Parks and rec symposium offers students valuable networking opportunity


Paul Atkinson

Students and professionals who attended the second annual Southwest Parks And Recreation Kick-off Symposium did more than just listen to experts talk about their craft. In the case of 20 students and parks and rec pros, they experienced it first hand. Tennis industry consultant Jason Jameson had them running on the lawn of Civic Space park fetching cones while trying not to be tagged. The group also learned new ways to play foursquare where a ball is bounced in each respective player’s space. While that session took place outside, other workshops took place inside the Westward Ho and at ASU student center at the old post office. Session topics included panel discussions on how to make recreational sports available to people with disabilities, the ins and outs of financial sponsorships and how to be successful at your job.

SPARKS kick-off symposium

The conference is put on by students in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University. Eric Legg, an assistant professor in the school, says while most of the students attending the one-day symposium are parks and rec majors, the event included speakers on other focuses within the school: tourism, nonprofits and therapeutic recreation. More than 80 students and parks and rec professionals attended the one-day symposium.

“We wanted to give students a chance to network and be mentored by professionals,” said Legg. “And we wanted to give students a chance, a small group at least, to help plan an event like this."

The SPARKS 2018 keynote address was given by Angela Hughey, co-founder and president of ONE Community. Hughey talked about the economic impact of inclusive policies. She also talked about the challenges posed to those who run parks and recreation programs. Hughey cited a recent study that found parks weren’t as accessible to people with physical and cognitive abilities or people of color. Hughey told the attendees the report found parks were even less inclusive of people who are LGBTQ.

“You have to find a way to treat all people fairly,” said Hughey. “I would challenge you to be thoughtful and be creative and say ‘you can’t afford to not be inclusive of all people.”

Gabby Mihajlovich, a parks and recreation major who helped put on the SPARKS 2018 event, says Hughey’s message resonated with attendees.

“After speaking, different organizations talked to her about programs they could incorporate,” said Mihajlovich. “It was pretty cool to see professionals taking a step towards new ideas.”

The professionals in attendance also networked with students throughout the day. Professor Legg says he heard stories of students getting jobs and internships because of it.

“It always brings a smile to my face, at lunch especially, when I just look out at the room and I see these professionals engaged in these conversations with students,” said Legg. “And when I have students come up to me and tell me they met somebody and I see them showing off the number of business cards they got. That just makes me smile.”

The Southwest Parks And Recreation Kick-off Symposium was cosponsored by the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association and the Arizona Parks & Recreation Fellowship.