Campus RECognition: A Year of Gratitude

Written by
Maria Lauron-Ramos wearing a black polo smiling in front of stone building.
Maria Lauron-Ramos
Sept. 14, 2023

For the 2023-24 academic year, Senior Associate Director of Athletics, Jessica Ward, chose the theme of "gratitude and acknowledgment" for the Campus Recreation team. The inspiration came from stumbling upon these Blue Ribbons that say "Who I am Makes a Difference", and the first time she received these ribbons was from a Princeton University Summer Day Camp Head Counselor, Ryan Stein. This brought her back to the Spring of 2012 when Jessica was the Assistant Director of Recreational Programming and she was managing stressful moments professionally and personally that forced her to reflect on her purpose on campus.

The Power of Remembering Your Why

One morning, Jessica walked into her office to find a handwritten letter from one of her Intramural Supervisors, Innes Sheppard '12. In this letter, Innes thanked Jessica for supporting her student experience and teaching her life lessons along the way. Innes also shared how her Campus Rec experiences impacted her friendships and how grateful she was for Jessica's part in her Princeton story. This letter monumentally re-energized Jessica, and she found her professional "why." Jessica was so touched by Innes' letter and realized that her purpose was simple - she was here for the students.

That simple letter of gratitude impacted Jessica in a way that Innes might not have ever realized. It inspired Jessica to cover her office walls with pictures of her students so that she is constantly surrounded by her "why." On days when Jessica is struggling at Princeton, she looks at those images of individuals and memories that remind her of what's important to her.

Launching "#PUCampusRECognition"

1,000 "Who I am Makes a Difference" Blue Ribbons

After finding the original bag of Blue Ribbons, in July 2023, Jessica Ward asked Maria Lauron-Ramos, Coordinator of Campus Recreation, Marketing/Staff Development, to purchase 1,000 Blue Ribbons. In return, Maria received a phone call from "Grandma Sparky", the founder of Blue Ribbons Worldwide, where she was ecstatic to learn about this initiative. The goal is to be able to spread 1,000 Blue Ribbons across campus for everyone to pay it forward and to be reminded how they make a difference in others' lives.

CampusRECognition packs include 4 Blue Ribbons with instructions and can be retrieved from the Campus Rec Business Office (Dillon Gym, Rm 103).

Campus Recreation Professional Staff

At their annual staff retreat in August 2023, Jessica gave handwritten letters showing her gratitude with a message that included how each individual has impacted her as the Director of Campus Rec. The team proceeded with an activity where they took turns to tell one individual how they made a difference for them and handed them one of the "Who I am Makes a Difference" Blue Ribbons.

Office of the Vice President of Campus Life

After the Campus Rec retreat, the activity was shared with the Vice President of Campus Life, W. Rochelle Calhoun, and she was inspired to share this with her staff. 12 packs were given to their team for their retreat the following day.

Campus Recreation Student Staff (TeamRec)

On Monday, September 4, 2023, at the TeamRec Staff Orientation/Training, Jessica Ward's story was shared and 85+ student staff members were invited to take part in the campaign by taking one pack on their way out to start the chain of paying it forward across campus.

"I work in collegiate recreation because I am an educator. I have a non-traditional classroom where I can provide community and lessons that will teach lifelong lessons, and I can do all this while making meaningful connections with our student workers. Every student that I get to work with has an amazing story. My goal is to prepare them for life after Princeton; along the way, I learn from them too. My job is about creating an outlet for people on campus, but what I love the most is that I have the opportunity to be part of someone's Princeton story and they can be part of mine." -Jessica Ward, Senior Associate Director of Athletics, Campus Recreation.