An Olympic Sized Legacy in Campus Recreation

Michael Edwards retires after an impactful 28-year career at Georgia Tech

This week the Campus Recreation Center (CRC) and its team bid farewell to the man who built Georgia Tech’s campus recreation space, literally and figuratively, into the nationally recognized facility and programs we enjoy today. After 28 years of incredible work to shape the well-being  of our campus community, Michael Edwards, Senior Director of the CRC, is retiring. Michael’s time at Georgia Tech includes 12 years with Capital Planning and Space Management helping to change the physical landscape of campus, followed by 16 years championing campus well-being as leader of Campus Recreation.

Edwards was first hired in 1992 by former Georgia Tech President John Crecine to help prepare campus for the 1996 Olympics. President Wayne Clough hired him to deliver cutting-edge programming at the newly built CRC, one of the very facilities Michael had worked to complete for the Olympics previously.     

Putting Georgia Tech Campus Recreation on the Map

As early as 2000, Michael recalls writing notes about campus well-being and sketching out ideas – many of which are recognizable in how the CRC operates today. As the facility transitioned to Georgia Tech’s portfolio, Michael’s ideas and passion were critical to the Center’s establishment as more than building, but a place for all dimensions of wellness to be activated. That said, his efforts also ensured that the new recreation center was a word class facility, including solar paneling and the first ceiling of its kind built above the Olympic swimming pool used in the games.

Knowing there was a connection between health, well-being and student success, he collected data that demonstrates a link between higher GPAs and students’ regular fitness at the CRC.With complete confidence and little room for anyone to challenge years’ worth of data, he built the case for further investment in the CRC and eventually built a twelve-million dollar endowment that allowed significant improvements in services without corresponding increases in student fees. He has been a strong proponent for dadding experiences and updating facilities based on user experience data, not merely the latest industry trend.

President Wayne Clough reflected, “There is no doubt in my mind that the CRC, under his leadership, was a significant factor in demonstrating Georgia Tech really cared about students and their well-being.”  He recalled, “When I first arrived at Georgia Tech the Princeton Review regularly trashed us in their reviews, and with some cause. The tide turned when the CRC opened.”

Expanding CRC impact

Throughout his career, Michael encouraged expanding boundaries. Michael continuously challenged his team of professionals and students to foster further connections between their work, campus well-being, academic and personal success for students, and Georgia Tech’s strategic plan. 

“Opportunities for students that complemented [student] education were front and center in his mind.  The magnitude of his impact is enormous” says Larry Jacobs, interim Dean and Professor with the College of Engineering. Jacobs lauds Edwards for having the vision to partner with a diverse range of people and departments across campus. “Tech students graduate with a balance of intellectual, leadership and emotional skills that’s unmatched at our peer institutions.  This balance has been enhanced and enriched by all that Michael Edwards has done for Georgia Tech.”   

Michael drives his team of professionals at the CRC to ask questions like, “how do we make the CRC a place that turns out better engineers?”  This empowerment of his team to take the idea of campus recreation beyond fitness has led to several notable outcomes:

  • The Georgia Tech Community has access to world-class workout facilities 115 hours per week (in a conventional year).
  • Sport clubs and intramurals are inextricably linked to learning and leadership on campus.
  • Outdoor Rec @Georgia Tech (ORGT) is among the most comprehensive outdoor programs nationally, having facilitated thousands of adventure trips including student-led expeditions to all seven continents.
  • The CRC is the largest student employer on campus, where job skill development complements their academic training.
  • In partnership with the Student Government Association (SGA) the Stamps Recreation Fields were established.
  • The Princeton Review regularly ranks the CRC among the top campus recreation facilities in the country, even naming it #1 in 2014.

Leaving a Legacy

As Edwards’ reflects on his career with Georgia Tech, he takes pride in the progress of those who have served with the CRC professional and student team.  Seeing them thrive after departing the CRC team, knowing that the CRC prepared them with skills and perspectives to flourish in future roles is perhaps the greatest demonstration of his leadership and impact.

As a student, Ahsan Khan (AE ’13), chaired the CRC Advisory Board and served as President of ORGT.  He remembers Michael working “tirelessly to improve the lives of every student and member of the Tech community … His impact on the entire community during his tenure at Georgia Tech, as well as his direct impact on my life and career, are a legacy that will extend beyond his years of incredible service.” Ahsan, now in his second year of medical school, can tie every step of his career journey back to experiences with the CRC.

What will Michael Edwards miss most? According to him, he’ll miss walking through the CRC in the early evening and seeing the building humming with activity – classrooms 100% full, every racquetball court and exercise machine in use, every lane in the pool supporting swimming and diving and kayaking roll schools, intramural fields packed, and facilities like the indoor running track and the fitness floor filled to capacity.

He takes pleasure in knowing he has influenced health and well-being on campus in what he calls a “relatively small way”. The team at the CRC, and indeed all of Georgia Tech, will be forever grateful for it.

 

Additional Testimonials:  
Michael Edwards’ Impacts at the CRC, Georgia Tech, and Beyond

From His Team:

“There’s nothing outlandish about a claim that Michael Edwards has had meaningful impact on every student, faculty member and staff person who has been part of the Tech community in the last twenty-eight years. While Michael’s preference is that his success be measured in terms of positive impact on students, other measures can’t be overlooked: 28 years of service; direct impact on 500,000+ individual faculty, staff, and students; lasting change to the campus’ identity; and enduring influence on an entire industry.Thanks, Michael Edwards, for caring about the health and well-being of Georgia Tech students, faculty and staff. You will be missed, but your legacy will endure.”
David Knobbe, CRC
 

From Campus Leaders:

“The CRC is the cornerstone of physical wellness at Tech, and Michael’s steady leadership and management of his dedicated staff is a big reason why it has been so successful. He has collaborated closely with students to be sure the CRC experience is up on par with expectations.”
James Black, Assistant Director of Strategic Initiatives and Graduate Life, who was the President of the Graduate Student Senate

“He has helped shape the way we view health and well-being on our campus and helped to provide outstanding opportunities for our students, faculty and staff that range from personal fitness to outdoor experiences.  Under his direction and leadership, the CRC continues to be one of the finest facilities of its kind in the country and one that has played a meaningful role in the life of our campus.”
President Bud Peterson

From Industry Leaders:

As part of multiple professional associations (NIRSA, ACC, AORE, and Athletic Business, etc.) and as a board member and frequent presenter at conferences, Michael pushed his perspective on the role of campus recreation to the entire industry.  His peers had this to say about his impact on the industry nationally:

  • Tim Mertz, formerly with MIT, describes Michael as “one of the most progressive and forward-thinking leaders” in campus recreation.  “He was never satisfied with the status quo and continually aspired to push the envelope of what was possible.” 
  • Chris Wise, VP of Student Affairs at Virginia Tech, observes that under his leadership, “Georgia Tech was always out front in revenue generation, technology enhancements, facility design and operations, etc.”  He credits a summit Michael hosted at Georgia Tech in 2016 that led to campus recreation departments across the country taking a more comprehensive look at student well-being and how recreation programs could be more than just a leader in promoting physical health.  They had a significant role in promoting mental health and well-being, too.  “Michael was never about putting himself out there as a national leader, but he certainly was in many circles!”
  • David Bowles from the University of Florida added, “Contemporaries like me became better professionals by examining his success at Georgia Tech.”

 

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