By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Eric Pavlicek is the type of guy who prefers to connect with people near a body of water, not a water cooler.
The Eagle Scout has been fishing, hiking and camping since he was a young boy, and he’s always enjoyed sharing this passion for nature with others.
“I just love being outdoors and interacting with people,” the Kearney native said. “It’s something that brings people together.”
Pavlicek fits in perfectly with the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s recreation, outdoor and event management program, which prepares students for a multitude of careers related to travel, event planning, outdoor adventures and natural resources conservation.
The UNK senior is eyeing a career as a fisheries biologist/technician or park ranger, and he landed an ideal internship this summer to gain some real-world experience in the field.
Since mid-May, Pavlicek has been in Alaska assisting the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the region’s salmon resources through habitat and hatchery management.
“It’s the best experience of my life – by far,” said Pavlicek, who works from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge located about 60 miles southwest of Anchorage.
When he’s not tracking sockeye and coho salmon numbers, Pavlicek is networking with wildlife and fisheries officials, hiking through the breathtaking terrain, giving ocean kayaking a try and, of course, taking advantage of the world-class fishing.
“There are just so many opportunities,” he said. “I’m gaining lots of experience doing something I’ve never done before while making professional connections through the fisheries program.”
Pavlicek, who returns to Nebraska in mid-September before graduating in December, credits UNK faculty for developing a program that allows students to pursue their dream jobs.
“If this is your kind of career, they get you ready and prepared for it,” he said. “Without them, I don’t think I’d be able to do what I’m doing right now.”
UNK’s recreation, outdoor and event management program includes four specialization options – recreation management, event management, natural resource management and outdoor pursuits – allowing students to identify the path that best suits their interests.
Lecturer Pat Philippi describes the program as a “discovery major” that students often learn of after they enroll at UNK and realize it aligns perfectly with their passions.
The program attracts “people people,” Philippi said, those students who enjoy hands-on activities and interacting with others.
Ashley Florer, a UNK senior from Lincoln, prefers the travel and tourism side of the major.
“I’ve always loved to travel, and I love meeting new people, so this major was pretty perfect,” she said.
Florer is interning this summer with the Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, allowing her to work with a variety of events, businesses and organizations. She’s assisted at the Classic Green Reunion, a three-day expo that attracted John Deere collectors and fans from across the country, 4-H Shooting Sports National Championships and Hear Grand Island concert series, and she’s developing an informational booth that welcomes travelers at Central Nebraska Regional Airport.
“It’s really unique for Nebraska to have this kind of program because most people are like, ‘Why would you come to Nebraska?’ But Nebraska has a whole slew of options that people don’t even realize are here,” said Florer, who also worked with Kearney Park and Recreation to design and set up children’s activities during the annual Holly Jolly Jog and 5K Fun Run.
Florer, who graduates next week, is still narrowing down her career options, but she’s confident she’ll find a fulfilling job that utilizes all the skills she’s acquired at UNK.
“The faculty who teach the classes here are very good at getting you hands-on experience and showing you all there is to offer,” she said.
Every student in UNK’s recreation, outdoor and event management program finishes their education with an internship, giving them the opportunity to immediately accept a full-time position with the same business or organization.
Students also complete a practicum and faculty get them outside the classroom as much as possible, whether they’re teaching a water safety course to kids at Kearney Family YMCA, camping at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area, kayaking along the Kearney Water Trail or attending a Nebraska Recreation and Park Association conference.
“We try to get out and do a lot,” Philippi said. “You can sit in a classroom and learn things, but it’s an entirely different experience when you’re actually trying it.”
Students interested in outdoor careers take a trip every other year to Arkansas, where they canoe, hike and rock climb, and event management majors work with campus and community organizations to plan actual events.
“They’re getting that real-world experience. They’re getting something tangible they can put on their resumes,” said Philippi, who also encourages students to find part-time or summer jobs in their field so they can decide which career is the best fit.
“I’m a firm believer in getting out and getting away from home,” she said. “We really encourage students to expand their horizons.”
UNK graduates about 10 to 15 students from the recreation, outdoor and event management program each year and they find jobs across the country – in state and national parks, hotels and resorts, outdoor adventure companies and city recreational programs. They’re wedding planners, camp directors, athletic league organizers, tour guides and countless other professions.
“They can go pretty much anywhere,” Philippi said. “It’s whatever they want to make it.”