Jake Lind '16, a soccer coach with Coerver United, manages a clinic for youth players in Virginia. Eastern Mennonite University's new major, recreation leadership and sports studies, provides core courses in management and leadership, as well as the flexibility of choosing a minor in a field of interest. (Photo by Joaquin Sosa)

New recreational leadership and sports studies major offers leadership and management skills for growing job market

Eastern Mennonite University’s newest major, recreational leadership and sports studies (RLSS), focuses on providing students who love working with active people the managerial and leadership skills to enter into the fast-growing and broad field of recreation and leisure.

Students work with youngsters at a Family Fun Night. (Photo by Dylan Buchanan)

“This major prepares students for a wide variety of careers, from facilities management to event planning, sports marketing, camp administration, ecotourism, graduate school and so much more,” says Professor Sandy Brownscombe. “We are really excited to offer this, because it gives students a strong foundation of knowledge, but also greater flexibility to explore their interests in the field and then tailor their studies in that direction.”

The employment outlook for recreation majors is positive, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth is projected to rise through 2024 by 10 percent, a rate that exceeds the 7 percent average for all occupations.

“This is an area of career interest that we frequently hear about from prospective students,” said Vice President for Student Life Jim Smucker. “These are often students whose lives have been shaped by athletics and outdoors experiences, and they want to find a profession in which they can continue to be involved and share that with others. This major offers skills, preparation and guidance as they look at their options to fulfill that dream.”

Core and elective coursework focuses on several core components:

  • Managerial skills, including personnel, scheduling, program evaluation, mediation and group dynamics;
  • Knowledge of legal and risk management aspects, including supervision and program administration;
  • Facilities management and event planning;
  • Teaching and coaching skills of individual and team sports;
  • Principles of fitness, including strength and conditioning, and first aid.

The major encourages career exploration through a sophomore practicum and then a more focused intensive hands-on experience during the senior internship.

Several students have fulfilled the internship requirements through the Washington Community Scholars’ Program, a semester-long cross-cultural experience in Washington D.C.

“Our students have worked at area YMCAs, covered the Washington Nationals and assisted with programs with D.C. United,” Brownscombe says.

Additionally, the curricular framework asks all RLSS majors to select a minor from among the 39 offered at EMU. Kinesiology/exercise science and coaching are popular, but Brownscombe encourages students to stretch themselves into other departments.

“You can pair the RLSS major with a minor in business, youth ministry, psychology, neuroscience,” she says. “The curricular load also offers room to take electives, so if you’re exploring physical therapy or pre-professional health sciences but not wanting a biology major, you could select courses in physics, chemistry and mathematics that would align with prerequisite courses required for particular graduate programs.”

Sophomore Bailey Hall, who is currently completing a practicum this summer at Botetourt Sports Center, says the new major teaches skills that fit his current goals of becoming a recreation facility manager or a baseball coach. Curricular flexibility will allow him to double-minor, adding coaching and kinesiology.

The new major is the result of a two-year internal and external review process; so too is a new hire.

Dr. Joo Hyun Lee, formerly of Florida State University, brings research experience with consumer behavior in recreation management, specifically in parks and outdoor recreation, nature-based tourism, and at festivals and events. She’ll teach risk management, administration, leadership and event planning courses, as well as marketing courses in the business department.

Brownscombe, a professor at EMU since 1978, is energized by these developments.

“Recreation has been a critical component of the department for a long time, as we’ve had long-standing relationships with camps and the local recreation community. This major builds on those relationships and the legacy of the faculty and staff who have gone before us,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to strengthen our offerings and hone into our niche to better prepare our graduates, even as the recreation and leisure world continues to change.”