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65 // The Legacies of Elon’s Leaders

Rex Waters

PHOTO BY JUSTINE SCHULERUD


PHOTO BY ASHLEY BARNAS

Celebrating his 20th year at Elon, Associate Dean of Students Rex Waters has worked with a countless number of students as a professor, advisor, director or mentor, and he continues to pursue his passion of shaping young people and drawing out their potential on a daily basis. Waters, who received his bachelor’s degree in education and his master’s degree in higher education administration at Virginia Tech, was working as the Director of Student Life at the University of South Carolina until 1990 when he moved with his wife and four children further north to be closer to their extended family. A position opened at Elon, and he was hired as both an assistant professor and the Director of Campus Recreation. Waters was attracted to the positions because of the potential for growth and development—especially within Campus Recreation. “One of the things that has kept me at Elon is the community,” Waters said. “The opportunities that have been presented as Elon has evolved over the years have been very motivating and rewarding. But, it’s been the opportunity to stay connected with the motivation I went into this profession with, which was to work with young people to develop their potential.” After he held that position for two years and helped expand the program, he was promoted to Assistant Dean of Student Life. Waters stayed in that position until 2005, when he was promoted to his current role. Waters pointed out that at some universities, the position he has would involve him just sitting at a desk. But at Elon, Waters works in a capacity that supports and challenges students to grow in rich, engaging arenas where they are provided with experiences and knowledge that can help them flourish. In his current position, Waters’ main responsibilities include directing the Isabella Cannon Leadership Fellows Program and overseeing the Center for Leadership, Student Organization Development, New Student Orientation, Campus Recreation and Student Media. Alumnus Patrick McCabe is a Leadership Fellow who served as the 2009 Senior Director for the Center for Leadership and worked directly with Waters since he was a freshman. He said Waters routinely goes beyond his daily duties to ensure students are happy and prospering.

“He does so much work with our student body as a whole that he’s definitely become a strong leader for the university, but also an advocate for our students,” McCabe said. “He’s been really good at making sure the students are happy and involved and he’s definitely encouraged our student body to grow in an extracurricular aspect.” McCabe said Waters helps turn Elon’s active students into effective leaders that can make a difference across campus. “I think an important piece is seek first to understand where the student is and how to best connect them in a place or a program where they feel vested and they can become involved,” he said. “Then there’s this progression.” He said the partnerships and collaboration Elon offers is important, because if a student has a good experience, they will naturally want to move on to a larger role in the organization. “It’s creating that opportunity or invitation in a way that a student can embrace it that is my initiative,” Waters said. “Sometimes that has to be a gentle nudge, other times it’s just merely exposing opportunities to students to consider.” Waters views leadership as relational and about the process, not just a position or outcome. He said this can be reinforced by taking theories and lessons from the classroom and applying them in a world that’s full of imperfections, inconsistencies and vague communication, since it will help students gain these skills to navigate life post-graduation. “That may not always be fun or pretty, but leadership is hard work,” he said. “So it’s important to have students exposed to that process. Finding those passions that lead to things they want to impact and change will hopefully translate into more Elon leaders in the global community exercising their rights, their citizenship.” He said by having students engage their education they better understand where they’re coming from, where they are and where they want to go, and this will enable them to make wiser choices. It is these students that Waters has helped to shape and continues relationships with that he values most about his time at Elon. “Seeing what they are doing in their lives and being successful [at] I think validates what I believed in from the standpoint of student development and leadership education,” he said.

Story By Andie Diemer

A LEADER OF STUDENT LEADERS

The Legacies of Elon’s Leaders // 66

GET TO KNOW Rex Waters Arrived at Elon in 1990 Credits his family, especially his grandfathers, for his values Has four children (two sets of twins)


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