Recreation students gain real world experience through internships

parks and rec students

Facing real-life challenges through volunteer opportunities and internships are an essential part of GWC’s programs of study, with the idea that students learn in the field as well as in the classroom.

Through GWC’s recreation major, students complete internship hours towards their degree while gaining real-world experience and interacting with local community members. Parks and recreation senior Rachel Jackowske found an internship through her degree program where she could work with people of all ages on multiple projects.

“I had worked with kids through summer jobs prior to attending GWC, but I was also looking to experience recreation on the adult and senior side, in order to become well-rounded,” she said.

Jackowske found what she was looking for through two internships this past fall and spring at the Dundee Township Park District and the City of Elgin. Her responsibilities ranged from organizing and implementing day trips for seniors, working with after school programs, planning family nights and arranging fitness classes. She also experienced the administrative side of parks and recreation as she completed grant research, created social media plans and assisted in marketing the events to local community members.

“I learned throughout this process how to juggle multiple projects with different departments and how there is so much more to this field than just working directly with community members,” said Jackowske. “There’s an incredible amount of detail and planning that goes into each event. This experience really made me love my major even more.”

"Recreation internships provide students with opportunities to explore and experience one or more of the various professional roles that exist in the field," said Christopher Wells, Chair and Assistant Professor of Outdoor Recreation. "The skills and experience gained help boost resumes and the process can connect students to a network of professionals who could serve as mentors to them."

Senior Matthew Meyer transferred to GWC after realizing he wanted to focus on the parks and recreation major.

“I really want a career in coaching youth sports, but was looking for a major where I could learn broader topics that would assist me in the job market once I graduate,” said Meyer. “One thing I have been happy to learn is how to create a business plan for a recreation center, from staffing requirements to budgets to facility design and marketing.”

As an intern at Big Foot Recreation District, Meyer worked closely with program coordinators, assisting in activities beyond sports and coaching, including a youth chef program, art classes, dances and helping with the creation of the seasonal program guide, which is sent to all homes in the area. 

“I’ve really enjoyed getting out into the community and putting my class knowledge to use,” he said. “I was able to bring information of my work situations into peer discussions which helped me in the internship. It really was like test-driving a job and I’m glad I did it.”

As the current parks and recreation program transitions into an outdoor recreation leadership and management major, tailoring classes to experiential learning and using the lakeside campus as a teaching resource, students continue to experience internships as a means to gain working knowledge of the recreation field.

“My advice to a student looking for an internship is to contact as many people in the career field that you can,” Meyer said. “It’s all about networking. You never know where a connection from a volunteer experience or a community event could lead you and that experience could validate your area of study.”

“Students should approach internships with an open mind in order to get everything they can out of it, and remember that no task is too small, as it could be something that will help them in the future.” said Jackowske.

Visit the outdoor recreation leadership and management program page for more information or call 262-245-8564.