Venture Outdoor Leadership
Coffey Takes Right Risks to Find Home at UNC Charlotte
By Wyatt Crosher, Assistant Director of Communications for Student Affairs
Risk-taking was not always the strength of Kristin Coffey, Venture Outdoor Leadership’s associate director. But she said that is actually more of a strength than a weakness when it comes to her position, which on any given week may involve coordination of activities such rock climbing, hiking or whitewater kayaking.
"I've always been very hesitant or shy around taking risks. I am not a risk-taking person,” Coffey said. “We actually don't like risk-takers in our work. There's inherent risk in what we do and we want to manage that, so it's a good thing, but sometimes not very stereotypical of a person who gets into this.”
However, for Coffey to get into this career path altogether, it ultimately involved taking a risk.
“It was a big ask when someone told me a graduate assistantship was open in Outdoor Adventures at UNC Greensboro,” Coffey said. “At first I was like 'I don't know, doing all of these things seems risky.' I knew it was interesting, but it was also scary, so I leaned into that discomfort and applied, and then got the job.”
That risk was followed by another, a 45-day-long Outward Bound course, where Coffey said she learned valuable personal skills that taught her the importance of going out of her comfort zone.
“I realized this was a really good avenue to learn about ourselves and how to be better people in the world," she said.
Coffey has been at UNC Charlotte since 2016. She initially earned her bachelor’s in psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland before receiving her master’s in parks and recreation management from UNCG. It was through psychology where Coffey discovered her interest in helping people discover their best selves.
“I learned that I love watching people have these ‘aha!’ moments and become themselves,” Coffey said. At UNC Greensboro, I learned that I love working with college students. So from there, I wanted to work in higher education.”
When the position opened up at Charlotte, Coffey loved the idea of blending her passions about helping students and working in adventure education while focusing on leadership development. She gets to work with students in two different ways: through trainings and events, but also in the classroom via Venture’s academic minor.
"I kind of love it. It can be a lot of work, but it's nice because a lot of our student leaders will also take classes, so we get them for a dedicated 15 weeks. The amount that they can learn by taking two or three credits in a class is above and beyond what they can do by just attending weekend trainings here and there,” Coffey said. “It's a benefit that we get to have this academic minor where they get the academic motivation, and it's not all reliant on how much time they have to give to [Venture]."
This past spring, Coffey was honored with the Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Justice Award, which goes to an individual who has demonstrated their commitment to the promotion and celebration of diversity and inclusion within their department, the division or the greater University community.
In her nomination form for the award, it stated that Coffey’s “commitment to diversity and inclusion never waivers. Within Venture Outdoor Leadership, Kristin has been the consistent voice in making change to create an equitable experience for students who are already involved and to engage with students who haven’t seen themselves fitting in with Venture previously. Kristin truly understands and lives that changing our organizations is inherent in our mission and therefore must be an integral part of our actions.”
Earning the award was an honor for Coffey, but it also motivated her to make sure others within the University are recognized for similar efforts.
"I am very grateful. It always feels really nice for someone to recognize the work that you're doing,” Coffey said. “But I know there are people doing this work day in and day out who also deserve recognition, and also deserve resources for the work that they're doing. So it's both. I'm very grateful that there are those that feel like my work is making a difference. And then also, how can I use that platform to elevate the voice of others who are out there doing it every day."
In her more than seven years at Charlotte, Coffey said she loves both the campus itself and its student body. She specifically appreciates the wide range of students she gets to work with through Venture.
"There's such a diversity within the population itself here. You never know who is going to be in my academic class each semester or who's going to apply to work with us,” Coffey said. “Even through our team-building program, we get to meet students from all across campus, and I love hearing other people's stories and where they're coming from and who they are, and I think UNC Charlotte makes a really nice space for that.”
Coffey is excited to have Venture fully staffed for the spring semester, which helps what she described as the “small, but mighty organization” reach as many students as possible.
Her advice to those interested in a similar path is to find what parts of the job speak to them the most and to make sure those parts stand out, even when the day-to-day tasks start to pile up.
“It's really easy to get caught up in the most recent urgency, but the reality is any time you work with people, there's always going to be something new tomorrow, so try to find that balance of remembering where your joy is and also getting the work done,” Coffey said. “It's about boundaries, learning what it is that you are really motivated by, and what builds you up and makes you hold onto those things. Make sure to prioritize those things in your work.”
Learn more about Venture Outdoor Leadership here.