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Satisfying work in the field of play

ISU recreation and park administration alumni Katie Jones (left) and Jennifer Bruggeman (right) with Professor Barbara Schlatter (center)

ISU recreation and park administration alumni Katie Jones (left) and Jennifer Bruggeman (right) with Professor Barbara Schlatter (center)

Jennifer Bruggeman, assistant superintendent of recreation at St. Charles Park District, graduated in 2006 with dual degrees in program management and commercial recreation. Overseeing five full-time supervisors who run the waterpark, before and after school program, athletics, the teen center, and special events, Bruggeman’s workdays are eventful and ever-changing!

When we chatted, she had been tackling the latest opportunity for the district: two historic 100-passenger paddlewheel riverboats to cruise the Fox River. Becoming operational this summer, there will be public cruises, historical presentations, private tours, and rehearsal dinners and weddings to plan and facilitate.

A typical day for Bruggeman depends on the time of year. During the winter months, she hires new staff, writes waivers and disclaimers to send to legal for approval, plans upcoming spring programs, and studies current user fees to see how they compare to competitors’ fees. In the wake of one family’s tragedy of losing a child to drowning, a foundation was established at the park district to provide free swim lessons to 3- and 4-year-olds to help them build confidence and comfort in the water. Bruggeman’s interactions with the family to implement the details of the foundation is rewarding, but delicate, work.

Several years ago, Bruggeman made a conscious decision to seek out and say “yes” to work opportunities that would provide her with exposure to new experiences. That decision, combined with her master’s degree in management and organizational behavior from Benedictine College, introduced her to staff coaching techniques and human resources/risk management. These experiences influenced her to lead her own team, which is how she landed at St. Charles three years ago.

Not every day is ideal, though. Bruggeman notes it is sometimes a challenge to navigate through customers’ unjustified demands, such as a youth with special needs should be banned from the pool because he dunked the parents’ daughter. Most rewarding, however, is the creation of fun and memorable experiences for others, as well as seeing the successes of her team at special events. Having her own children at the ages where they enjoy park district events and programs is also personally satisfying.

Bruggeman’s influence on park districts in Illinois extends beyond St. Charles. She has served on Illinois State University’s recreation and park administration advisory council. She and Professor Amy Hurd co-authored a chapter on youth development in “A Competency-Based Approach to Preparing Staff as Recreation and Youth Development Leaders” (June 2011). She has also co-presented with Professor Michael Mulvaney at the Illinois Park and Recreation annual conference.

Reflecting on her time at Illinois State, Bruggeman loved her dad’s visits on the weekends. They would have cookouts at the local parks, allowing her to get to know the parks of Normal as a park user (as opposed to being an intern or employee). She also studied abroad in Limerick, Ireland, for a semester.

Bruggeman advises: “When looking for a job, take time to thoroughly research the organization’s culture. Don’t limit yourself to only studying the agency website. Talk to front line staff, current participants, and community members to gain a true understanding the organization. Also, say, ‘YES,’ to work opportunities that come your way so that you can gain experience and eventually move up!”

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