Navigating Parks and Recreation as a Student with Deona Micheli

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What do you do once you figure out that you want a job in Parks and Recreation?   This is the question that Deona and I started with in this conversation.  Deona reached out to me as a current student in the parks and recreation field.

I definitely see her as an up-and-coming leader in our field, and I am excited to hear what she has to say!  We talked about how to choose your degree, the right school, the right classes, and then how to get your foot in the door.  She has some really useful tips around volunteering, researching your dream job, and reaching out to other professionals.

What happens when you decide that you want to work in parks recreation?

“Once I found out that I wanted to have a career in the parks and recreation field, one of the things that helped me along the way was trying to figure out what kinds of jobs there were available.

Then, I looked at what degrees were required to get that job, and what it looked like to move up in the field.  I found that there were many different types of jobs – like aquatic supervisors, park supervisors,  athletic coordinators, park Rangers, park managers and so much more.

I also realized that there are many different types of recreation degrees.  Some of them are called environmental education, or leisure studies, or outdoor education.  There’s so many different names for different schools, and it’s just a matter of what kind of job you want to get after school.

I didn't realize that once you got a recreation degree, that there were all of these amazing and different diverse kinds of careers that you could have.

How do you get started in the field?

The first thing I would suggest is to do your research. Think about that dream job and what kind of degrees you’ll need.  Would it be with a city?  A state?  A county?  A private entity?  National Parks Whatever you decide, look towards those places to see how they operate and what kind of experience/education is necessary.

Another helpful tip is to volunteer.  You can commit to whatever your schedule will allow.  So whether it’s once a month or once a week, you can meet people and connect with others.  You also get to see how park systems operate. You can even see your dream job in action.  Ask someone who has your “dream job” and arrange a meeting with them. What does their daily job look like?  How did they get to their current role?  Most people are always looking to give advice.

I would also recommend getting in touch with associations.  The National Association of Interpretation is such a great association. They help young interpreters prepare for a career. They have workshops, activities, and they have lots of professionals who can give advice.  Another association is NRPA, and they do similar things.  Every state also has an association – so find one in your region that is active and be involved.


What my you tell someone who’s looking for that dream job but isn’t hearing back after they apply?

Be patient. Parks and recreation is a ladder, you can’t just go to the top without starting at the bottom first.

When you’re trying to apply for a position or become a volunteer, go talk to the people and introduce yourselves to the manager or your potential supervisor. Tell them how happy you are to be applying for this job. Face to face and handshakes go a long way.

You may want to start with a part-time position, or a student worker position, or maybe you are even volunteering.  However, you may not realize what you’re dream job actually is until you start.  It’s okay to get started and then change your mind.

There will be a time where you may have to start as a parks worker, changing trash cans, and that’s okay.  You may not have the best job right now because you are just a student and you are learning.  Looking back, I am very proud that I did those types of jobs.  Someone had to do it, and it didn’t just help the parks – it helps the public enjoy their parks and recreation experience.

What do you think are some of the topics that we should be talking about in our field?

  • Look at what some of the best parks and recreation departments are doing
  • What do their parks look like? What’s different about their programs?
  • What makes the difference between a program that gets 2 people and a program with 20 or 200 people?
  • Talk with people who work in the front-line positions at your parks or recreation centers who talk directly with customers. Understand their point of view and develop relationships with them to hear constant feedback.

Deona is working on an app to help people experience parks in new ways. If you’d like to be involved, or perhaps know someone with the technical expertise to help her, please reach out to her at

Deona Micheli

Deona Micheli

I am Deona Micheli and I have been in the parks field for 5 years. After volunteering and attending an Environmental Science class in high school that partnered with East Bay Regional I got a job working for East Bay Regional Park District, at Big Break in Oakley CA, as a student worker. This job helped me see that parks and recreation was the field I want a career in. As I was attending a local community college I looked into 4 year university’s with degrees in parks and recreation. I found Fresno State was the place for me. Shortly after that discovery I relocated to the Fresno area. I am currently a student at Fresno City College and I am working on getting my Associates degree in Recreation Admission before continuing on to Fresno State to get my Bachelors degree in Recreation Admission with an Emphasis on Outdoor adventure. I am currently employed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife as a Scientist aid, working with the Salmonids in the Classroom program."

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