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Therapeutic Rec: A Celebration of Humanity

Stephanie Janczak felt nervous when she walked into professor Ramon Zabriskie’s classroom for the first time. A BYU Marriott therapeutic recreation and management (TRM) major, Janczak knew that she would be working alongside the other TRM students in the class for the next two years as the cohort progressed toward graduation.

“We were all awkward,” she says. “It’s what happens on the first day of class. Dr. Z walked in and within minutes had us scoot the desks back and sit on the floor in a circle around a pile of stuffed animals. We played a name game where we introduced ourselves using an iteration of our name using a descriptor that started with the same letter as our first name. He was Reeling Ramon. I introduced myself as Sunshine Stephanie. Then we threw the stuffed animals to each other and had to say the person’s name who threw it to us. All of a sudden, the anxiety and nervousness was gone, and we were having fun.

“I still call my TRM friends by the name they chose in that circle,” she continues. “I saw how a simple activity could be used to bring people together and help people learn at the same time.”

Activities have been a major focus of BYU Marriott’s TRM program, where students specialized in the design, delivery, evaluation, and management of therapeutic and transformative experiences. TRM students have primarily focused on the use of recreation and other experiences as a treatment modality to help people with illnesses and disabilities improve functional behavior and quality of life while developing skills and abilities related to leisure and well-being. The foundational business courses provided by BYU Marriott’s TRM program were designed to prepare students for upward mobility into leadership positions in healthcare and other related fields.

Janczak and a handful of other TRM students who served as brand ambassadors were instrumental in planning one of the final activities for BYU Marriott’s TRM major, as the program will officially come to an end this school year. That gathering, held in December 2019, drew past and present TRM professors, students, alumni, family, and friends together for a bittersweet evening during which they celebrated the lifelong friendships they’d made and the end of a remarkable program.

The TRM program—which began in 1971 and was initially housed in BYU’s College of Health and Human Performance—moved over in 2009 to the BYU Marriott School of Business, where students added business classes to their traditional TRM coursework. “We offered a unique option because our major met all external requirements for TRM programs nationwide plus added requirements for business classes,” says Zabriskie, an experience design and management (ExDM) professor who has taught TRM classes at BYU since 2000 and will now be teaching diversity and inclusion classes for the school. “That means our students are not only equipped to become great clinicians and great therapists but also great managers of departments and agencies as well as entrepreneurs. The demand for our program and its graduates has been high.”

So the question is obvious: Why was the program discontinued? “Many different options were explored,” says Neil Lundberg, ExDM professor and department chair. “Arriving where we did was difficult. The therapeutic recreation and management program has been consistently ranked by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification as one of the top in the country, and we have more students pass the national certifying exam every year than most other programs. Finally, however, the hard decision was made because of fit and lack of resources.”

While the decision to end the program was met with disappointment and sadness, current TRM students (who will finish the program and earn their degrees), grads, and faculty members are focusing on the powerful impact the program has had in their lives. “Therapeutic rec is a people-person profession,” Zabriskie says. “We learn how to use experiences and recreation of all different kinds to impact and even transform the lives of those we work with, especially people with illnesses and disabilities. And being involved in the transformation of other people’s lives transforms our own as well.”

Janczak agrees. “TRM is a celebration of humanity,” she declares. “This major has not only allowed students to change the lives of thousands of people throughout the country, but it also has empowered each of its students to grow and become more resilient, compassionate, and aware of the humanity around us. I have never felt so loved and accepted as within BYU Marriott. My cohort and professors are my second family. I feel so blessed to have learned valuable lessons and had powerful experiences with those in the TRM community.”

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Written by Kellene Ricks Adams

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