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PRTSM Master’s Graduates Reflect on Online Learning Experiences

Wolf statue in front of Murphy Football Center at Carter-Finley Stadium. PHOTO BY ROGER WINSTEAD

NC State’s College of Natural Resources offers an online master’s degree option in Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management (PRTSM) for professionals seeking to advance their careers. With an emphasis on advanced management skills, students in the program graduate with the knowledge and credentials needed to assume leadership and management positions. Three master’s students are sharing their path to graduation while demonstrating the diversity of programs, real-world applications and student experiences that are offered. 

Myles Dillard is the Graduate Manager for the NC State Men’s Basketball team. Allan Lusk is the General Manager for Wilmington Sharks Baseball Club in Wilmington, N.C. And, AG Osborne is the Staffing Coordinator for the Virtual Sales and Customer Service division for Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI). Osborne is also a member of the leadership team for the Employee Resource Groups as a membership chair.  

Why did you pursue the PRTSM Online Master’s Degree? 

Myles Dillard

Myles Dillard: As an adolescent, I never envisioned myself going to graduate school or earning a master’s degree; it just wasn’t something you saw a lot of African-American males doing. I earned my undergraduate degree from University of North Carolina Wilmington in Recreational Management in 2017. I loved the program and my professors so much that in 2019 I decided to go back and earn my master’s from North Carolina Central University. It was a great program and I wouldn’t have left if it weren’t for Coach Kevin Keatts offering me the graduate manager position. I couldn’t pass up an incredible education from a prestigious program at NC State. I love basketball and I love working with young people — that’s all I’ve known in my life. Being presented with the chance to work with the men’s basketball team in one of the greatest conferences and having the chance to help influence and shape young men on and off the basketball court has been the biggest blessing. I’ve cherished every moment.

Allan Lusk (center)

Allan Lusk: During the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to use my extra time to further educate myself to set myself up for future success. I enjoyed my sport management background and wanted to continue with education towards my sport career. At the same time, I understand that sports is a time-consuming industry with a schedule that is difficult to sustain for an entire career. I loved exploring the many aspects of this degree: sports, tourism, and parks and recreation. These are all industries that are similar, and I wanted to be marketable for future employment within my current field, and similar other fields. Additionally, the other four members of my immediate family attended NC State and I was the only member of the family without some kind of degree from NC State, that is now not the case!

AG Osborne

AG Osborne: I grew up convinced I wanted to be an engineer and we know NC State is the place for that! When my undergraduate experience didn’t align with that, it was so reassuring to find CNR and the PRTM program, and graduate with my bachelor’s degree in Recreation Program Management. I was able to secure a fantastic LEGO education role right out of undergrad that combined both engineering problem solving with recreation. I found my way back to campus through temporary roles and wanted to pursue the next level of education to further my skills and challenge me. I felt at home with the faculty and staff from my undergraduate classes. 10 years later, I am thankful I had the opportunity to interact with and be taught by so many of those influential professors again while earning my master’s degree. I enrolled at the height of the pandemic in fall of 2020. CNR’s Online Master of Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management program seemed like a perfect fit for me because the classes are in an accelerated format, all online, and taught synchronously in the evening. This allowed me a connection to others (when we couldn’t actually go out to meet anyone), allowed me to connect to professors and staff from a decade ago and reignite my passion for the Wolfpack. Although I am close to campus and visit often, I had my own personal way of interacting with people on the educational side and could enjoy campus as a graduate student through recreation and sporting events.

Describe your experience in the PRTSM Online Master’s Degree program.

Dillard: It’s been one of the very best and toughest experiences all rolled in one. I truly was challenged each and every day. I learned so much in a short amount of time. There were a plethora of courses that I was able to take, which made me well rounded for the future.

Lusk: This has been a very rewarding experience. I have had the opportunities to learn so much through great, passionate professors, and other students pursuing this degree. I find that this type of degree attracts some great people who all really care about their work and are passionate about sharing their wealth of knowledge with others. They all want everybody to succeed.

Osborne: My experience with the MPRTSM program has framed my current leadership role at REI where I hire and train the next round of outdoor stewards into roles that afford folks better access to the outdoors. I want to share with others reading this the same passion I’ve followed in my education and my profession: facilitating, serving, and building the connection between humanity and nature. I have group texts with many colleagues from the program I have met in the past two years. We share possible job opportunities, engaging in local recreation events, silly memes and online stories, celebrations and heartbreak. The folks I have gotten to know the most, even though some of them I have never met, will forever be in my heart. We have supported and encouraged each other through difficult classes, late night papers and research and tried to keep each other sane through our current chaotic world.

How did you balance working and completing your degree?

Dillard: It’s really tough to put it into words how much of a grind it was. There were plenty of times where I felt like giving up or where I thought I wasn’t going to make it through. My graduate school experience, along with my fellow classmates, was different from the average one. We overcame working full-time and being full-time students while experiencing a global pandemic. For me, the biggest thing that helped was surrounding myself with like-minded people who have the same goals in mind, which helped me stay focused. Ultimately, I think you have to be organized and well-versed at managing your time as well.

Lusk: Being able to balance my very strenuous job with this program was a worry I had going into it. I quickly learned that it is very doable. The weekly online set up is a perfect schedule for my work and I was able to set aside time easily as I needed it. I also found it incredibly rewarding to have each class only last half of the semester, it made me feel accomplished every step of the way. Professors were also very flexible and understanding about work commitments. They ultimately wanted me to succeed and they understood that taking me away from my job is not the best way to do that. I am thankful for the flexibility and the scheduling made me utilize my time more efficiently in this program and at work.

Osborne: Discuss your professional and educational development with your work leadership team/supervisor. Show them how incredible this program is through articles like this, previous student experiences and by checking out the CNR website and social media! This isn’t a casual program, it is fast-paced and requires healthy boundaries with work and leisure time. Classes are usually at a set time in the evening and most are outside of typical working hours, but in the recreation and event fields, we know our programs can be all over the place. Try to budget 1.5x the amount you think you need for studying and working on projects. Take advantage of the breakout room times in class to meet folks and get to know them. This helps with group projects, which most of this program is, and it helps to have people that remind you when assignments are due or for motivational encouragement when things get busy, and trust me, they will! It is really nice that the courses are all eight weeks within the program and it allowed me to earn my master’s degree and a certificate at the same time within four semesters (plus the summer).

How do you see your degree helping you in your current career, or how has it already impacted your work? 

Dillard: I am a firm believer in learning experiences and applying whatever you’ve been taught or given and bringing it over to the work space. A lot of the courses emphasize understanding how an individual’s experiences are shaped through recreation and how they feel. I’ve been able to take marketing techniques and use them in recruiting pitches. Everything is relatable in some way and I think that’s what I love most about the MPRTSM program here at NC State.

Lusk: I have seen a lot of relevant coursework help me out professionally already. During my courses, I have developed and used a marketing plan, and have crunched presentation data for class and have applied it into corporate meetings to help develop partnerships. I have been able to improve my leadership and communication skills, which allows me to confidently show my passion to my employees in the same way that my professors have shown to me.

Osborne: This degree has helped me at work because all the projects and assignments are encouraged to be based on your current work or a role you aspire to be in. I worked on budgeting, finance, marketing, data analysis, geographic mapping, leadership, and risk management projects. My hiring manager role within my division is also paired with training and onboarding, and I have been able to apply course concepts and projects into this role. PowerPoint presentations are nice, but ones that cite current recreation research and have interactive maps and data are even better! I learned how to improve my existing presentations through my research and projects. Additionally, the faculty are well connected within the recreation field. I have joined the National Recreation and Park Association of which I was a student member in my undergraduate years. I hope to become a Certified Parks and Recreation Professional by this summer!

Did you have any faculty members who were particularly inspiring or stood out to you?

Dillard: It’s hard to say — they all truly have inspired me with their knowledge of this program and with their work experiences. All the faculty members were genuine in making sure I comprehended the information and that I succeeded, not just with their course, but with work as well.

Lusk: I don’t think it would be fair to single any particular professors out. They were all great professors. They brought knowledge and passion to each class, which made the whole process so much more enjoyable. They went above and beyond to understand who we were and what we were taking on before our semesters even started! I hope to stay in touch with many of them and hope we can both be resources for each other moving forward.

Osborne: Yes, first, the person I have had the pleasure of knowing for more than 10 years,  Professor Jason Bocarro, Ph.D. He has encouraged, challenged, and commended me through my undergraduate work, professional roles, and I had the amazing pleasure of having him again as a teacher for PRT 506: Organizational Behavior and Leadership. Another professor that I really enjoyed learning from in two classes within the certificate program for Sport and Entertainment Venue Management is Associate Professor Kyle Bunds, Ph.D. He really connected with students in a genuine and laid back way while still challenging us to become better writers and researchers. I want to thank Assistant Professor Jelena Vukomanovic for her kindness during a tough time in the world of our schooling as well as patience and persistence in helping us learn the world of GIS, a truly tricky subject and tool to navigate. Two professors that I didn’t have during grad school, but have stayed connected to over the last decade are Teaching Associate Professor Annette Moore and retired Professor Kari Lewis. Moore and I share the same passion and enthusiasm for teaching others and providing the best possible events to folks so they may enjoy their time! Lewis helps keep me motivated with exercise and travel advice. I joined her weight lifting class in undergrad eight times! 

What is your advice for other working professionals who are thinking about continuing their education or are currently enrolled in a master’s program?

Dillard: Understand the privilege of saying “I get to” instead of “I have to”. Once you create that mindset for yourself you will be surprised how this journey can enhance your workspace and your everyday life. Be positive, but also real with yourself and know you get out what you put in. The last thing is nobody did anything alone in this world, so ask for help and meet people who want to succeed and want to see you succeed.

Lusk: It is amazing what you can accomplish once you put your mind to it. On the surface, I thought I would never have time to add a school load to my work schedule. But once I realized it may be doable, I figured I would give it a shot and I am so glad I did! There is a misconception that you can’t work while furthering your education. That can’t be more wrong. Along the way, I was able to see how classes and assignments can help me improve at my job in live time. I initially questioned the online structure as I was worried that I would not be able to make connections with my professors and classmates. Again, this is far from the truth! It actually encouraged us to communicate more often. We had group chats where we could all help each other out if we needed it and teachers/TAs were always accessible through the phone and email.

Osborne: I would encourage you to consider CNR’s MPRTSM because everyone in the program is so accommodating if you are willing to put in the work and discuss your unique situation. Life happens and that is okay! This program is meant to be able to balance your busy life and work schedule and still help you build practical and relevant working skills such as research, public speaking, critical analysis and enthusiasm for helping others in their leisure or recreation activities of their choice. Scholarships are available as well as checking with your current job to see if they might be able to support some of your education costs. I applied for a stipend through my role and demonstrated how useful everything I have created and learned through school is to hiring and training people to enable folks to get outside. But even if you are not in the recreation field currently, many professors in the program are connected with folks in the field through conferences, research projects or as guest speakers for classes. Take advantage of their connections and let them know what you are interested in! Every conversation counts — especially with your cohort! Get to know them and they can help support you along the way as well. Some may even become your coworkers soon!

Any last comments for the Wolfpack?

Dillard: Most people don’t understand the pride I’ve felt the past two years here at NC State. Whether I’m watching the sports teams win championships, seeing the Bell Tower lit red or walking around campus, I feel the powerful Wolfpack family love. I’ve loved every second of learning here.

Osborne: I am very appreciative of my time at NC State, from my undergraduate years all the way to my graduate student experiences. It is bittersweet and I am a bit awe-struck that I am graduating with my master’s degree from the same program that served me so well a decade ago. I feel encouraged and proud to say Go Pack!

Dillard and Osborne both will attend graduation and celebrate with their family and friends for both the NC State and College of Resources commencement ceremonies. Lusk will graduate during the summer. Although he will not attend the university commencement ceremony, he will celebrate with family and friends.

Congratulations to all our NC State Online and online Master of Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management graduates! Are you interested in advancing your career with a master’s degree in education from NC State Online? Visit the program pages and for a full list of degree and certificate programs.


This post was originally published in DELTA News.