Finding friends in hire places

Alumni network awaits recreation students and others starting career paths

| Author: ​Jeff Johnston

​The fall internship that Central Michigan University senior Janel Sweeney is eyeing in a faraway state is not really meant for candidates from Michigan.

wrap-sweeney-newBut Sweeney may have an edge: her CMU education in outdoor and environmental recreation. Professionals all over the country — including where Sweeney has applied — have CMU degrees through recreation, parks and leisure services administration and an appreciation for others who do, too.

"CMU parks and rec is very highly regarded because of how extensive our students' experience is," Sweeney said, noting that CMU's program requires 30 weeks of internship where some universities require none at all.

"If they see CMU on a résumé, they know, 'Oh, they have job experience,'" said Sweeney, who also is president of CMU's Student Environmental Alliance registered student organization. It's that job experience opportunity that attracts students who are serious about recreation careers.

"If you're going into recreation," Sweeney said of those on career paths, "you probably come from CMU."

A majority in Michigan

That's no exaggeration, especially in Michigan.

"Our stats list 65 percent of Michigan recreation professionals as CMU alumni," said Bob Frost, chair of the RPL department. "This was from a study completed by one of our faculty in conjunction with the Michigan Recreation and Park Association."

Recreation and event management faculty member Lori Irwin said the association no longer collects that information, but a recent recreation summer job fair for students shows CMU continues to dominate the field.

At least 29 CMU alumni came to campus to represent 50-plus summer camps, adventure centers, nature centers, municipal parks departments and more. Those employers listed at least 131 CMU alumni on staff, said RPL faculty member Jill Almasi-Dole.

Students and employers connect during a summer job fair at the Bovee University Center.

The role of alumni in recruiting current students extends beyond RPL to practically every career field.

"The formula works," said Julia Barlow Sherlock, director of CMU's Career Development Center. Alumni know what they're getting in CMU-educated candidates, and students benefit from seeing how alumni have forged careers.

"It just strengthens and gives value to their experiences as students," she said.

New ties on spring break

Students aren't the only ones to gain insight by connecting with successful grads.

RPL faculty member Tim Otteman just spent spring break on a nine-city, 10-day cross-country trip to visit alumni working in recreation and event management.

Tim Otteman, right, visits CMU alumni in New York City on his nationwide tour.

His "Best of the Best Recreation and Event Management Industry Tour" checked in with nine CMU grads selected from 51 applicants in 15 states, including Michigan. He also encountered 22 more RPL alumni, interns and current students along the way and posted his adventures for social media followers.

"I think one of the biggest takeaways was how quickly students go from being in the hallowed halls of Finch Fieldhouse to being incredible professionals in recreation and event management," Otteman said. "The majority of former students I visited with are leaders in their niches of our field in just four to six years after graduation from CMU."

Otteman said catching up with alumni from around the country will help build ties that can help current and future students.

"What transpired on this trip opens all kinds of avenues to networking and career exploration," he said. "Sharing where graduates work with high school students and college freshmen, networking graduates within the same geographical area, and creating a greater bond back to CMU are all huge benefits to current students, the profession and CMU."

"They know to reach out"

Sweeney is still seeking that fall internship, but she's all set for summer.

An internship interview with Camp Poyntelle in Lakewood, Pennsylvania, yielded more than she'd bargained for: "I got a straight-up job offer."

The full-time seasonal employment will count for the first 15 of her 30 required weeks of internship.

And sure enough, she said, a couple of CMU alumni work at the Pennsylvania camp.

"They know to reach out for us at CMU," Sweeney said.

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