“When I think of where we were in 1995-a department of four employees and a couple of graduate assistants operating out of four different facilities…and then I see University Recreation (known to all as UREC) today, I am so proud. I credit our growth, teamwork and quality of programs and services to Eric Nickel’s leadership abilities and vision.” This is a quote by Julia Wallace Carr. Eric Nickel came to James Madison University in 1995 from Ferris State University in Michigan, where he previously served as the director of the university’s recreation facility. In his time here at JMU he has touched the lives of so many people around him.
The most visible accomplishment under Eric’s leadership is how he built UREC from a concept to reality by assembling a team that supports the UREC mission and their dedication to students. As the quote by Julia Wallace Carr shows, “UREC would be nowhere close to what it is today without Eric’s vision. When Eric came to JMU in 1995 he had the responsibility of not only building a recreation facility but also forming a department. It is through his communication skills that he was able to get his vision across to the staff. Without those skills, his vision would not have been expressed in an effective manner. Also, Eric was dedicated to his commitment of building a community.”
It is a common theme among former and present UREC employees that when you are offered a position at UREC, you are not just joining a staff; you are becoming part of a family. This culture has ultimately brought the staff of UREC together and demonstrates Eric’s commitment to community building within UREC. Dirron Allen, former operations supervisor says, “It’s the ultimate domino effect and he [Eric] is the domino that fell to create a passionate UREC community.”
Eric Nickel has shown leadership in motivating staff through professional development. Throughout the years many students, whether it be undergraduates or graduates, as well as other faculty and staff have had the opportunity of working under Eric Nickel. During each of their time at JMU, Eric pushed and challenged them to meet the high standards that he expects. Before every school year, Eric addresses the entire staff during training and gives the clear message about how things are done at UREC and what he expects out of all the employees. Although he expects the best out of every one of the employees, he makes sure they have the tools and resources to reach these goals. Therefore, with his encouragement and assistance, they were able to meet these standards which allow each of them to grow professionally and as individuals.
As a leader, Eric has inspired others around him to move on to work in recreation and student affairs facilities around the country. His ability to inspire students and staff into careers in university recreation and other student affairs careers comes from the passion he exhibits for his job. This dedication has influenced students to discover their passion for working in higher education. One student that Eric made a major impact on was Christopher Fiocchi who is a 2005 JMU graduate. When
Christopher was first offered the position as a Member Services Assistant at UREC he remember thinking that it was just a way to make money and hang out. However; after four years of working at UREC, he attributes where he is today, an Assistant Direct of Campus Recreation at Texas Christian University, to Eric Nickel, because of the relationship he formed with Eric to persuade him to follow his goals.
Finally, the most important part of Eric’s leadership is commitment to putting others first. It is actually Eric, himself who says it best, “The key to leadership is always to invest in the people first.” For Dirron Allen, a former operations supervisor at UREC, this quote has stuck with him over the years. Now that he has the opportunity to be a director at Towson University’s Office of Student Activities, he cares for his staff and the people around him because Eric cared about him and always puts his staff first. This is another common theme among former and present staff members. Over the years Eric has been at JMU, he has taken the time and effort to get to know the employees on a personal level. Overall, this is a testament to his character and his concern for his fellow man.
In the time that Eric Nickel has been a part of the JMU community, he has exemplified what it means to be “All Together One.” Through his leadership he has motivated staff through professional development and inspired them to move on and pursue careers working in Recreation and Student Affairs. He has also built UREC from a concept to the reality through his strong communication skills and commitment to building community. Finally, his ability to put others before himself is a selfless act that should inspire all of us to be better individuals. To conclude, Mitch Nettesheim summarizes the leadership of Eric best saying, “there are many ways that the legacy of an individual can be measured. I would suggest that part of Eric’s legacy will be the number of UREC staff that have emerged from his mentorship and have made a significant impact in their respective disciplines.”
Before we welcome him to the podium, Julia Wallace Carr, his nominator, and the other UREC staff members are unable to be here because they are traveling to the National Intramural Recreation Conference in New Orleans and cannot attend. However, they are very proud of him and wish they could be here to show their support. Now without further ado please welcome Eric Nickel to the podium to receive his All together One Award.