Recreation management programs at universities and colleges across the country deserve much credit for preparing aspiring rec professionals for entry into the job market. But book learning can't fully prepare new rec professionals for the day-to-day challenges of facility and program management.
That mission is undertaken by continuing education programs like those offered by the Oglebay National Training Center in Wheeling, W.Va. Here, public recreation managers and supervisors from around the country have the opportunity to attend four one-week "schools" — held each year from November through March — where they receive practical education in facility management, maintenance, revenue development and a host of other relevant topics.
While much of this type of material is often presented at association meetings and conferences, schools are vastly different from those events for several reasons. One, they're usually much smaller in size; every year, anywhere from 150 to 200 students attend each of Oglebay's recreation schools. Two, attendance at each class is mandatory. "It is totally different than going to a conference where it's your choice to pick a session," says Bill Koegler, director of development with the Oglebay Foundation, the training center's fund-raising arm. "In these schools, if you do not attend, you do not graduate and you do not get a certificate. And most classes have some sort of testing or evaluation piece. The object is to educate. Employers like that. They know that if they're sending somebody, that person is going to be in class."
Finally, the small-group setting affords students valuable networking opportunities. "That impact may be far greater in the long run," says Tom Lovell, past chair of the Revenue Development and Management School's board of regents and instructors, and a former student himself. "A lot of these professionals are at the beginning or the middle of their careers. Because you are put together in classes and different activities, just in a week's time you develop some real strong bonds and friendships, professional relationships that one can call on, in my case, for the next 30 years. That has really served me well. When I have a question or a challenge, I can go to these folks for a little guidance."
Oglebay has been educating rec professionals for four decades, beginning with the Revenue Development and Management School. According to Koegler, the recreation industry offered nothing like the school when it debuted in 1966. "NRPA didn't exist then," he says. "The American Institute of Park Executives, the forerunner to NRPA, was headquartered at Oglebay Park from 1960 to 1965. Because Oglebay Park is the only self-sustaining park in the United States, we had been well-known in the parks community, going back into the 1930s and '40s. We started out in the school business because we wanted to assist parks and recreation directors."
The Revenue School came about thanks to a partnership between the AIPE and the North Carolina State University Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, which according to Koegler was in the 1960s the "premier parks and recreation school in the United States." As a result, students were trained by both practitioners and educators. Such cooperation has remained a trademark of the Oglebay recreation schools; N.C. State continues to cosponsor three of them.
Each school's setup is similar: The curriculum is divided into two parts, with students taking four or five days of classes during their first-year visit to Oglebay and returning for a second set of classes the following year. After successfully completing both phases, students are awarded a certificate and continuing education credits.
At the head of the class are seasoned industry professionals, many of them former students themselves, as Lovell was in the 1970s. "I was just a couple of years into my director's job in a little town in Alabama," he says. "The field of recreation was very young and the body of knowledge that was being presented was relatively new. So I felt a real sense of urgency to soak up as much of that information as I could."
Over the years, the classroom experience has become less one-sided. Instead of being subjected to long-winded lectures, students are regularly invited to take an active part in their education. "We don't pretend to have all the answers," says Lovell. "We throw stuff out to the students, they consider it and throw things back at the instructors. The experience is just as rewarding for the instructors as it is for the students."
A Revenue School class called "Show Me the Money" is host to one particularly valuable activity. Students are encouraged to share with their classmates creative strategies they have used in their communities to generate revenue to support traditionally subsidized facilities and programs, such as cultural arts and festivals. Says Lovell, "You hope that within each class, there are two or three new ideas."
Throughout the recreation industry, ideas are sure to come from new leaders as members of the baby boom generation retire from long-held supervisory positions. "In the next five years, because of baby boomer retirement there are going to be 23 open state park superintendent positions in the state of North Carolina," says Koegler. "Because they're all government positions, people are putting in their 25 or 30 years and they're bailing."
With respect to the recreation schools at Oglebay, Lovell anticipates that more often they'll be run by regents and instructors in their 30s and 40s. Just a few years ago, an externship program was initiated that recruits ideal candidates from among school attendees. Recent students are invited back to teach one class or help manage the school's logistics while in session. "Every year, we're looking for new instructors and regents," says Lovell. "These guest lecturers bring a whole new slant to things that we've been teaching, and that keeps things fresh."
For more information on the Oglebay National Training Center, log on to oglebay-resort.com/schools/index.htm
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