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Melissa Longino

Melissa Longino

Written by Amy D. Lopez-Matthews, Executive Director, Center for Student Involvement  

“It’s fascinating – I did not want to go into this field,” but her love of sport and team fueled a passion inside of her and drew her innately to what has become her vocation. Sports, athletics, and recreation were a huge part of Melissa Longino’s upbringing, and she spent her youth engaged in a variety of athletic activities, from gymnastics to team sports. Looking back, Melissa acknowledges the benefit and personal impact of Title IX on her life, recognizing that she always had opportunities to engage in sports. Moreover, important life lessons of facing adversity, perseverance, and the pursuit of excellence were ingrained early on, all while valuing difference in an effort toward a common goal.

In high school, Melissa played fast pitch softball and volleyball. She was briefly a Division I volleyball player at the University of Tennessee. Choosing to step away from volleyball, she worked in a variety of athletic and recreation-related positions, and then as a graduate assistant, earning her master’s degree in sport administration. Moving home to Michigan, Longino served as assistant to the vice president of student affairs at a community college where she was asked to conduct a feasibility study for building a recreation center, as well as create a program guide to provide opportunities for students to engage through sport.

Her next position was at Louisiana State University as an assistant director for membership and marketing in campus recreation. Over time, she earned increased responsibilities and became the associate director for recreational programs. While at LSU, Melissa was mentored by a woman who viewed recreation as having a bigger role in the development of students. Longino describes her as someone with a vision ahead of her time, noting that only about one percent of college students are able to compete at the national level, and recreation can touch the remaining 99 percent of students. This shifted Melissa’s fundamental perspective of the field of campus recreation, making it a place she could see herself thriving.

After working eight years at LSU, Melissa was hired as the director of campus recreation at the University of Dayton. UD’s mission-centric approach has allowed her to see her work reflected in the institution’s values, and focusing on the transformation of students is what has fulfilled her. “There’s something special that happens when you push your limits physically – and that self-efficacy can be applied to other areas of your life, helping you to reach your full potential.” Longino states that recreation is the vehicle she uses to do what others do on campus – develop students – a vehicle now expanded to include multiple facets of health and wellbeing.

Melissa acknowledges that years ago in the field of recreation, there were not many women in leadership. As Title IX was established and more women saw their peers in leadership roles, things changed. As a woman in a male-dominated field, she wishes that people were recognized for their skill set and knowledge, but people often attribute the success of women to other aspects of their identity. Early on in her career, she wanted to fight back against these stereotypes, but mentors helped her to learn other ways to approach these situations. She is inspired by colleagues who are unapologetic about who they are, and who speak up for others who don’t have a voice; people who challenge misconceptions and who push up against stereotypes, stating that she finds advocates and allies across campus.

From the perspective of health and wellbeing, students face difficulties that are different from previous decades, but there are also robust systems of support and opportunity that can contribute to a student’s success, if they choose to engage. “We have a collective responsibility to ourselves and to one another to enhance, support, and facilitate wellbeing.” Longino observes that people often think of wellbeing as an outcome, but she views it as a journey - where we are in a given moment. And wellbeing has to be a priority with shared ownership; it’s a universal responsibility if we are to impact change at the individual and community level.