Innovative Sessions: A Seasoned Congress Presenter Speaks Out

By Mat Duerden, Ph.D. | Posted on August 19, 2014

From attendee to seasoned presenter, Mat Duerden, Ph.D., shares his story of the experience that is NRPA Congress. Not only does he touch on his personal evolution but that of the evolution of sessions he’s been involved in from research all the way to leading a Congress Live session! 

My first NRPA Congress experience was in 2005 in San Antonio, Texas. At the time I was entering the second year of a masters program in youth and family recreation at Brigham Young University and Congress was my first exposure to all things NRPA.  As I made my way though the convention center, attended education and Leisure Research Symposium sessions, and toured the exhibit hall I began to feel part of something much bigger and more dynamic than I had previously realized.  

Since that first Congress in 2005 I received a Ph.D. in recreation from Texas A&M University, had 3 kids and have attended Congress every single year. Up until writing that last sentence I hadn’t realized that this year’s conference will be my tenth.  

The NRPA Congress has had a huge impact on my development as a park and recreation educator. I look forward to the opportunity each year to reconnect with friends and colleagues and learn from some of our best and brightest professionals and academics. 


Blog-Innovative-Congress-Sessions-Interactive-StudentsIn 2008 my fellow doctoral student, Rachel Aaron, and I decided to submit an education session proposal. Up to that point I had given only research presentations. Education sessions seemed like a better way to connect with professionals. Luckily our proposal was accepted and we had an awesome time facilitating our session on youth and nature. After that experience in Baltimore, I committed to try to do an education session each year. I love to interact with and learn from professionals. It forces me to think critically about the value of my research to professionals and how I can translate my research interests over into practically applicable content.

Last year, at the NRPA Congress in Houston my Department Chair, Patti Freeman, and I had the opportunity to present a Congress Live streamed education session on designing memorable recreation experiences. 

It was an awesome chance to participate in a new session format with a great group of attendees. I appreciate the efforts of the Congress planning committee to continually introduce new and innovative educational opportunities at Congress like Congress Live and Speed Sessions.

As we look forward to this year’s NRPA Congress in Charlotte, NC, I encourage each of you that have attended before to reflect back on the impact this event has had in your professional lives. Then think about how you can contribute as a volunteer, presenter, engaged attendee, in ways to pass on that impact to others

What an awesome opportunity it is to be part of the park and recreation community. Thanks for making me feel so welcomed and excited since I stepped into that conference center in San Antonio in 2005. 

I hope to see some of you in one of my education sessions this fall.


Mat D. Duerden, Ph.D.,  is an assistant professor in the Department of Recreation Management, Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University. He is a veteran Congress presenter and park and recreation research expert that will lead two education sessions and moderate a Leisure Research Symposium session at this year’s Congress in Charlotte, North Carolina.