From NAWD to NA4SA: Our History

It's been a long strange trip over FIFTY YEARS...

Breech Academy near Kansas City, Kansas - home of NAWD from 1975-1980

by Jim Finnemeyer, Executive Director Emeritus

In 2022, we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of this organization and also embark on the rebranding of it and change of its name, from NAWD - the National Association of Workshop Directors to NA4SA - the National Association for Student Activities. In rebranding, we seek now to better reflect the growth and expanding breadth of our association in the field of student activities and leadership development. It is thus appropriate to reflect on its beginnings and its development.

The founder of NAWD was Dr. Earl Reum, Director of Student Activities for the Denver Colorado Public Schools and Jefferson County (CO) Public Schools, author of leadership education materials, magician supreme, and a noted speaker at student conferences promoting the value and impact of student activities.  Dr. Ron Joekel, Executive Director of Student Councils for Nebraska and education professor at the University of Nebraska wrote of NAWD’s creation in 2010 - CLICK HERE to view that document.

In this writing Dr. Joekel shared that Earl Reum came to Lincoln, Nebraska in the summer of 1973 to hold a summer leadership camp for student leaders.  While there, Earl asked Ron if the Kellogg Center on campus might be available in December for a potential workshop for adults who worked with youth in student activities and especially student council.  It was available and had hotel housing facilities at the center. Earl and Ron agreed that they wanted to make this “retreat” as much of a "hands on experience" as possible and a sharing of information.   Brochures were then mailed to people who both Earl and Ron knew on the national level and the NASSP Office of Student Activities helped with announcements in their publications.  So, the National Association of Workshop Directors (NAWD) was born.  Collectively the State Student Council Executive Directors (now NASSCED) immediately became a key supporting group and arranged to hold their annual mid-winter meeting at the same site prior to the NAWD workshop weekend.  In turn, they also helped by inviting individuals in their states that directed summer leadership camps/workshops for student council leaders.  Approximately 50-60 attended.

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln served as the site for NAWD in both 1973 and 1974.  The State Student Council Executive Directors meeting and the NAWD weekend moved to Breech Academy (Trans World Airlines-TWA’s training center outside of Kansas City, Kansas) for 1975-1980.  That facility was perfect for the NAWD sessions as well as housing of delegates in the same building.  The weekend provided State Executive Directors with a concentrated amount of time to talk in-depth about summer camp leadership curriculum and to share best practices; camp chedules; leadership materials; and have hands-on experiences with camp activities, leadership lessons, and even camp songs.

In 1980, TWA began the process of closing Breech Academy.  Mississippi Executive Director, John Weems suggested that the NASSCED meeting and the NAWD weekend move to sites hosted by various NASSCED members and thus the two groups would meet in different locations to get exposure in all parts of the country.  Although it has not yet happened, John Weems kiddingly suggested that he might host in Jackson, MS some day.  The 1981 NAWD “retreat” (later to be renamed the National Conference on Student Activities – NCSA) was held in Denver with most of the program held at the headquarters of the Colorado Interscholastic Athletic Association. In 1982, the NASSP Office of Student Activities wanted the NASSCED members to meet in their Reston, VA headquarters and thus that NAWD weekend was held at the Dulles Marriott and the program was prepared by the Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils and held like a sample summer leadership camp, with council groups led by college student counselors, curriculum sessions on Leadership Skills, Communications, Projection Planning, Group Dynamics, and Problem Solving.  Each day began with announcements and camp songs and closed with a quiet time of reflection – just like a real leadership camp for students.  It was probably the most unique NAWD in the organization’s history. 

In 1983 the true rotation of sites began and each the host state created a theme and atmosphere that made that gathering unique.  The standard of class and excellence was set by Louisiana State Executive Director, Phil Gugliuzza, who hosted in New Orleans.  CLICK HERE to view a list of all the varied sites over the years. Dr. Earl Reum oversaw the program development and selection of the NAWD keynote speaker(s) while the host state created a flair, atmosphere, and opportunity to visit in their specific city.  Over these many years, NAWD participants have been treated to incredible professional and personal experiences from one corner of the nation to the other.

A significant part of the substance is our organization and its National Conference on Student Activities, both founded in 1973 were the vision and dream of Dr. Earl Reum. To this day the legacy of Dr. Reum permeates what we do, how we do it, and who we serve. Thanks to the work and passion of Dr. Earl Reum there are several generations who identify themselves as "Reum Kids" (you'll see this phrase on tee shirts from time to time), including many current Student Activity advisors developing what will become the NEXT generation of "Reum Kids". While it has been over a decade since Earl passed away in 2010, we remain dedicated to continuing the work and passion of our founder so that generations of activity advisors and student leaders to come will be inspired the same way that we were by Earl himself. Individuals who never had the privilege of knowing Earl Reum are invited to take time to CLICK HERE and learn more about our founder. See his history as a high school student leader in 1948 and the Life Magazine article, click on any of the 8 boxes to see his words of wisdom, classic video presentations of his speeches, and tributes made to him as individuals from across the nation remembered him in 2010. Any one of those boxes will be well worth the time you take.  In addition, in our online Resources Library one can find a proliferation of the outstanding leadership training materials, wise thoughts, poems, and curriculum materials that are as relevant to activities advisors and student leaders today as they were when they were written in the 1970’s to 2000’s.  They are treasures of leadership.

In 1989, Dr. Earl Reum was blessed to seek out Genel Wokal Hodges to be the first Executive Director of NAWD.  Genel had a great deal of experience as an activities advisor in California, a leader within the California Association of Directors of Activities (CADA), and was a counselor and outstanding organizer who assisted Earl with membership coordination, distribution of materials, hotel contracts and conference program organization.  Genel served for 25 years in that role retiring in 2013. By 2007, the organization was reaching out to more and more advisors who were not necessarily workshop directors.  Mike Roland and others expressed the need for a name change to make things easier for them to attend.  Peter Cahn, Mike Smith and Genel met and with the assistance and support of Dr. Reum, settled on the National Conference of Student Activities as the name of the annual conference.  During this time period the NAWD organization also embarked on an expanded recognition program recognizing Leadership Workshop Directors of the Year from 1985-2003 and in 2003, the National Association of Secondary School Principals Division of Student Activities transferred the selection of their Earl Reum Award to NAWD in recognition of NAWD members who helped to train activity advisors in their regions and in the country.  This became known as the National Dr. Earl Reum Award and has been presented annually from 1991 to the present. Earl always said these award winners were the organization’s backbone.

A significant development in 2008 was the creation of a three-member Board of Directors (Diane Anderson, VA; Sandy Hillman, IN; Stu Shaffer, CA) to serve as a sounding board and overseer of NAWD organizational decisions and provided significant assistance after Dr. Reum’s passing in December 2010. In 2014, Jim Finnemeyer, former Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils, succeeded Genel as the second NAWD Executive Director.  Working with the Board of Directors, new Articles of Organization were developed, NAWD became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and the board was expanded to six members with two selected from each of three national regions. In 2017, a regional realignment created the current four regions (Eastern, Central, Southern, Western) which expanded the Board again to eight voting members.  The current Board of Directors also includes up to four at-large non-voting members including the most recent Past President to assist with Partnerships, Education and Engagement, and other needs for the organization.

In 2019, the Board of Directors developed a Strategic Plan for 2020-2024.  This plan has brought greater focus to all aspect of the organization and has become the governing plan for several major organization initiatives including:

  • A focus on broadening the membership of the organization to include more activity advisors from a diverse array of student organizations as well as school administrators and other advocates and consultants for student activities. 
  • Supporting classroom instruction with materials, resources, and networking opportunities for teachers of middle and high school level Leadership Development classes 
  • An expanded program content for the National Conference on Student Activities (NCSA) and growing attendance to expand upon the 300 attendees presently included. 
  • Development of the on-site or virtual National Activity Advisors’ Clinic for more hands-on instruction and networking. 
  • The creation of free Zoom webinars to promote the networking of members and the sharing of ideas on topics which members identify as a need. 
  • Increased resources available to members on the website. 
  • Creation of an on-line Activity Advisors Academy program with three levels of training, resources, and curriculum 
  • Increased programming and interaction with other like-minded organizations seeking to promote the value of student activities, student leadership development, and the training of activity advisors

With these past achievements in mind and the goals above, our organization remains dedicated to the vision of our founder Dr. Earl Reum.  In that spirit and recognizing that our organization expanded its reach to not only those associated with summer leadership camps/workshops and student council leaders, but also more varied activity organizations, administrators focused on improving school climate, and student leadership advocates, NAWD renamed and rebranded itself in 2022 as the National Association for Student Activities (NA4SA). That rebranding was completed in time for the 50th annual National Conference on Student Activities in Boston, Massachusetts - the first to be held in person (after two virtual conferences) since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the 50th annual NCSA, a special video tribute was produced by David Brame of Dynamx Digital, himself a long time member of the NAWD (and now NA4SA) family. This video tribute contains reflections from several fellow long time members of our family, many who trace their roots directly back to Dr. Earl Reum himself...

In 2023, Lou Miller, a long time activity advisor and an Executive Director of the New Jersey Association of Student Councils (NJASC), succeeded Jim Finnemeyer as the third Executive Director of our organization. Having served on the Board of Directors for five years representing the Eastern Region and also as Treasurer prior to his appointment as Executive Director, Lou was a co-chair in the development and implementation of the 2020-2024 NAWD/NA4SA Strategic Plan. One of Lou's first interactions as an activity advisor was with Dr. Earl Reum himself, who in their initial meeting at the 2003 NASC National Conference in Lancaster, NY said " are going to do great things, you just don't realize it yet!" That kind of inspiration was truly the essence of Earl, and his spirit lives today through our organization.

Proud of our rich history as NAWD, we now look forward to a robust and exciting future as NA4SA - your National Association for Student Activities - for the next 50 years and beyond, as we "keep the flame" of our founder's vision alive and burning for generations of Student Activity Professionals to come!

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