“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.”

 

 

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Lessons from the Rink

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It was a Wednesday afternoon in April 2017, and I kept checking my phone for alerts. I was waiting on a delivery that would dictate the rest of my evening. Depending on the arrival, I was going to be playing hockey on ice for the first time in my life. In order to do so, I had to have the proper gear. My pants, shoulder pads, shin guards, and elbow pads were all set to arrive between the ever so precise window of 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. I paced my hallway, taking a break to periodically glance out the front door. See, I was invited to join a group of like minded hockey enthusiasts with varying degrees of skill, and our ice time began at 7 p.m.

Around 5:30 p.m. a box large enough to house a “major award” arrived. I hurriedly peeled the stickers and labels off everything and shoved the gear into a bag. Upon arriving at the rink, my heart began to race as the thought of actually maneuvering myself around the ice began to seep in. I had skated before, but turning, skating backwards and, most importantly, stopping were all foreign concepts to me. Beyond that, I never really thought about the order of how to put on this gear. I non-creepily checked out what everyone else was doing. Some did skates before pants; others went pants, then skates.

Having helped my son get ready numerous times over the past year, I mentally checked off the order of that process and managed to get myself ready. Spoiler alert, I was already out of breath. I hit the ice in time to meet at center ice with the rest of the team. Coach had us circle around him and he introduced himself and then asked if there were any FNGs.

FNGs?

Funny New Guys?

Close.

The F, did not stand for funny.

I raised my hand and he skated over to me. “Hey big boy, do what you can and we’ll get you there.” We then immediately started some drills. It had been a long time since I had subjected myself to anything where I was clearly the worst skilled individual out of the group. For the first drill, we were to line up at the far end of the ice and skated backwards as a group to the other side of the ice. I turned myself around like everyone else did and coach blew the whistle, indicating the start of the drill.

Nothing happened.

I was essentially a sweaty statue. I stood there trying to make my legs propel me backwards.

Still nothing.

I then started to drift forward…you know, the complete opposite direction as everyone else. “How are these people making their legs do this?!” Dread began to creep in.  Coach skated over to me, told me not to worry and instructed me to do something called “C” cuts with my skates and to bend my knees a little more.

Right…I was simply trying to stay upright at this point.

Enough time had passed that now everyone was at the other end waiting for the next drill and I was holding them up. All eyes were on me.  It felt like the sitcom equivalent of when you walk up to the chalk board and aren’t wearing any pants.

What have I gotten myself into…?

Some how I muster two “C-ish” cuts with my skates.  My adrenaline-filled brain won’t recall the precise details, but I do remember that the entire row of players started tapping their sticks on the ice with encouragement. It was a beautiful thing. Like a Disney movie, did the music swell as I then skated backwards the entire rest of the way?

Of course not, my back was burning and I felt like my spine was going to pop out of my jersey. I glided forward, hunched over and rejoined the team at the other end of the ice, where I was given further fist bumps of reassurance.

It’s now been a little over a year and a half and I’ve gone back almost every week. Am I now Bobby Orr?

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Pictured: not Bobby Orr after a mid-ice collision.

Clearly no. More often then not, if I catch a glimpse of myself on video, I appear as fluid as the Tin Man in need of some oil. However, I’m continuing to play with the same group trying to better myself as well as helping coach two youth teams. In doing so, I’ve added another layer of life experience and relationships to my journey and most importantly, I’m really enjoying it.

I share this story,  not as a humorous anecdote to fill space, but because I’ve skated away with these three reminders:

1. The importance of having the correct “gear” in order to be successful. For example, education via a degree or certification may have equipped me with knowledge, but what good is that gear if you don’t know how to put it to use? Just because I have shoulder pads and skates, doesn’t make me a hockey player. (see “In the Weeds” for more gear/ tool metaphors) I’ve been fortunate enough to have many coaches along the way help me put my gear to good use.

2.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a new/unfamiliar situation. Doing the same activity or duty over and over again can help sharpen and fine tune the skills used for that circumstance, but it doesn’t allow for growth outside of those skill sets. However, putting yourself out there and trying something new will help you expand experiences and grow skill sets. As an example, back at the beginning of my District 2 Presidency, I had to attend my first PRPS Board of Directors meeting. There were similarities between that meeting and my first hockey practice. I wasn’t exactly sure what my role was, and I wasn’t familiar with the format of the meeting. (Probably pulled the sweaty statue move too) It can be uncomfortable at first. However, each time afterwards I became more familiar with what to expect and how to contribute. Having gone through that process has equally enriched my understanding of PRPS as an organization, as well as put me in the path of some great peers.

3. Sincere encouragement goes a long way. We’ve all been FNGs at one point or another. Whether it’s your first day of a new job or your first time attending a conference, it’s nice to have someone who knows the ropes give you feedback and support. I implore everyone to do their part. If you notice someone new at the next conference or district gathering, give them a stick tap and help them on their way to becoming a better member of our society.

How to Knit Together a Public Meeting

knitblogimageProductive public meetings are a project, with a process and a pattern, much like knitting a sweater. And while many of you may not be able to knit or understand the basics involved in knitting, you do understand the threads and complicated patterns involved in producing an effective and efficient public meeting. Yet, no matter how well you understand those processes, meetings can still get out of hand if not managed properly. Through my years as both a meeting attendee and as a meeting Chair, I have found the following tips helpful when knitting my meetings together…

1.  Set meeting expectations and stick to them. At the start of the meeting, set ground rules (ex. five-minute public comment limit, etc.). This is especially important during meetings with hot-topic agenda items that bring large audiences. This is critical to maintaining decorum and providing fair treatment to all who want to be heard.

2.  Be respectful. Be open to the opinions of others. You do not have to agree with them, but you must allow them to speak their mind and share that opinion. It is not a matter of right or wrong, it is simply looking at it from a different point of view.

3.  Silence cell phones. Think of it like the movies, no one wants an important discussion to be interrupted mid-sentence by an annoying ringing or vibrating.

4.  Only one person speaks at a time. Do not allow a meeting to get out of control, no matter how hot the topic may be. If there is a microphone or podium, this issue is more easily controlled. However, for smaller meetings, you must be direct and correct others who start to interrupt or talk over other attendees.

5.  Be brief, but only make your point once. When making a point, be clear concise and to the point. Encourage others to do the same.

6.  No sidebar conservations. Try to eliminate unnecessary background noise and tension created through sidebar conversations, not only are they disrespectful, but often they lead to misinformation being spread and meetings go longer trying to correct that information. Refer back to point 4 to address this issue and be direct, asking meeting attendees to hold side conversations until after the meeting.

For many of us, public meetings are a systematic occurrence. We all know how unpleasant they can be, but with the right best management practices, they don’t have to be. They can run smoother, be shorter, and more effective!

As an employee, you may not have a say in how a meeting is run but you can work with your elected officials, board members, and volunteer committees by providing training in meeting facilitation techniques. Take time to work with others with tips like the ones mentioned above and see how it works for your meetings. If you have other pointers to share with your peers, do it! Most of all be patient, be respectful, and be a leader!

As a knitter, it is easy for me to see the parallels between public meetings and knitting projects, and many of the tips above apply to both. I always set expectations at the beginning of a project and respect the pattern – this way I know what I am getting into and ensure a successful; end-product. Cell phones, sidebars, etc…ask any knitter who’s in the middle of counting stitches or rows, they will tell you why this is a deal breaker!

 

Adding Some Spice to a Stale Relationship

Young couple having relationship problemsPlus 6 tips for better abs, and 7 great ideas for holiday gifts!

We are so conditioned to look for a time saving fix or an easy upgrade to fix anything in our lives that is feeling tired or old or used or outdated – and yet we content ourselves with our current facilities because any change seems too hard, too expensive, or too out of reach.

But have no fear – there may be hope.  in 2009 and 2011 our agency completely renovated two swimming pools – and I mean completely.  We tore out everything down to the hole in the ground – pools, bath houses, utilities…everything.  And we rebuilt.  And the new facilities were a smashing success.  Revenues and attendance more than doubled, and the pools became operationally self-sustaining.  Yay! We met our goals!

But that was, like, so 8 years ago.  The honeymoon is over.  Our community, which used to be super excited at the new pools, is now conditioned to expect that level of entertainment.  So what’s next?  Well, as much as we’d love to spend another $1 million on a flowrider surf machine, that’s just waaaaay outside of the budget picture.aquatics_slide_show_2_0

So how can we add some spice to this stale relationship that the public is having with our facility?  Lucky for me we live in PA and have this thing called ‘Winter’ that lets me do some research and admin work to find solutions.

1. Toys.  Toys are fun.  They cost money – but they can be an easy way to immediately change the recreation atmosphere at a facility.  For the pools, we added a climbing wall and a floating obstacle course (ours is a Wibit, but there are others out there).  We’re also looking at giant hamster balls, log rolling, zip lines, noodle jousting on inflatable ducks – and lots of other ideas.  We had instant success with purchasing these items for public use.  Indoor facilities have many similar features available – just do some research.

2.  Programs.  We regularly try new programs at the pools.  Three years ago we worked with our high school diving coach to add springboard diving lessons to go along with our already robust swim lesson program.  Last year we borrowed the Start Smart program concept and ran swim lessons where our instructor-led parents through a course teaching their own kids to swim.

3.  Events.  Disco night?  Maybe a little outdated, but what about a dance night with a DJ or live band?  Cardboard boat races?  Dog swim?  Fishing Derby after the season?  Pool-o-Ween?  There are lots of ideas already out there – or you can combine some and make your own!

Those are just a few ideas, but really here are the key points:

  •  Make the time to regularly evaluate your facilities and operations.  Get rid of stale programs or events.  Create new ones to replace them.
  • Budget for some new items, even if you have to spread the purchases over a few years.  They can make an immediate impact.
  • Do some research.  Thanks to the internet there are tons of ideas out there already.  You often don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just borrow ideas from other successful facilities!  You can also get a lot of great ideas from conferences and expos.

As for the 6 tips for better abs:

1. Eat Less

2. Eat Better

3. Exercise more

4. Repeat

And the 7 holiday gift ideas?

1. Ask them what they want.  7 times.

Is Your House in Order?

How many of you can identify20181102_141353_resized.jpg with this scenario?

You have staff scheduled to drag your ball field for an important softball tournament and the infield machine won’t start. They determine it is a safety switch that needs adjusted. They go to your trusty shop toolbox and look for the 9/16ths socket w/ 1/2” drive with the extension and the universal to reach the adjustment to make the adjustment. But when they look for it, they can only find a 9/16th socket in the 3/4” drive. Ok, so they have to use a tool bigger than they need, no big deal right? Only to realize they don’t have a universal attachment for a 3/4” drive to help reach the bolt to adjust the safety switch to get the infield drag operational!

The universal joint was used yesterday to help make a repair to the lift station and was dropped down into the vault. So they decide with the tools they have to remove the seat, seat frame, and two other hose clamps to be able to access the bolt that is now becoming the needle in the proverbial haystack. As the supervisor, you realize the field still hasn’t been dragged and find maintenance staff fully involved in a mechanical operation that has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes the smallest things can trip up your operations and give you pause. Getting to the root of the problem may be right under your nose, or feet as it were. Not only may your toolbox not have all the correct tools you need but they may be so scattered it takes way too much time to find them or account for them.

Back away from the toolbox and look at your maintenance facility. If you have tools on the floor, power tools laying on your workbench, rakes, and shovels leaning in the corner waiting for someone to step on them and re-create a three stooges short, you may have found the problem. Organizing you maintenance facility can take many hours and some creative thinking of how to store and track your tools & equipment.

However, the time invested in creating a well-organized and maintained maintenance facility over the long run can make your crews more productive and efficient than even they thought possible. Space seems to often be an obstacle. You may have opportunities to use the walls to hang equipment to free up floor space. Rafters are also an opportunity for storage. If you simply do not have any more space, it may be worth looking at how the space is being utilized. A re-organization can also produce better results. Heated vs cold storage should also be considered. An outdoor roof or simple lean-to may be just the ticket for those items that can safely be stored outside.

One of my favorite things to do is visit other facilities and not just park facilities to see how others organize their maintenance facilities. Schools, Ballparks, Commercial Landscapers, Cities, Counties, State Facilities, Commercial Facilities. Chances are you know many of these folks and many would be willing to have you visit. Take pictures and ask questions, there’s a good chance some of the best ideas they have were either from their own staff or from other facility operators. And don’t forget to put that 9/16ths socket back where you found it!

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Getting the Most out of a Professional Conference

PRPS Fall Mtg17-4. RasmussenProfessional educational conferences offer a wide array of opportunities to enhance your vocation, but it is often easy to miss out if you don’t plan ahead!  Here are some tips to help:

Before you go:

Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead.  Look at the guide – in print, on-line, or via the app (most conferences use one now).  Plan out an agenda for all of the sessions and events that you wish to attend.

1. Plan back up sessions in case your first choice gets cancelled, or is too full, or is a dud.  Be willing to be flexible.

2.  Plan some sessions outside of your primary work focus area – there are some great ideas out there that span vocations!

3.  Create a wish list of solutions that you’re looking for at your job – and actively seek out people who could help you solve those issues at the conference.

4.  Take a stack of business cards to hand out.  It’s a quick and easy way to make a connection with someone.

Once you’re there:

1.  Re-visit your agenda after you arrive to confirm your planned sessions and schedule.

2.  Be social.  I’ve learned just as much by networking and talking to peers at the social events as I have from the educational sessions.  Get out of your comfort zone if you’re not an extrovert by nature.

3.  Go to available vendor socials – they usually get a good venue and will buy you food (and drink).  They also have a great insight into current trends and coming attractions.

4.  Have a strategy to tackle the exhibit hall.  Understand that many vendors are also very knowledgeable in their field and are excellent resources.  They are there to sell themselves and their products, but they also WANT to talk to you about their industry!

5.  Plan to take a second look at the exhibit hall – there’s so much going on, you probably missed something good the first time around.

6.  Get out of your hotel room.  Explore your area.  Get more out of your visit than just the conference.

Once you get home:

1. Review your notes and sort through your literature as soon as possible.  Tackle this before you forget important ideas or connections.

2.  Cement and move on the good ideas and follow up with project leads.  Schedule time to implement your solutions.

3.  Follow up with any connections that you made – confirm contact information and proceed with projects.

Remember that you have a limited time – maximize the opportunities.  6 months from now you won’t remember a nap, and you won’t remember sitting in the hotel room watching TV.  You WILL remember the extra time at a social, the extra session, the extra vendor you talked to.  Make it count.

Watch for more details to come soon about the Annual PRPS Conference & Expo on April 2-5, 2019 at the Penn Stater Conference Center, State College. Registration will be open in November. Expo spaces are still available but are beginning to fill up. Reserve your booth soon! You can find more information at www.prps.org/2019Conference.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

action-adult-advice-1120344.jpgby Pete Ramsey, Guest Blogger, President, Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council

March Madness for me isn’t about basketball.  It is the NCAA Wrestling Championships.  This year Cael Sanderson, Penn State head coach explained in a press conference how they repeatedly train to recover and scramble out of bad situations.  It happens in wrestling all the time.  It kind of defines the sport.  There’s someone right in front of you with the single-minded goal of putting you in a bad situation.  Sanderson feels the more you are willing to operate outside your comfort zone, the more adaptable you become.

The American Military has the same approach.  They refer to these situations as VUCA environments.   Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.  These situations are destined for negative outcomes if we are not prepared.  I am not suggesting that careers in the turf industry come remotely close to military service.  But there is a lot we can learn from people who are successfully operating at extreme levels.  Turf at a tenth of an inch or working in professional sports is an extreme.  There is still significant stress that comes with careers in this industry.  Chief cause being the weather.  Add some unrealistic expectations, lack of funding, politics and unique personalities to the mix and out comes a stressed out turf manager.  We have all been there.  Did you ever notice the people who are really there for you when you’re down is your family or your closest peers?

The best information and support I have ever received has come from interaction with my peers.  Sometimes at seminars or often outside of work.  There will never be a replacement for face to face exchange of information and fellowship.  Taking to Twitter doesn’t solve everything.  Avoiding the uncomfortable only results in it never going away and our inability to deal with it.  Chances are a colleague has successfully navigated situations you are struggling with.  Sanderson cited a few specific keys to Penn State’s success that we can apply to our careers:

1. Fundamentals – you can never get away from them.  It’s amazing how quickly things can go wrong when we stray from the fundamentals we know.

2. Evolution – Our industry is going to change whether we like it or not.  Expose yourself to the cutting edge of what is new and consider if it can improve your performance.

3. Weakness –Stop avoiding the areas you are most uncomfortable.  Your spouse can help you identify them.  Failure is an opportunity.  Avoiding it is tragic.

4  Perspective – Alter your perspective.  Stepping outside your comfort zone will force you to look at your situation differently.  Volunteer work is a fast-acting prescription for looking at things differently.