Alumni Spotlight: James Underwood

During my time at Oregon State University I was involved in a myriad of activities. From Greek life, to cheerleading to being Benny the Beaver to practicum experiences through my major; I was always on the go. Nothing, however, compares to my time working at Recreational Sports. Even a decade after graduating, I still communicate more with my former Rec Sports “family” members than anybody else from my time at Oregon State.

Rec Sports guided me through a formative time of my life and many of the lessons I learned while working at Recreational Sports have been cornerstones of my post graduate life:

Lesson #1: Find something you love to do

Whether it was greeting people at the front desk, teaching somebody to rock climb for the first time or volunteering with the center’s first-ever student marketing team, I experienced what it meant to do something I loved. For me, this meant introducing people to new experiences and providing individuals with healthy, positive activities to be involved with. As a current high school teacher, this lesson has inspired much of my work with teens. I constantly seek to provide students with new experiences and constructive ways for them to improve their school through the community service class I teach at Thurston High School.

Lesson #2: Being a great co-worker is contagious

I consider my former Rec Sports co-workers extended family members. I have never worked at a place where everybody looked out for one another like we did at Dixon. As student workers, we loved our jobs and loved being around each other. Work never felt like “work” at the rec center because we spent our shifts surrounded by people we laughed with, shared stories with and most importantly, cared about. Four-hour shifts passed by in a flash and nobody ever thought twice about covering a closing shift for a co-worker who needed to study for a midterm or even the dreaded 6:00 a.m. opening shift for sick colleague. That experience left such an indelible mark on me that is was one of the first qualities I sought for when choosing a school to begin my career as an educator.

Lesson #3: The best leaders are those that serve

I feel very blessed to have worked with some of the best bosses a young person could ever ask for. The professional staff at Recreational Sports truly cared about helping us as students not only have a positive college experience but giving us skills and opportunities that helped prepare us for life after college. Whether it was giving us the opportunity to be a part of the hiring and interview process of new employees, helping student employees seek out post-graduate opportunities and, more importantly, just being there as a role model for students who were away from home for the first time in their lives; it was that type of leadership, one that was based on helping or “serving” the employees that became the foundation of my coaching style today. I wanted to do everything in my power to ensure the facility was in good hands as a shift supervisor because the professional staff demonstrated through their care and support that it was never a “them (professional staff) and us (student employee)” atmosphere but rather a “we” environment. That type of leadership through service is how I believe you maximize the potential and buy-in of anybody that is part of a team; something I now try to model in the classroom and on the athletic field.

I am thankful for my time at Oregon State University and every time I come to a Beaver football game, I walk by Dixon Recreation Center and often feel a sense of nostalgia for the lessons, memories and friendships I graduated with due to my time as an employee at Recreational Sports.

James Underwood is a 2003 graduate of Oregon State University. He currently teaches Social Studies at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon. He also teaches a community class and serves as the school's head cheerleading coach. A former Oregon State Cheerleader, James Underwood's current team has won three consecutive (2013-2015) OSAA state titles. He and his wife Katie live in Eugene with their two-year old son.