Finding a career doing both what you enjoy and what you care about can be a challenge. Dr. Tracy Mainieri feels fortunate to have cleared that hurdle through her work as a recreation and park administration associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Recreation. Mainieri also coordinates two graduate sequences: recreation administration and the applied community and economic development sequence affiliated with the Stevenson Center.

As a college student, Mainieri never envisioned herself as a kinesiology and recreation professor. She started down a different path, guided by a passion she had ever since she was young.

“I loved learning about people, and I knew exactly why I wanted to study anthropology in college as an undergraduate,” she said.  

Soon after earning her bachelor’s, Mainieri found herself in a position many new graduates can find themselves in. “I had no job, no idea what to do. I did a catering job for a year. And I thought that I needed to figure my life out,” she said.  

Prospective students can learn more about becoming a Fellow, and prospective hosts can learn more about benefiting from a Fellow’s expertise. Deadlines are in February and March. Don’t delay!

However, after being hired for a job most people think of as temporary, she soon discovered her life’s mission. “When I was in college, my mom saw in the newspaper that the YMCA was hiring. I applied and was hired to work at the summer camp, and I loved it. I felt right at home: I realized that this is what I’m supposed to do,” said Mainieri.

With that clarity, she earned a doctorate in parks, recreation, and tourism management from Clemson University.

Mainieri never lost touch with the warm and inviting atmosphere of summer camps, and she strives to bring that experience into the classroom. “Summer camp is such a good learning experience because it’s fun. I try to remind everyone to have fun,” she explained.  

Mainieri still works at summer camps, including one at the YMCA in Bloomington-Normal. Not surprisingly, the current pandemic has dramatically affected summer camps and programs. She says that although 2020 camps were impacted heavily, many have adapted and become more resilient as a result.

“Some camps were devastated, but some camps were able to make it work. They have to adapt and be innovators, and so those skills have come in great [use] for those who have had to severely adapt to COVID,” Mainieri said.

Looking towards the future, Mainieri has been granted a sabbatical. She intends to use that time for projects that matter, including ensuring that camps become more inclusive for all youth.

“I’m really excited for my sabbatical coming up. I focused my project in areas that I want to grow in. I wish that camps would be places that are socially inclusive and just,” she said. 

When asked about advice for students, Mainieri shared the same advice she gives her child. “My advice is what I tell her: be kind, be curious, and be authentic. The more we can be brave enough to be authentic, the better.”

Dr. Mainieri is one of many faculty members currently teaching and advising Stevenson Center Fellows. The Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development is now accepting applications BOTH for new Fellows AND for host organizations. Prospective students can learn more about becoming a Fellow, and prospective hosts can learn more about benefiting from a Fellow’s expertise. Deadlines are in February and March. Don’t delay!