Education, Preparation, Vocation (Part Two)

April 1, 2014, Department, by Anna Pechenik Mausolf, CPRP

Recreation undergraduate student clubs are invaluable to future professionals in the field of parks and recreation. Here are some proven ways to successfully recruit participants.All recreation professionals strive to promote their programs, so I wondered, “How can student participation in recreation clubs be increased?” To help answer my question, I contacted colleagues from across the United States to ask for their input. How does joining the majors’ club benefit their students? What works and doesn’t work at their university? What advice do they have for other programs? 

Last month, the first installment of this two-part series introduced the benefits of club participation as an undergraduate or graduate student. Now we’re prepared to discuss how academic recreation programs can recruit and convince students to join these clubs. I spoke with representatives of 10 universities from around the country to find out what they are doing to effectively spread the message and increase club participation.

To begin, they start early in the school year. Dr. Brian Greenwood, an associate professor at California Polytechnic State University-San Louis Obispo, says, “We do our best to promote [our recreation club] at the department’s open house, orientation week and various other times during the year when the club has a membership drive.” Dr. Peter Ward reported a similar strategy at Brigham Young University, saying, “Our club is promoted through recreation management classes during the first couple of weeks, in addition to the university and college club fairs.”

Eastern Kentucky University also ventures outside the academic halls to drum up interest. Dr. Michael Bradley says, “The best recruitment tool we have is doing fun things in the middle of campus, like a four-square tournament.” Continuing with the creativity theme is Oklahoma State University, where Dr. Tyler Tapps noted one of the Recreation Majors Club’s fun approaches; “Some of our programs are ‘bring a friend’ events, and that gets us into another market of students.” 

Professors at both Western Illinois University and SUNY-Cortland spoke to the importance of this student-to-student dynamic. Dr. Dan Yoder offered his advice; “If you can get a junior or a sophomore to take a leadership role and provide continuity over two or three years, that is great.” Dr. Brooke Burk supported this idea, recommending that other programs “Identify strong and driven students in the classroom to join the clubs. With these individuals involved, others will want to join and be active.” 

In addition to promoting on a personal level, many universities employ tried-and-true bandwagon marketing techniques. Almost everyone I consulted for this article mentioned that club activities are announced in their academic courses. At Cal Poly, the club is ingrained in the workings of the program. As Dr. Greenwood explains, “At the department level, I think it’s important to place value on the student majors club by integrating club membership recruitment into departmental functions, promoting it in classes and so on. It becomes something that Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration majors are expected to do.” 

Another recruitment tool mentioned by many programs was a bulletin board. At the University of Mississippi, William “Zack” Breeding explains the club has “posted a board that will have photos and stories of our students and the awesome things they do as recreation majors. This is located so as to grab the eye of any student who utilizes the Turner Center or our gym/natatorium/rec building. After only being posted for one week, I have had over 10 friends ask about this Recreation Management degree I’m working on.” Oklahoma State University’s club also has a bulletin board, but Tapps shared that they have found greater success with another tool. “We promote the club through our classes and with displays on our board in our academic hallway,” he says. “The most accurate way and the way that works the best is a listserv. Once someone becomes a member of the club, they are automatically added to our listserv and we can contact them all directly.”

Like Oklahoma State University, a few clubs communicate using email. Most clubs have a Facebook page, and some even have two, one for events and one to help members in various academic courses. Others also have Twitter accounts. “Electronic word of mouth” is so important to club promotion that it was the first thing Dr. Kyle Woosnam mentioned when I asked him how Texas A&M marketed its Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences Club. No advice on club recruitment would be complete, however, without mentioning the tastiest option. According to Woosnam, “Always having food at events typically increases our turnout.” 

“Getting students active is all about catching their interest,” advises Breeding. So what kinds of unique things could your club do to spark interest? BYU, located in Provo, Utah, is perfectly located for adventure seekers. As Dr. Jasmine Townsend reflected, “When I was at BYU as a master’s student, our graduate recreation club included automatic membership and we had a Fun Friday activity every week. Things like biking up the canyon, rock climbing, kayaking, etc. I know part of that has to do with access to such activities, but I would think that for grad students, a little bit of stress-free recreation time would be awesomely beneficial.” 

Inviting a mini-celebrity, such as the director of the local parks department or a coach from university athletics, may prove a popular draw for students. Woosnam strongly encourages student clubs to “have guest speakers from the field who will provide key advice for entering the workforce.” Finally, if your university’s student recreation club is still seeking to increase its membership, and you’ve already tried food, Facebook and flyers, may I suggest you give something uniquely fun a shot? Get a mascot! “EKU has a bear costume, which we have a student wear at the events. The Rec Bear!” says Bradley, laughing.

Happy recreating! 

Anna Pechenik Mausolf, CPRP, is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University.