Therapeutic recreation (TR) students from universities across the state recently united for the 2021 Illinois Therapeutic Recreation Student Summit.  

The collaborative event was hosted by Illinois State University TR department (in the School of Kinesiology and Recreation) and allowed everyone in attendance to participate as both audience members and presenters, in sessions with panel discussions and presentations on various topics.

The summit began in 2019 and was set to be held every two years—it was presented virtually this year due to COVID-19. The focus of this year’s summit was to not only expose students to relevant and current topics in the field but give them the opportunity to practice their presentation skills. After refining their skills at the summit, students were encouraged to apply to present at the Illinois Therapeutic Recreation Association, a state level conference.   

Summit organizer and TR faculty member, Rachel Smith, said that the importance of the summit is in the value of collaboration.

“We care about the profession of therapeutic recreation and uniting students together to give them a chance to collaborate and network before they go into the profession,” Smith said. “We welcome students from other universities and try to work on leading everyone to the top.”

The summit was certainly collaborative as Illinois State’s representatives hosted different breakout sessions, while faculty from Western Illinois University took charge of break times. Everyone represented their university by wearing school colors and sporting their respective logos as a backdrop. Other schools in attendance included the University of St. Francis, Aurora University, Chicago State University, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Eastern Illinois University, and Moraine Valley Community College.

Graduate student Skylar Blasz presented on study tips for the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) exam, with her research focused on different effective study tips, what to look forward to on the exam, and what to expect based on her own experience taking the exam. She also included a list of free and paid study guides and other resources.

“I think it is always really nice to get to know students and their experiences, especially those from other schools,” Blasz said. “I was excited to present my work to those who don’t know what to expect on the exam or how to prepare.”  

The NCTRC exam can be difficult and takes serious preparation, but Illinois State’s pass rate in 2020 was nearly 92 percent compared to the national rate of 85.3 percent.

“As someone who attended the summit a couple of years ago when it was first starting up, I’m excited to be one of the people who presented this year,” Blasz said. “Hopefully the students who attended my presentation took some helpful tips with them to help them along the way.”

Kristin Papanicolas, a TR senior, presented on the topic of mindfulness, basing her work on the book, The Art of Living, written by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who shares teachings on knowledge and mindfulness.

This was Papanicolas’ first time presenting at a conference, and she appreciated the opportunity to step out of her comfort zone and practice presentation skills. She spent a great amount of time preparing for the summit, taking in new information and working to make the most of the experience.

“I looked forward to presenting in front of other TR students in the field, from ISU, and other schools across Illinois,” Papanicolas said. “Reading The Art of Living and putting together this presentation has been an exciting and thrilling learning experience. I always find joy in sharing information that I am passionate about and hope that others enjoy what I present to them.”

Other topics covered at the summit included a panel on senior internship experiences with students from several of the schools, advocacy in TR, a “day in the life” of a special recreation association professional, which included five members of the young professionals committee from Illinois Parks and Recreation Association and ISU alumnus Lindsey Anderson. There were also two additional sessions featuring students from Chicago State University.

In the future, Smith hopes to continue to collaborate with other universities and give students the opportunity to connect.

“It’s important to have that interdisciplinary level connection,” she said. “As a profession, we all eventually work together. It is so important to allow students to make those early connections with one another, especially since they will most likely become colleagues someday.”

To learn more about therapeutic recreation at Illinois State, visit the School of Kinesiology and Recreation’s website here.