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Recreation studies fascinated outstanding grad enough to change majors

Learned that people need leisure and play to maintain their health

Tanner Smith, School of Community Resources and Development, spring 202,2 Watts College, Outstanding Graduate.

Tanner Smith, School of Community Resources and Development, spring 2022 Watts College Outstanding Graduate. Photo courtesy Tanner Smith

April 29, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Tanner Smith said she often fields questions about her degree program in parks and recreation from people who mistakenly believe it’s literally all fun and games. Questions like: “Is it like the TV show ‘Parks and Recreation’?”

Smith said she has had plenty of practice replying, since she once asked questions like that herself. (The answer, by the way, is, “No, not entirely.”)

The spring 2022 Outstanding Graduate from the School of Community Resources and Development said after learning about her field, people appreciate it as a serious study of essential elements for healthy living.

“Parks and recreation is very important, not only for adolescents, but adults. Everyone needs a source of recreation,” said Smith, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in parks and recreation management with a certificate in special events management.

The resident of Glendale, Arizona, started at ASU majoring in biological sciences, but wasn’t happy with it. During her freshman year she took a parks and recreation class, PRM 120: Leisure and Quality of Life, that changed her outlook.

“I remember we were working on a module about the importance of play and finding your ‘flow state,’ which refers to being fully immersed in an activity and being so involved that you lose all track of time,” Smith said. “This concept immediately caught my attention and I felt a genuine excitement about learning more.”

Smith changed majors. While she didn’t become anything like the show’s lead character Leslie Knope, she learned the value that recreation offers everyone.

Smith said the popular TV comedy did get a few things right.

“Our reality is attending city hall meetings, organizing special events and interacting with community members,” she said. “From my experience, the parks and recreation field is full of individuals with the same personality and passion that many of the characters on the show had. We might not get up to the same shenanigans that they did, but we really do have fun while we are at work.”

Read on to learn more about Smith’s ASU journey:

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: I went to very small schools when I was younger, so I knew the same 10 or 15 people growing up. All of my classroom settings sadly looked the same. ASU opened a million doors into the world around me. I have met people from a plethora of different religious, spiritual, racial and cultural backgrounds who all have a different perspective to share. The value in that alone is immense. I could never have a closed mind while being here.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I knew after I finished high school I wanted to attend college, I just had no idea what major I wanted to pursue. ASU was close enough to home and offered me the best financial aid package. I have always loved school and knew I wanted to continue my education, and I am happy I ended up at ASU.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I appreciate all of the faculty I was able to interact with in my program. It almost feels wrong to not shout out each of them, since they all played a major role in my development. I want to thank Eric Legg for teaching me many important lessons while at ASU and for being an exemplary leader. I took on a lot during my undergraduate days while balancing three jobs, and I tried my best to not get overwhelmed. In many ways, Professor Legg encouraged me to keep pushing through and his consistent feedback motivated me along the way — more than he probably knows. A lesson I learned from him was to always say yes to every opportunity that comes my way because I will never know what it might lead to. He reminded me why I have such a passion for learning and why self-efficacy matters to me.

In addition, I would like to shout out Dale Larsen for being a source of positivity and creator of genuine connection, especially as we navigated classes during the pandemic. Professor Larsen has always been eager to connect myself and fellow students to opportunities that align with our career interests and introduce us to individuals to build our network.

Both of them invested in me and I appreciate them for the confidence they helped me build. I think back on myself freshman year and remember feeling so timid, without a sense of self-identity. The faculty at Watts College helped me tap into my own potential and instilled in me a flourishing self-confidence, strong work ethic and eagerness for the field.

Q:  So what important things about parks and recreation should someone whose awareness doesn’t go too far beyond the TV show know?

A: Human beings’ need for leisure and play stems back to recess in grade school and earlier as a key component toward maintaining mental and physical health. These concepts have quite a bit of science behind them. People have to decide to include recreational activities in their lives, because it can’t be done for them. Daily life can get stressful, so participating in recreational activities that we enjoy can enhance our quality of life. This is why recreation is such a necessary field. Leisure activities such as art, music or sport can help us strengthen our physical, emotional and mental well-being.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Try to enjoy your time in school without any pressure. College is a very fun time and will be the source of some of your best memories down the line. It would be a disservice to yourself to spend each day with an immense weight on your shoulders. Give yourself permission to not hold back, not take things too seriously and to be as authentic as you can be.

Q: What was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?

A: On the Downtown Phoenix campus, I spent a lot of time at Fillmore Coffee Co. or in the UCENT (University Center) library study rooms. I also spent large amounts of time on the ASU shuttles as commuting took up a lot of my days. The shuttle ride is nice to listen to music and ponder life, I think I even cried once or twice on there.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: This is a tough question. I have a lot of ideas for what I want to do after graduation and my list of passions continues to grow. I always thought when I reached this point in my academic journey I would have my exact career picked out, but I can’t say that I do. All I know for sure is that after graduation, I hope to be working somewhere that makes me happy and allows me to positively impact my community. Security and happiness are my top two priorities after graduation.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: As a parks and recreation student, I have learned what to consider when building a healthy community and there are a lot of factors that go into lessening the health gaps caused by differences in income, race, education and location. Simply put, I would want to use the money to increase access to health care. I wish I could provide every human being with access to quality health care as well as the safety and reassurance that they can access it when they need it.

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