UNCW’s award-winning recreation therapy program continues to grow

Linda Newell | Contributing Writer

UNCW’s Recreation Therapy program was recently awarded for excellence by the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ARTA) for the year of 2010, according to a press release. ARTA has not given anyone this honor since 2007, according to Dr. Dan Johnson, associate professor for the program. However, Johnson says that the program has been growing, even before the award.

“We used to only hear from juniors, now we hear from more freshmen,” said Johnson about people interested in Recreation Therapy as a major. The program has come a long way. According to Johnson and Dr. Candace Ashton, the program has been around for the past 25 years. However, it was only operated by one person until about 10 years ago.

Dr. Candace Ashton, program coordinator and professor, said that the program currently has three full-time employees and numerous part-timers. According to Johnson, having numerous people come in to work with students on a part-time basis allows students to learn about the field in greater depth and to gain a variety of perspectives.

Job outlook for graduates of this program seems to be good. According to Ashton, there has been an 18 to 20 percent growth in jobs in or related to recreation therapy. Both Ashton and Johnson say that graduates from the program are able to find jobs.

“Some even have multiple job offers at graduation,” Johnson said.

The Recreation Therapy program focuses on providing students with hands-on learning experiences and a broad knowledge of the field of recreation therapy. According to Johnson, an e-mail survey was sent to many employers of recreational therapists, including hospitals, which asked what employers were looking for in recent graduates. Classes were then set up for each skill requested by experienced people in the industry, with an emphasis on students gaining hands-on experience.

“By the time they are done, they’ve worked hundreds and hundreds of hours with people,” Johnson said.

Recreation therapy will see more specialization in the future, according to Johnson and Ashton, particularly in areas that work with children and the elderly as well as the population of young people that are considered to be at risk.

“Our majors clearly want to help other people,” Johnson said.

The Recreation Therapy program is growing and works hard to provide a hands-on experience for students in the program. They are trying to raise money to build a “miracle field” or an accessible baseball field, which they would use as a multipurpose field.

While there is no financial gain from the recent award, the honor of being recognized by ARTA is incredible, according to Ashton and Johnson.