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Career shift focuses on community engagement for SEP graduate

Many college students struggle with the uncertainty of life after graduation and how to apply their major. Sport and exercise psychology graduate Jay Spenser Darden experienced a change in career paths, after discovering his true passion.  

Darden, from Springfield, Va., currently serves as the director of diversity initiatives and community engagement at West Virginia University. Upon earning his B.S. (2011) in sport and exercise psychology, he had career goals of using outdoor and adventure education to encourage healthy lifestyles. While at WVU, he worked as a leader for Adventure WV, gaining valuable insight and knowledge in the field.

However, Darden’s professional direction took a turn when he arrived at the University of Arizona. He had intentions of working in outdoor and experiential education, but that changed once he began training for a graduate assistantship within residence life. The position emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion, and as he learned about the different concepts and their application in a university setting, the more he became immersed the field.  

“While my love of the outdoors and being active had not and has not changed, my professional path has been even more fulfilling than I could have imagined,” Darden said.

Darden’s foundation in sport and exercise psychology has helped him succeed in the diversity and inclusion arena. This groundwork has given him the ability to comprehend, and help others understand, how and why we make decisions.

“Throughout my career I have constantly found myself referring to concepts learned in SEP classes,” says Darden. He credits Dr. Damien Clement, SEP associate professor, as being his mentor while in CPASS.

Darden says Clement was “extremely” relatable, while challenging his students academically and personally. “I always admired how knowledgeable he was about so many things, and the way he communicated his expertise to his students,” added Darden.

Despite living and working in various places outside of Morgantown, Darden always had a desire to return to WVU. In his current role, he intends to create a culture of continuous, engaged and critical community-building. Through the work of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), he hopes to incorporate a valuation of difference and a development of critical consciousness on and off campus.

Ultimately, Darden’s experience with WVU DEI has reaffirmed his desire to become the chief diversity officer at an accredited university. Among his many inspirations, Darden credits his parents, Paulo Freire, and musicians who use their art for justice, such as J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Solange Knowles.

Darden’s advice for students preparing to start their careers is simple. “The ability to positively influence people and develop leadership skills in others will enable you to be a nimble and marketable professional across industries,” he said.

Darden is an active speaker and is the founder/chief consultant of Next Generation Inclusion.

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