Students enrolled in the course Parks and Recreation Management 325: Special Event Planning, planned seven special events for the community of Flagstaff that took place throughout April. The agency partners for this semester were Creative Flagstaff and Coconino Center for the Arts, the Bluffs Senior Living, Homeless Youth Connection, High Country Adaptive Sports and the Girl Scouts Association.
Traditionally, this course was designed to help students understand the process of designing, organizing and implementing a single community-based recreation event. For years, students enrolled in the class during spring helped plan the Sedona St. Patrick’s Day parade. However, since the event was canceled in 2020 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this partnership has not been reestablished. In the new reiteration of the class, students partner with community agencies to create impactful, smaller-scale events in the Flagstaff community. During the spring semester, this is a 16-week course offered in person, while in the fall, it’s a 7.5-week online course. The course typically sees 20-30 students enrolled per session. Students work in teams of three to five members during the spring, while fall session students work individually. Last fall, the course had 19 individual giving events with an impact of more than $100,000 raised for various nonprofit organizations, and more than 1,000 tangible goods, such as clothing, personal care items, food, pet supplies and toys provided to nonprofit organizations across the United States.
This course allows students to be prepared to step into an event-planning role in any organization when they’re ready to go into the workforce.
“Events are everywhere, from community fun runs for a local city parks and recreation department to fundraising events for nonprofits,” said Susan Purrington, assistant professor of practice in the Parks and Recreation Management program and instructor for the course.
“Parks and recreation students can be found everywhere—private for-profit businesses, nonprofits, government agencies. The elements of planning, implementing and evaluating an event are essential career-ready skills that students can take wherever they choose.”
Purrington believes in the power and significance of community-based learning. It’s one of the reasons why she considers getting students involved in planning community events so important. Doing so challenges the students to engage with the academic material differently, with a community need having been established. Community-based learning adds to the overall benefits this class provides students with. Purrington said the experience gained through this class helps students “gain competency in all aspects of event planning.” This class allows students to develop knowledge regarding how community organizations operate—everything from getting funding to the decision-making process. Additionally, students develop skills any good event planner needs, such as being organized, professional and adaptable, work on their written and public presentation skills, develop their networking skills and learn to take –in and apply feedback to improve the outcome.
With an all-encompassing class such as PRM 325, the key to success is early planning for the course itself.
“I start recruiting agencies approximately four to five months before the start of a semester,” Purrington said “I meet with each agency interested in the partnership and outline the structure of the course and an agreement on how the agency will support the student. We discuss event ideas and typically determine the options for the students. Once the agency has signed the agreement, I have them present their agency and event ideas to the class. Students then get to rank their preferences based on how the agency or event will help them in either an academic or professional way. I assign groups to agencies based on this preference. By doing so, agencies receive students who are engaged and passionate about their project, and students find purpose to their work. It’s been a win-win set up for years.”
During the semester, the students work with their assigned agency to design an event; sometimes, these events are pre-existing or ongoing/annual events. Other times, the students work on brand– new or stand-alone events.
“Most of the time, agencies have an idea for an event – such as a dance, fundraiser, or promotional event. So, the students have a lot of creative control to create an event of their choosing within the structure of the agency’s wishes and needs. Planning involves selecting a theme and identifying a purpose, setting goals and outcomes, determining a venue, food and beverage, entertainment, registration, marketing and evaluation. Some events may have volunteer management as an element too.”
Purrington typically tries to recruit organizations that greatly impact the community to work with students for this course, such as nonprofits and organizations serving historically oppressed groups. That being said, she has also overseen students planning events for government agencies and for-profit corporations in the past too.
“My favorite part of the course is attending all the events and seeing the amazing work our students are doing. They are demonstrating the true NAU excellence, and our partners are so grateful for it.”
PRM 325 Student Perspective: Meet Catherine Domer
Domer is a junior at NAU studying parks and recreation management. She initially enrolled in the course to fulfill academic requirements, but being in the class has altered her perspective completely.
This semester, Domer was part of the student team partnering with the local nonprofit group Homeless Youth Connection to plan a Lunch and Learn event that allowed other businesses and organizations in the area to learn how they could work together for the benefit of the community.
“If you ever take the class, don’t panic over the idea of having to plan out a whole event that will actually happen,” Domer said. “You have so much support in this class including your peers, professor and partner agency.”
As a rising senior, Domer has no set plans for her future just yet, but sees event –planning, specifically for public –service events, as a strong contender for a future career.