If you’re a student of parks and recreation or new to your career in this field, you may still be figuring out the direction you want to take with your future. Perhaps you’re looking for a job or internship, or maybe you’re hoping to connect with a great mentor who can advise you and show you the ropes. You might be wondering how people can really have a solid career in parks and recreation and want to talk with a variety of others who have been there, done that and can tell you about their experiences. Or perhaps you want to attend a few education sessions to catch up on some of the latest thinking in parks and recreation and learn more about the issues affecting this field. NRPA’s annual Congress, held October 14–16 in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the best single place to get all of this and more.
The premier annual event for parks and recreation, now in its 49th year, currently gathers together more than 7,000 professionals from the field and offers the best opportunities for education, networking and industry information. Although it offers useful takeaways for people at any stage of their park and recreation career, event organizers make a point to offer valuable insight and opportunities for young professionals. Best of all, park and recreation students can attend for free, and young professionals (defined as anyone age 35 or younger) get a discounted registration rate, making it easier for you to cover the expense or justify the trip to your supervisor.
Although Congress doesn’t officially start until Tuesday, October 14, some pre-conference events kick off Sunday, October 12, and young professionals thinking about arriving early may want to consider attending one of the Off-Site Institutes (OSIs), such as a tour of Mecklenburg County Parks, or taking the Aquatic Facility Operator Course and Exam.
On Monday, October 13, NRPA and the Local Host Committee offer a wider variety of OSIs and Pre-Conference Workshops (PCWs), including an OSI trip to the U.S. National Whitewater Center and a PCW hosting the Brand+Aid Marketing Institute. In the evening, a Young Professional Retreat is planned, with more details to come soon.
Congress officially begins Tuesday, October 14, and to kick things off, eligible young professionals are invited to the Scholarship and Fellowship Welcome Breakfast. Following this, the conference opens up with the Opening General Session and Keynote Panel Discussion. Before education sessions start that afternoon, young professionals will want to spend a few hours checking out the expo hall to see and experience the latest innovations in parks and recreation. Also on the expo hall floor will be the NRPA Career Center, which exhibits employment openings and provides development counseling for all career levels. Once the education sessions start at 1 p.m., young professionals might be interested in offerings like “Let’s Meet People! Networking at Congress,” “Matter of Degree: No Prerequisite Required” and “Creating Win-Win-Win Collaborative Partnerships Between Agencies, Universities and Students.” That evening, a Tailgate Party will be held in the expo hall, followed by the Opening Party at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, sure to be a highlight of the conference.
On Wednesday morning, education sessions continue with possibilities like “Operation Rescue Response: Parks and Recreation Dealing with Disasters” and “Don’t Break the Chain: Habits to Improve Work and Life.” The morning also includes the Young Professional Network (YPN) Meeting, an opportunity to meet with others in the field like you and discuss YPN plans for the following year. Also on Wednesday (and Thursday), the Leisure Research Symposium will be held, giving young professionals and others a chance to learn about the advancement and development of the body of knowledge and application of research in areas including aquatics, outdoor adventure, sport, leisure and aging, and others. To cap off the night, young professionals won’t want to miss the Park and Recreation Student Quiz Bowl, a hilarious Jeopardy!-style exchange that pits students from park and recreation university programs nationwide against each other as they contend for top honors.
Thursday, October 14, starts bright and early with a 5K Fun Run/Walk presented by this year’s Local Host Committee. Education sessions continue throughout the day, though attendees may want to take time out to catch the dedication of Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Park, the site of NRPA and its partners’ 2014 Parks Build Community initiative. As education sessions wind down, young professionals won’t want to miss highlights like “The ‘You’print: Creating and Promoting Your Professional Brand.” Finally, Congress wraps up for another year with the Closing Reception, planned to be held at the convention center.
In addition, other events such as “Take a Student/Young Professional to Lunch” are planned but not yet scheduled, so stay tuned for more details.
If you haven’t yet registered for Congress this year, what are you waiting for? Early-bird rates last through August 1, and students can attend for free. Click here to learn more.
Danielle Taylor is the Senior Editor of Parks & Recreation Magazine.