Your Alma Mater Wants YOU!

Attention college and university graduates!  Your alma mater needs you.

This isn’t a request for money although alumni donations and financial support are always greatly appreciated.  This is about you.  This is about your talent, your experience and your expertise helping to enrich the university offerings.   To quote Uncle Sam, we want you!

Participating in a university alumni association offers the graduate many benefits.  The alumni network can be an asset in your career development, in building your connections in the field and in expanding your social network.  Moving to a new town?  Taking on a new role in your career?  Your local alumni association can often provide resources, both formal and informal, to help you in that transition.  Alumni associations are increasingly offering other services such as career support, special events and other opportunities to remain connected to your alma mater.  Some alumni associations even offer alumni travel programs.   For example, in 2017, Penn State’s Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) faculty led an Alumni Travel program through Yellowstone Park entitled “The Wolves of Yellowstone.”  The week-long trip included educational sessions, faculty led discussions and social time.  Faculty shared their expertise and research related to the National Parks while alumni expanded their knowledge and understanding as well as their social network.  Ironically, none of the alumni participants in that program were RPTM alums!

But, it isn’t just Penn State.  Whether you attended Lock Haven, Slippery Rock, Cheyney, York College, Cal State, East Stroudsburg or Temple – or other schools within or outside of Pennsylvania – universities want their alumni to stay connected.  Alumni can and do help faculty and staff with the university mission of teaching, research and service.

There are a variety of ways that a strong alumni network enriches an academic program.  First, alumni contribute through class participation.  Having “professionals in the classroom” can offer first person, real life experience, stories and examples of theory and practice that are covered in the curriculum.  Further, by providing sites for projects, events, or other collaborations, students begin to make the transition from course materials and book learning to practical experience in real world recreation, parks and tourism service delivery.

Second, alumni help with student development on an individual level.  Many universities, including Penn State, have Alumni-Student mentoring programs.   Students who build relationships one-on-one with alumni in their intended careers report that it deepens their understanding of the field.  The alumni mentors often offer suggestions on courses, help with resumes or as a sounding board for questions about the profession.

Finally, having an alumni advisory board or an affiliated alumni group can help the academic program with both academic and social programs.  In Penn State’s last RPTM curriculum review, the data we collected from alumni and from the agencies who have accepted our interns offered important information to help us adapt and modify the new curriculum.   As we plan social events like tailgates, socials at conferences and other places for students, faculty and alumni to “recreate” we look to our alumni for guidance.

A strong partnership between universities and their alumni can also lead to support at your agencies from faculty in research, program evaluation, and other collaborations.

Check out what your school and department is doing on social media.  Say “yes” when you are asked to speak in classes.  Sign up to be a mentor.  Attend a university function.  Maybe even make a donation!  A relationship between a university or college and their students and graduates that continues beyond commencement is of benefit to all.




“I want to be an event planner!”

strategic planning with the managersIn the last decade, students from a variety of majors at Penn State have increasingly expressed interest in careers in event and meeting planning.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for meeting, convention and event planners is expected to grow significantly. The entry-level education requirement for planners is a bachelor’s degree, particularly in hospitality or recreation and tourism management.

Through the design, organization and delivery of both large-scale events and smaller programs in our communities and sponsored by our agencies, professionals in the field of recreation and parks use the skills and competencies that students often associate with event planning.

From events as varied as festivals in the state parks to holiday parades in our communities, we design events, manage resources, work with food and beverage entities, manage logistics such as parking and risk, and bring people together for themed events.

In other words, we are event planners!

In 2018, the RPTM department at Penn State, in collaboration with Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management, launched the Meeting and Event Management Certificate (MEMC).

The MEMC aligns with the professional certification programs offered by organizations such as Meeting Professionals International or the Professional Convention Management Association. It is designed for students interested in the academic and experiential components of the events and meeting industry. The certificate is available to students in all majors.  The emphasis is on engaging students in the industry prior to graduation and developing the management competencies necessary for success. To obtain the MEMC students, are required to complete nine core credits, including a three credit internship experience, and six supplemental credits in RPTM or Hospitality Management for a total of 15 credits. Graduates will be competitive for positions as managers and planners in a variety of public, nonprofit and private businesses/agencies.

As an added benefit, we hope that as students learn more about RPTM through participation in the courses required for the MEMC, they will learn more about our field.

The certificate is also available for professionals who are seeking additional credentials.  Internship hours for non-traditional students enrolled in the certificate program could take place on site at one’s current job or agency.  Tentative plans for the future include an on-line option for the MEMC.

With an increasing number of RPTM students seek careers in event planning in both for-profit and non-profit settings, the opportunity for PRPS member agencies who are seeking interns or permanent employees increases as well.   In job descriptions and postings, as well as in interview settings, outlining the event planning aspects of our careers may help to draw a broader and wider applicant pool.  Students are often excited when they learn that they can put their event planning skills to work in their communities outside of the stereotypical “wedding planner.”



Engaged learning: the way of the future

Identifying weak times and programs and strategic planningThe buzz words among university faculty and administrators these days is the term engaged learning.  The premise is that most students learn more by doing than by sitting in a classroom.  Engaged learning allows students to actively participate in the learning process, interact with peers, faculty and often, industry partners, and then supplement traditional classroom style teaching with “real world” experience.

Engaged learning opportunities such as internships have long been a part of the degree requirements for diplomas in the recreation, park and tourism fields.  For many, the internship is the capstone learning experience and the definition of engage learning; twelve to fifteen weeks or longer spent working away from the university, under the direction supervision of a professional in the field. Recent trends in university course offerings show that engaged learning opportunities are increasing in type and style and are available to students in advance of the capstone internship opportunity.

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, engaged learning has several characteristics that differentiate it from what, back in the day, many of us called experiential learning.  Engaged learning suggests that students are active participants in the learning process as well as in the object of study.  Engaged learning means that students are also engaged in the context of the object of study as well as with the human condition.

Engaged learning can range from everything from an assignment that requires students to interview a professional in the field to group oriented, project based assignments to a faculty led study abroad experience.

In the Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) department at Penn State, we have spent considerable time and resources developing specialized engaged learning opportunities for students in each of the career options within the major.  For example, our Arena Management course is taught at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center – a 15,000 seat sports and entertainment facility – with staff from the arena helping students gain hands-on experience in marketing, ticketing, facilities operation, booking, etc.  We have partnered with commercial recreation entities such as Marriott Vacation Club and Carnival Cruises to offer embedded travel courses in which students complete projects under the direction of the recreation management teams of those companies and then the students spend a week during the semester working at the resorts or on a cruise ship. Our People and Parks program, in conjunction with the Department of Landscape Architecture, takes students to Tanzania to participate in a variety of interdisciplinary scholarly activities related to the national parks and the surrounding communities. Bi-annually, our golf management students have the opportunity to enroll in a class over Spring Break that takes them to the birthplace of golf – St. Andrews, Scotland.  Most recently, we adapted several sections of the introduction course Leisure and of any major) by reducing enrollment in each section and including off campus visits to recreation agencies throughout Pennsylvania. Penn State’s affiliate nature center, Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, continues to offer a variety of RPTM courses that offer engaged learning opportunities for students interested in outdoor education, park management and environmental interpretation.

The days of students taking notes in a large lecture hall while an instructor teaches from a podium are becoming a thing of the past. Engaged learning and hands-on education with students actively participating is the way of the future.




Mentoring: An opportunity for seasoned professionals!



The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2016 projected that recreation worker jobs will grow byth of 10% nationwide through 2024, a rate that exceeds the 7% average for all occupations.   Job growth coupled with the fact that many off us “old timers” are looking at retirement suggests that there will be many new faces and new professionals in the field of recreation and parks.

New professionals coming into the field provides an opportunity for professional mentoring.

What is a mentor?  A mentor is a more seasoned professional who offers his or her time to guide, direct and support the professional development of a new person to the job or field.   Through both formal and informal interactions, the mentor provides guidance and advice to emerging professionals in their respective fields.

The benefits to the protégé or “mentee” are obvious.  Newbies can learn from the experiences of more experienced professionals.  They can gain confidence, improve decision making skills and get support and encouragement through the relationship with the mentor.  Mentors can work with their protégé on everything from professional networking resume building, career path decisions and work site problems and solutions.

Successful professionals often attribute their success and growth in part to a professional mentor.  Ask yourself.  From whom did you learn from and trust to give you guidance in your career development?  Would you be where you are without the support of those who were willing to help you along the way?

Opportunities to mentor can be found in a variety of situations.  Companies often offer mentoring programs when bringing on new employees.  Many universities offer opportunities for alumni-student mentoring.   Penn State puts out a call every year for both students and alumni to participate in the Alumni-Student mentoring program.  We launch the program with an introductory luncheon and then the pairs spend the next year working together.

Professionals organizations like PA Recreation and Park Society offer opportunities for networking at meetings and conferences but can also provide the structure for formal mentoring programs.

Mentoring supports the growth of new professionals but it can also benefit the mentor.

Alex Lyman, in The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring, identifies four ways that mentoring benefits the mentor.  Mentoring can help provide a fresh set of eyes and new perspectives to the programs and services we deliver – and how we deliver them.   Being a mentor can also help develop leadership skills.  Role modeling, coaching, redirection and supervision are both mentor and leadership skills.  Finally, Lyman proposes that mentors are not only reminded of lessons learned in their careers as they “teach” their protégés, mentors can gain new information and insight from their mentees.

Consider offering your experience, knowledge and support to a new professional in the field.  Offer to mentor a student or an intern.  Not only will mentoring help to develop a new parks and recreation professional, mentoring will also help to build our field as it continues to grow.

‘Tis the Season…for Interns!

Tracey Hardos CRPR

The start of spring semester for students at Penn State in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) is the time that students begin planning their summer jobs and internships.  The internship search can be very stressful for students as they try to match their career goals with available opportunities.  Internship can be an amazing semester that offers the opportunity to put into practice what students have learned in the classroom.  Internship can also be a time of learning what the student doesn’t want to do and to help further define a specific career path to seek after graduation.

Numerous studies have asked college students and recent college graduates about internships.  A significant number report that they feel that internships should be required.  Many report that their internship was where they learned the most about the field.

Because of the applied nature of the recreation, park, tourism and leisure professions, most universities require an internship as part of the undergraduate degree requirements.

At Penn State, we assist students with finding a site for their 12-credit, semester long, internship that meets not only their career goals but also fits within the many parameters that today’s student must consider.  Where and what the student wants to do after graduation.   Distance from home and the university.  Costs of tuition, housing and other related living expenses.   Opportunities for employment or promotion from the internship.

The issue of pay for internship is one that comes up quite often for students.  Many are unable to consider internships that are unpaid while others have more flexibility.  Most understand that working under the direction of a professional in the field has value in and of itself.  The Department of Labor has established guidelines for use in defining when and if an intern is really an intern or if they meet the requirements as a paid employee.   Concerns such as the training component of the internship, making sure the intern isn’t replacing paid workers, the added workload to the agency in providing support and instruction, and the mutual understanding that a permanent job is not guaranteed after the internship are just a few of the guidelines.  In short, government agencies and other non-profits are not required to pay interns.  However, to compete with internship providers in the private sector (such as resorts and other commercial operations), many government and non-profit sites offer some kind of compensation including hourly wages or a stipend, housing, meals, etc.

Are you interested in opening your agency or department to interns?  The energy, fresh perspective on your programs and services, and support with new initiatives and projects are just a few of the benefits of taking on an intern.   At Penn State, we can help you develop an internship program or recruit interns into your existing program through postings of internship opportunities, recruiting opportunities on campus and through our social media sites.   Other universities have similar programs and services.  Contact your local university.  Take an intern!


Short course on soft skills for future interns

College students learn crucial interpersonal skills.

gray-team1Several years ago, Penn State’s department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management conducted a survey of alumni and other professionals and asked “how are we doing?” We asked respondents to reflect on the skills and competencies that our students have demonstrated on the job. Our goal was to make sure our curriculum is offering what is required for the entry level professional to be successful in our field. The results were interesting.

We learned that our students are doing great with hard skills and the theoretical foundation to contribute to their agencies and to the field at large. We also heard that today’s student is falling short on soft skills.  Other research supports our findings. Skills such as interpersonal skills, technology etiquette, etc. that many of us old timers consider to be key to professional success are lacking for many of this generation.

For example, this summer, an agency supervisor reflected on the performance evaluation of the intern at his agency. “He’s doing a good job for us. We just can’t get him to put down his phone.” Over the years, I observed students having an increasingly more difficult time with things like picking up the phone and actually talking with someone to set up a meeting time; they want to do everything over email. Group projects are no longer about trying to find a time in between classes and work meet in person. They are using apps like “GroupME” and in place of sitting around a table and working things out.

In response, RPTM developed a short course that addresses the skills that are crucial in our field and the many others that work with people.

We start with the “elevator pitch” and how to make a great first impression. Eye contact.  A firm handshake. The cell phone neatly tucked away in one’s purse or pocket. Professional dress that is suitable for the work environment.

The students develop a “script” for making calls to potential internship agencies or pretend customers and we discuss what needs to be in a phone message if the person doesn’t answer.

We discuss how to effectively use the subject line to get the attention of the intended receiver and the use of salutations and grammar and eliminating text language in emails. We even cover the concept of business hours. I can’t tell you how many times a student has emailed me in the evening – after this not so young professional has gone to bed – expecting a response about an appoint or a class early the next morning.

The early results have been promising. Students talk about the course assignments as being “fun.” They report that they are gaining confidence that will hopefully transfer to successful interactions when they arrive at their internship sites.

Our collaboration with our industry partners is a crucial part of the education process.  The faculty and staff in RPTM at Penn State values your willingness to support our program and our students.  Continue to let us know how we are doing.

by Patty Kleban
Undergraduate Coordinator, Senior Instructor
Penn State University Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management