wide wellbeing program at WSU. “Kathleen was an early leader with an unfailing commitment to the values of the health and wellbeing and the link to student success,” says 2013 Honor Award recipient Tom Kirch. “Kathleen often created initiatives, new perspectives, and approaches that broadened the possibilities.”

“Over the past two decades, whenever NIRSA has gone through strategic and transformational change, Kathleen has been there,” says NIRSA Executive Director Pam Watts. “She was a significant contributor to re-imagining NIRSA’s governance and articulating our strategic values. She went on to make significant contributions to advance sustainability, leadership, inclusion, and global perspectives while continuing to promote that it is the combination of these values—along with service and health and wellbeing—that supports healthy people and healthy communities.”

She adds, “When NIRSA turned its attention to a holistic, integrated approach to advancing health and wellbeing for campus communities, Kathleen was there facilitating the first NIRSA, NASPA, and ACHA joint thought leaders summit for wellbeing. She is a driving force in building relationships across campus and across associations to advocate for recreation’s role in and impact on holistic wellbeing. This recent work in health and wellbeing is a natural culmination of her admirable skills and professional experiences—deeply and authentically listening to stakeholders, understanding complex problems and seeing a path forward, a willingness to try and fail and try again, and an unwavering commitment to the core purpose of higher education. NIRSA and campus recreation would not be as far along in this work without Kathleen’s contributions.”

Kathleen’s consulting work built on and broadened perspectives regarding the complexity of issues facing higher education, including the wellness deficit and the urgent need to mobilize systemic and campus-wide action plans. One of the platforms on which she based her work in this area is the holistic and socio-ecological framework of the Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities & Colleges, which presents a call to action for embedding health in all aspects of campus life. She has worked with numerous associations and individual campuses to promote the holistic approach that she passionately espouses. Kathleen currently serves on the Steering Committee of the U.S. Health Promoting Campuses Network.

A valued colleague and mentor

Throughout her career, Kathleen has been lauded for her collegiality, her commitment to mentorship, and for the incredible impact she has had on students and professionals.I am a better person, wellbeing leader, and student affairs professional for having worked with—and learned from—Kathleen in a variety of leadership roles over the past 20 plus years,” says Chris Dawe. “I have learned from her positive, measured approach to thoughtfully navigate incredibly difficult challenges, and to improve outcomes for NIRSA, for higher ed, for all of us and all those we serve. I’ve been inspired by her in meetings and presentations where she has challenged each of us to learn, grow, and look at our world and roles in new and meaningful ways. I have witnessed her asking the right questions and delivering many passionate arguments to influence fellow leaders in NIRSA and beyond to stretch our thinking and refine our vision.”

Alex Accetta adds, “When I was mid-level professional, Kathleen was instrumental in my development as an emerging leader; without her encouragement and mentorship I do not believe that I would have been privileged to be of service to the Association. Her unique ability to pitch the importance of our collective work—whether to me as an aspiring leader or to national governing bodies or multi-national corporations—set the standard to which many in our profession aspire. Kathleen served as a mentor to me by encouraging me to be involved with NIRSA’s sustainability initiative and encouraged me to attend the AASHE Conference on behalf of the Association to help represent the field of collegiate recreation to sustainability professionals.”

Kathleen served as the NIRSA Region VI Vice President in the early 2000s when she was a young director at WSU. Her outstanding leadership was recognized with a Regional Award of Merit in 2003. Pam Su says, “One of the things I always appreciated about Kathleen’s service was how she pulled many of us aside in Region VI to express how much she was enjoying and learning from her experience on the NIRSA Board and to encourage us to think about serving in a Board role one day.”

Don Stenta, Assistant Vice President for Alumni Experiences at The Ohio State University, says, “Kathleen’s legacy is in understanding how to leverage the best out of people. Personally, I view Kathleen as a mentor. She was instrumental in reaching out to me when I was selected to serve as Director at The Ohio State. Kathleen reached out to me to get involved in NIRSA, and I am deeply indebted to her counsel. She encouraged me to be myself and to get involved, and it has been the most rewarding part of my job, hands down.”

“Kathleen has been one of the most influential and inspirited professionals in the field of collegiate recreation over the past two decades. As a thought leader, she has been at the forefront of some of the most important advancements of our professionals, forging new territory and frequently influencing others to dream in new ways,” adds Tom Kirch. “It’s hard to even begin to summarize the substantive contributions Kathleen made and the lasting impacts her thoughtful leadership has had on our field.”

Celebrate your 2023 NIRSA Honor Award recipient

Kathleen’s work within NIRSA has played a major role in advancing innovative strategies to improve our profession. She is truly exceptional as a mentor and as a campus recreation visionary. Kathleen is an excellent choice to receive the NIRSA Honor Award.

Please join the Honor Award Committee in congratulating Kathleen Hatch, our 2023 NIRSA Honor Award recipient! Plan to join your colleagues in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to congratulate Kathleen at the 2023 NIRSA Annual Conference & Campus Rec and Wellness Expo. The official award presentation will take place during the Opening General Session on Thursday, March 23 beginning at 3:30pm local time. If you cannot attend the Opening General Session, we encourage you to reach out to Kathleen and share your thoughts and congratulations with her directly for this recognition of her amazing contributions to NIRSA and the field of collegiate recreation!

This content was originally published here.

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