On April 5, more than 100 faculty and students attended the first-ever therapeutic recreation (TR) summit at Illinois State University.

The event was organized by TR Professors Rachel Smith and Sherri Hildebrand and attracted educators and students from throughout the state for the purpose of encouraging students to exchange ideas on assigned topics. Participating universities included University of St. Francis, Moraine Valley Community College, Eastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Western Illinois University, Aurora University, and Illinois State. Topics included conferences, professional development, trends and issues, advocacy, inclusion, scholarship opportunities, and exam resources for certification as a certified therapeutic recreation specialist.

In addition, students were coached on how to disseminate what they learned in the form of conference presentations, papers, posters, websites, blogs, etc. An outcome of the summit was to help guide the students through a learning process that will be a positive impact on next year’s Illinois Recreation Therapy Association (ILRTA) conference and the TR profession by creating presentations and encouraging the students to become active practitioners in the future.

The summit was the first fully student-centered program encouraging collaboration between universities.

“The idea began with the educators in the state of Illinois,” Smith said. “We noted a lack of student contributions in conference presentations, journal articles, and evidence-based research. Additionally, I felt there was value in creating a community of learners, where each student could contribute.”

Illinois State University volunteered to host due to its central location. The University also has the largest TR program in the state, and having an event of this nature on campus makes it easier for more Illinois State students to attend.

The summit had two main goals: networking with others in the TR discipline and learning from one another. Both goals were accomplished as students were divided into groups with representation from every school. Students collaborated to design projects to explore and advance the profession. Ten projects were identified that the students will work on throughout the upcoming year.

“Technology has made this possible. Students are able to collaborate on a project from a distance and meet at a conference to present. It’s a really unique opportunity. Some of our students would never have had the chance to interact with so many others in therapeutic recreation,” said Julie Eggleston, from Western Illinois University.

One of the expected projects includes a document to be distributed to all the schools of interview tips and tricks. This document will be produced by the students after interviewing professionals on industry specific interview techniques as well as practitioner hiring preferences. Another group chose to focus on the steps to submit a conference proposal. These students will interview faculty and collaborate on conference presentations. Social media is being used to connect students and share information on scholarships, career opportunities, and national exam study tools.

“In therapeutic recreation the Illinois schools have been pretty siloed, yet, all of the students go through similar processes,” Smith said. “For example, they will all take the same certification exam and go through a similar process for internships. As a field we are united. We end up working alongside each other in the work place. It was a natural extension to begin the connections of working together now. I am not surprised the students chose to collaborate and share resources; it can only strengthen our profession.”

Each student group selected three leadership positions: chair, recorder, and communicator. These roles will help to ensure students are able to complete projects in a timely manner. Faculty mentors were assigned to each group to help with resources and questions.

The summit was a success with students enjoying learning and collaboration. “It was great to connect with other people in our field that understand what we are majoring in and why! It was an exciting experience,” Illinois State student Kimberly Rinck said.

Smith started the summit with a challenge of “each one, teach one.” Students took this to heart and shared their knowledge, passion and experiences to learn from one another.

Illinois educators will meet in the fall to update on the results of the summit, but Illinois State will begin planning for the next summit to take place in 2021.