A total of 19 courses are being offered this year at Fresno State as part of the Sustainable Parks and Recreation Community Initiative program (SPARCI), which is being led by the department of recreation administration.
Sam Lankford, chair of the department, said he hopes the program provides students with a connection with the community so they can better appreciate some of the issues that need to be solved in a community and to create a partnership with civil leaders to help solve problems in Fresno.
“I think it is a great way for us to get involved with the community and to bring the resources of Fresno State to a place that actually needs some help,” said Lankford, the faculty coordinator for the program. “This year’s project is for the City of Fresno parks, so all of the classes are focused on some aspect of providing recreation to the park services and to people in Fresno, mostly people in the Southern part of the city.”
The 19 courses are not necessarily new, but rather courses that already in exist, which are being taught by professors from a variety of different majors such as psychology, engineering, earth and environmental sciences and of course, recreation administration.
Lankford noted that professors from a number of disciplines all wanted to be involved in the program and have designed class assignments to address the project, which has started this semester.
“Some of the classes are farther along than others, but that’s OK because it’s built within the assignment structure of a class,” Lankford said.
He said he thought it would be neat to start the program at Fresno State after being inspired by a similar program at the University of Oregon, his alma mater.
Upon successful completion of the program, students will be able to list on their resumes that they have completed a “real project” in the community of Fresno and that faculty will hopefully understand that the city’s issues can be used as laboratories for courses, he said. At the same time, students can help solve some of the city’s problems.
Jill Lankford, another coordinator, said she believes the program is great and is excited for its future as she has seen positive results of similar programs operating at other universities.
“I have worked in higher education with students on similar initiatives and have found students are motivated to help communities in their area of study,” she said. “Students usually remark how much they have gained from working on projects which address real issues and opportunities, and Fresno can benefit from student research and suggestions. Students and faculty can benefit from addressing real issues and concerns.”
She said the one thing she is looking forward to the most is the student, faculty and community interaction throughout the project.
“I love to watch suggestions taken as possibility for students and community members and believe there are many alternatives to address concerns people have with regard to parks and recreation in this community, and students have the capacity to raise awareness and initiate change,” she said.
She said that even though Fresno is an interesting community and there is great potential to improve the quality of life for all residents through the provision of parks and recreation services, there isn’t sufficient support for all such services.
“Typically, parks and recreation services are not considered essential,” Jill Lankford said. “I think this is a short-sighted approach. Parks and recreation services are undervalued for the range of services provided, including water quality, air quality, economic impact as well as other social measures. All great cities have a great park and recreation system.”
Jenna Chilingerian, program coordinator of the community and regional planning center at Fresno State’s office of community and economic development, said she is excited that a program like SPARCI is now at Fresno State.
“It’s good news for students and faculty, and it is good news for our local agencies,” said Chilingerian, who serves as the assistant coordinator and helps with administrative and logistical support. “For one, I am looking forward to a more connected campus within and throughout the various departments.
“I am also looking forward to Fresno State better identifying and communicating its place and university role in the San Joaquin Valley, while receiving positive attention from outside the region and the state,” Chilingerian said.
Chilingerian said she hopes students and faculty are able to build collective and individual connections to the Fresno community and beyond so that more students will choose to stay and work in the Valley after graduation.
Sam Lankford said that, this year, the program is just focused on the city of Fresno’s parks and recreation and hopes that, in the future, he will be able to expand the program and also include more students from other disciplines.
“There’s an idea that we might do something broader where the entire university focuses on an entire city in the future,” he said. “We would go in and look at all aspects of city operations and liability issues and any discipline can participate in it. That would be the goal.”
He noted that from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on May 12, there will be a community-engagement event Downtown at Bitwise Industries at Fulton Mall where all 19 classes will be represented with posters of the work they complete for the city. A park summit will be held during the day and a community-engagement event in the evening.