The Tie That Binds? A Case Study of Student Perceptions of Their Recreation-Related Majors

Article excerpt

Many college students begin their parks, recreation, tourism, therapeutic recreation, sports management, or outdoor recreation major (referred to hereafter as recreation-related major) with a narrow view of their academic path. These students usually have a specific career in mind such as becoming a park ranger, a recreation therapist, or an athletic director. The field of parks and recreation as defined 50 years ago has become more diversified today (Henderson, Bialeschki, Hemingway, Hodges, Kivel, & Sessoms, 2001), and many students appear to hold a narrow view regarding their specialty (Godbey, 2000). Although specializations seem to provide students with many opportunities, they also may dilute the coherence of a professional field.

The invited papers that appeared in the 2008 volume of Schole, for example, addressed one example of professional diversity regarding the role of sport management within traditional parks and recreation departments in higher education. Dustin and Schwab (2008) argued that sport management was an uncomfortable partner for academic parks and recreation departments. Among the points made, Dustin and Schwab argued that sports management can undermine park and recreation faculty members' professional purpose. The responses to Dustin and Schwab provided counterpoints about how sport management compliments traditional park and recreation academic departments (e.g., Gibson, 2008; Howard, 2008; McDonald, 2008; Wellman & Rea, 2008). This discussion sparked questions about the collective identity within recreation-related academic departments that often include a variety of specialized areas. Exploring further whether a collective identity exists may be useful.

Because curricula in universities have grown, we wondered how students enrolled in recreation-related specialties perceived their collective identity within a single department. Therefore, the purpose of this research was to use a case study at North Carolina State University to explore how undergraduate students perceived their recreation-related majors and the connections among specialty areas (i.e., recreation programming, tourism and commercial recreation, natural resource recreation, sport management) within the department. The results of this exploration may provide insights about the perceived identity and purpose that undergraduate students associate with the broad field of recreation. Bok (2006) argued that without a compelling unifying purpose in universities, "knowledge itself has splintered into a kaleidoscope of separate academic specialties with far too little effort to integrate the fragments, let alone show students how they might connect" (p. 2). If university communities have been indicted for this fragmentation, then exploring the integrated purpose or collective identity perceived by students in recreation-related majors within a department may be useful not only for educators but for the future of the profession.

Background Literature

As a frame for this study, we provide a short historical context about the evolution of parks and recreation curricula. In addition, we identify some of the contemporary issues facing higher education.

Historical Context

The formal acknowledgment of a field of practice related to parks and recreation began before the turn of the 20th century. For example, in the final years of the 19th century, tracts of land were set aside for purposes of preservation and use (e.g., New York's Central Park). The enactment of the Antiquities Act of 1906 resulted in a tool for the federal government to protect public land. The Playground Association of America also began in 1906 with the purpose of advocating for the value of play for children (Hartsoe, 2006). During this same time, voluntary organizations particularly focused on youth (e.g., Girl Scouts, YMCA) grew across the U.S. With these visible recreational programs and facilities, the need for coordination and the training of leaders became apparent (Sessoms, 1993). …