When you walk through the doors of the 138,000-square-foot Student Recreation Center (SRC) at California State University, Northridge, the first thing you see is a three-story rock-climbing wall.
If you walk further, you see an abundance of state-of-the-art exercise equipment and hear a cacophony of weights clanging. As you ascend the stairs of the building, you come across fitness rooms, basketball and volleyball courts and a beautiful indoor track.
Helping manage all of this fast-paced action are two CSUN graduates — Sandra Salute, a Valley girl with a passion for fitness, and Kaila Lavin, an Arizona native who came to CSUN wanting to be a part of the birth of the SRC.
“As someone who sees Kaila and Sandra’s interaction on a daily basis, I can attest to the fact that they share both a professional and personal connection,” SRC Director Jimmy Francis said. “This is a good thing because their offices are only separated by about four inches of drywall.”
Salute ’05 (Family and Consumer Sciences), M.A. ’11 (Nutrition Science, Dietetics) always has had her heart in the San Fernando Valley.
While earning her master’s in 2011, the Canoga Park High School graduate heard about the construction of the SRC from her sister, Amy Orsini, a CSUN kinesiology student.
Initially, Salute was unsure about applying for a position at the SRC — she had a stable job as a group exercise coordinator at the local YMCA and had plenty of clients as a personal trainer.
However, her uncertainty quickly vanished after she saw the prototype of the SRC and was given a tour by her future co-worker, Lavin.
“When the SRC was being built, I thought it was going to be another parking structure,” Salute said. “When [Lavin] showed me the model of what the SRC would look like, I thought it looked amazing and I knew I wanted to be a part of this.”
Salute, who’s been teaching fitness classes since 2003, was hired as the fitness and wellness coordinator in June 2011 before being promoted to a manager position. She currently serves as the assistant director for fitness and wellness. Salute’s fitness certifications include: National Academy of Sports Medicine, National Council on Strength and Fitness, and Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.
Some of Salute’s many roles as assistant director include overseeing the personal training program, fitness equipment, group exercise zones, the boxing program and the Oasis Wellness Center.
While studying at the University of Arizona, Lavin spent a chunk of her free time working at the university’s recreation center. By the time she graduated with a degree in psychology, she knew the recreation industry was the career path she wanted to take.
However, she knew her future was not in Arizona.
“I came to CSUN because of the SRC,” Lavin said. “I knew [the SRC] was being built because I had a connection with [Physical Plant Management Senior Director] Jason Wang, who was working at the University Student Union at the time. He did his doctorate at Arizona, and his boss [in Arizona] was my boss as well.
“When my boss in Arizona knew I was looking to go to graduate school and work at a rec center in Southern California, he connected me to Wang,” she said.
Lavin M.A. ’12 (Tourism, Hospitality and Recreation Management) arrived at CSUN in the summer of 2010, and she worked as a graduate assistant until being promoted to SRC membership services coordinator in August 2011.
Perhaps Lavin’s greatest joy is being able to show her staff of more than 85 students the diplomas that are framed in her office.
“I love hanging my Arizona and CSUN degrees on the wall, because I can tell my students who may be struggling, ‘Hey, I did it, I’ve been there, I know what you’re going through.’”
Lavin is now the assistant director of facility operations, a job that requires her to spend most of her time doing what she called “back-of-the-house stuff,” such as overseeing the front desk and the two outdoor pools, and supervising her staff of students.
In addition to helping enrich the lives of students, Lavin and Salute also help manage a fitness center that does the same for CSUN alumni.
Alumni also have access to the SRC and receive a discount for being a CSUN Alumni Association member.
“We do a lot of work with the alumni association,” Lavin said. “We give tours to alumni all the time, and every single person says, ‘We didn’t have this when I was here — this is amazing.’”
Managing a building that sees thousands of people walk in and out every day takes a special kind of tandem — and this pair, as fitness advocates and proud Matadors, has a vested interest in the center.
Francis credited Lavin and Salute’s tireless work as a significant reason why the SRC is what it is today.
“Kaila and Sandra were both a part of opening the facility in 2012 and have not stopped trying to make it one of the premier programs in the CSU and in the country,” Francis said.
“The relationship they have developed allows them the ability to have tough conversations and play devil’s advocate with each other, but along the way know that they have each other’s, and the SRC’s, best interest in mind,” he continued. “Without their leadership, the SRC would not be where it is today.”