Ryerson is making a push to increase student involvement in recreation and athletics.
When you think of a department of athletics and recreation, you would assume that most of the work and focus goes into the courts, fields or arena. For Jeff Giles, Ryerson’s newly appointed interim director of athletics since July, his passion of engagement extends to the rest of campus and beyond.
“At the end of the day, in athletics and recreation, it’s about providing an exceptional student experience. Not just student-athlete experience, but student experience,” said Giles.
Giles steps into the position after Ivan Joseph left for Dalhousie, where he became the vice-provost of student affairs. Giles was the director business development at Ryerson since 2016 and has a background in connecting athletes and the community through his previous work at McMaster University and with the Canadian Football League (CFL).
Although supporting athletes, coaches and community members is one of his focuses, Giles and the department have made a major step in trying to grow engagement with recreation at Ryerson. They have done this by making the majority of recreational programming free for the upcoming school year.
Giles acknowledged the challenges of promoting engagement in a commuter-based school, but said there is a need for recreational programming for students who are looking to balance their health. By making the programming free, it becomes an incentive for students.
“One of the things I’m focusing on more is recreation, which I think needs to be elevated across the university,” said Giles. “More programming activities for students on campus who just want to blow off some steam, and find a balance in life between health and well-being.”
Giles added that the feedback “has been great,” as students notice they can now sign up for exercise classes for free.
Giles also hopes to grow engagement outside of Ryerson’s campus with the Ryerson Rams Care program. The program reaches out to children in the Toronto community. Every Tuesday and Thursday, taxis will bring student-athletes out to agencies such as Toronto Community Housing and Boys and Girls Clubs.
“We work with various agencies across the city … and we send our student-athletes to after-school programs throughout the year, where they serve as mentors or role models,” said Giles. He added that the Rams lead a wide range of programming from sports to arts and crafts.
The Ryerson Rams Care program involved 140 students last year. While the program puts a strong emphasis on sending student-athletes into the Toronto community, Giles wants to continue to bring kids into the Ryerson community.
I AM Ryerson, a campaign run by the athletics department, launched for the first time last year. It sent 110 children from priority neighbourhoods in the city to the university’s summer camps. This year, Giles and his team have a new target: send 500 children to summer camp.
“That’s what Ryerson Rams Care is all about,” said Giles. “It’s about getting out into the community and making a difference.”
Giles is no stranger to growing engagement. From 1994 until 2000, he served as the president of the CFL during a time where the league was near bankruptcy.
“I got that job, with a group of people, to try and save the league…[We] had to create partnerships,” said Giles. He also added that in order to build connections with the greater community, people need to have trust in the organization. This is one of the messages Giles is trying to grow at Ryerson.
With experience as the director of athletics at McMaster University under his belt, it has been a “seamless” transition to take over the role at Ryerson. Giles has known Ryerson’s former director of athletics, Joseph, from the time they simultaneously held the position at McMaster and Ryerson respectively. Joseph describes Giles as a great fit for the position at Ryerson.
“He’s a highly intellectual, respectable person that looks to continue to make things better. He has the same DNA that the university has in that he’s entrepreneurial and innovative,” said Joseph.
In preparation for the role, Giles had meetings and discussions with Joseph; however, Joseph did not have much advice to give to Giles.
“That’s the beauty of having someone like Jeff – he doesn’t need advice from me. He’s done the role already and he’s been [here] for two years, so my advice to Jeff was, ‘I’m here if you need me,’” said Joseph. “I think he’ll be better than anybody, better than myself … The athletics and the recreation department [are] in excellent hands.”