Recreation, Park and Tourism management major offers outdoor learning opportunities


RPTM class

Macie Whittlesey, a senior in recreation, parks and tourism management, was at the lowest point in her life when she realized she needed a new beginning. 

Whittlesey turned to nature by exploring her love of hiking and the outdoors. She found her passion to be protection of parks and natural lands. She’s not the first student to have switched into the RPTM major after struggling to find a deeper connection to her studies.

Originally an economics major, Joshua May heard about RPTM after feeling unfulfilled in his classes. May ended up looking into other options and took a course with Andrew Lepp, who teaches the interactive park planning course.

The RPTM major has developed a partnership with Cuyahoga Valley National Park over the last 10 years. Students experience the partnership by taking park planning, interpretation of natural and cultural resources, or environmental education courses. 

During class time, students form real relationships with park personnel and tourism experts. Joshua Bates, park ranger and service learning coordinator for CVNP, said he hopes students in the major know there are various routes to a career in parks.

“The park has a partnership or a memorandum of understanding of almost 10 years now, and that relationship has really helped the park to have an institution at Kent State,” Bates said. “It gives us a chance to work together.”

A typical day during the interactive course, May said, involves learning about different park resources and communication tactics for everyday situations. 

“They gave us the tools we’d be using and showed us how to use them properly,” May said. “We hiked out into the woods and they showed us the invasive species we’d be looking for. We spent an hour or so removing the invasive species, and then they taught us about different types of volunteers they had.”

To pursue a career in parks, Bates said students must understand the value of volunteers.

“At any level, there’s going to be people who want to give their time and energy,” Bates said. “You have to consider volunteers in what they can do for us and how to properly motivate them.” 

Bates said CVNP is a great place for students, as well as anyone who is interested, to relieve stress through kayaking, running and mountain biking. 

“Having a place like Cuyahoga Valley nearby adds that quality of life.”

Lepp said the courses feature a variety of speakers. Representatives from the Lake County Metroparks and Army Corps of Engineers have previously come to speak to the classes.

“This semester, we have professionals from the YMCA coming in to talk to our students, and it’s a two-way interaction,” Lepp said. “I tell them: ‘You’re meeting your future employers. There’s a chance for you to start building your professional networks.’”

According to Lepp, most students discover RPTM later in their college career.

“Sometimes parents are misinformed and they think I really want my kid to go into pre-med. I say that because that’s how my parents were, ” Lepp said. “I think a lot of students get here and don’t realize that they can have a career in parks and rec. And then we have a lot of people joining the major their sophomore year.”

Lepp encourages students to attend college with their passion in hand. 

“No matter what major you choose, just choose the one you’re passionate about, because then you’re going to do better in it,” Lepp said. “If you graduate from Kent State with a decent grade point average, I think the sky’s the limit.”

Contact Linden Miller at [email protected].