Professional event management is a growing niche within the hospitality and tourism industry, and the Texas A&M Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, RPTS, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has been giving students the practiced training and competitive edge to become part of this promising field for more than a decade.

Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences  scholarship banquet with people sitting around round tables.
The Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences Scholarship Banquet, planned and managed by students in the certification program, was held at Ice House on Main in Bryan. (Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences photo)

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector is projected to grow the fastest among all sectors from 2020-2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau estimates an 18% per year growth over the decade with an average of about 16,400 openings for meeting, convention and event planners.

“Our RPTS Professional Event Management Certificate is open to any major and focuses on the design, planning, management, implementation and evaluation of professional and special events,” said department head Brian King, Ph.D. “This field offers great career opportunities for those who acquire a bachelor’s degree in meetings and events, hospitality, tourism or recreation management and have hospitality-related experience.”

Students in the certificate program complete coursework and get hands-on event management experience in a variety of areas, including planning, promotion, logistics, sponsorship, evaluation, contracting, media relations, fundraising, risk management and vendor management.

Those earning their certification have gone to work in a variety of fields, including event coordination, nonprofits, the hotel and hospitality industry, sports, the movie industry, fundraising, concert management, public relations, catering, health care and numerous other professions.

Some of the businesses in which those earning their RTPS professional event management certification have been employed include Walt Disney Company, SeaWorld, Marriott and Omni hotels, Four Points, Texas Rangers Baseball, Gaylord, Prime Time Sports, USA Track and Field, Paramount Pictures and TriStar Productions.    

About the certification program

To gain certification, students must complete a core curriculum consisting of four classes for a total of nine credit hours. They must also participate or volunteer in at least 10 events, committing a minimum of three hours to each event for a total of at least 40 hours.

Donna Lee Sullins, Ed.D., RPTS instructional assistant professor who oversees the certification program, said students get a combination of coursework and hands-on learning experience through planning and implementing events on campus and across the wider community.

“We usually have about 150-175 students from a variety of disciplines in the certification program,” Sullins said. “Along with students from our department, we have those from marketing, management, communications, architecture, horticulture, engineering, agriculture communications and other disciplines. We have a stand-alone certification available to anyone from any major.”

In the initial coursework, she said, students learn the basics of event management and develop a plan for an event on paper. Then, in the following courses, they are introduced to more in-depth concepts such as contingency and emergency planning, infrastructure, site selection, waste management, sustainability, contracts and other aspects. They are separated into groups and tasked with implementing an actual event for a client on campus or within the community.

Putting planning skills to the test

“We send out probably 10-15 event opportunities a semester for which the students may volunteer,” Sullins said. “In the classes themselves, students plan and execute events, which incorporates a lot more than volunteering, and usually apply to work with one of maybe four or five clients that semester. Sullins said this past semester’s client event opportunities for students to plan and execute as part of their coursework included the:

  • Sippin’ and Savin’ Lives volunteer appreciation event for Health for All.
  • Dancing for the Health of It fundraising event for Health for All.
  • Tee Off for REACH awareness event for local nonprofit REACH Project.
  • Gig ’em in the Gardens event for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
  • Recognition banquet for the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Sciences.
Succulent plant giveaway at the Gig 'em in the Gardens event
A succulent plant giveaway was one of the features of the Gig ’em in the Gardens event for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Among the suppliers and venues students worked with to implement these events were Hilton Hotels, George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Phillips Event Center, Piada, Ice House on Main, Savage Brew Lab, The Gardens at Texas A&M, SOS Cotton Candy and C&J BBQ. Some of their past clients include Midway Group, St. Thomas Early Learning Center, Midnight Yell, Cracker Barrel, Texas A&M-Qatar, The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Texas 4-H, private wedding clients and The Brazos County A&M Club.

“Many of the events we support are chosen through previous connections and word of mouth,” Sullins said. “The events provide students with hands-on opportunities and real-life working experiences they will gain to source vendors, recruit volunteers, plan, coordinate, anticipate guest needs, budget, conceptualize and implement.”

Hands-on and moving forward

Natalie Collins, president of the Student Event Planners Association at Texas A&M and future event coordinator, participated in several projects, including the past semester’s Gig ’em in the Gardens and Dancing for the Health of It events.

“Volunteering at the Gig ’em in the Gardens event allowed me to be more comfortable talking to attendees and sharing information,” she said. “I was nervous at first but had a great time.”

RPTS students at Rudder complex
Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences students learn about the technical aspects of lighting from professionals at the Rudder Theater Complex on the Texas A&M campus. (Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences photo)

For the Dancing for the Health of It event, Collins worked with clients and her team of classmates on design elements. She also contacted, booked and received quotes from various vendors and attended weekly meetings with clients and team members to plan and discuss event ideas.

“This event taught me so much and helped me grow as an aspiring event coordinator,” she said. “Through this experience, I learned how to adapt to changes, work collaboratively as a group and practice professional-client communication skills.”

Collins also said she was grateful for the professional certification option as it allowed her to specialize in event planning without changing her general academic track toward becoming a communications major.

Alexis Leachman ’22, who will graduate in the fall, got hands-on experience participating in the Sippin’ and Savin’ Lives volunteer appreciation event as well as the RPTS Recognition Banquet.

“These experiences helped me with my communication, organization and time management skills,” she said. “It was really helpful to have Dr. Sullins there to help guide me through what I need to do to plan and implement an event.”

Leachman said she has done floral arranging for weddings the past seven years and recently began an internship at a local wedding planning business.

“I’ve already started my own floral business and am getting additional event planning experience through this internship,” she said. “I think what I have learned in the program has prepared me pretty well for what I want to do in the future.”

People out on a lawn with chairs and tents at Kite Fest
Kite Fest, one of the many popular events coordinated and managed by Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences students, was attended by more than 2,000 attendees from throughout Texas. (Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences photo)

Jake Vasquez ’20, now an environmental health and safety specialist at SeaWorld Orlando, said the program provided him with experiences in some lesser-known aspects of event management.

“When I worked at the Kite Fest event in Bryan-College Station, I learned a lot about things like safety and risk management,” he said. “I had to make sure the tents were secure, set up first-aid stations and plan for any unexpected medical situations. I really consider what I learned in the program to be the pinnacle of my academic experience. It taught me to plan, implement and assess things; it gave me an eye for detail as well as a full 360-degree view of event management.”

Vasquez also noted his experience in working with “pop-up” events during the program turned out to be unexpectedly useful.

“I didn’t anticipate it would be part of my job, but it turned out I had to present some pop-up learning events at SeaWorld related to environmental responsibility and sustainability as well as employee safety,” he said. “Those pop-up events were well received, and I was glad I was well prepared to plan and implement them.”        

Expanding experiential horizons to gain expertise 

Program coordinators said student development during the certification process goes well beyond learning about event planning.

Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences students tour ballroom at Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center
Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences students get a tour of a ballroom at the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center as it is being set up for a banquet. They met with hotel event coordinators and the facility’s executive chef. (Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences photo)

“Along with thoroughly preparing students in event planning and management, we also want to expose them to such things as entrepreneurship and to more specific topics like risk management so they might start their own business or gain knowledge and skills that would make them even more valuable to a potential employer,” Sullins said.

Melyssa-Anne Stricklin, senior academic advisor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Advising Center 2 and one of the first students to earn the certification in 2012, noted students also learn other valuable transferable skills they can use in life and apply to other career fields.

“Students get experience in public speaking, time management and conflict resolution along with the opportunity to develop teamwork and leadership skills,” she said. “But one of the biggest benefits they get is in developing self-confidence through involvement in real-life situations.”   

She said the hands-on experiences in the program also help students determine if event management is the right career for them.

“Many students tell me event planning is much more detailed and complicated than they first thought,” she said. “And while the vast majority of them stick with the program, it provides the real-life experience they need to decide whether or not to make a career of it.”

Sullins said other student development opportunities offered through the program include field experiences and meetings with current event professionals to help students build their networks and gain exposure.

Through these opportunities, students learn about the experience and visitor economies in the Brazos Valley and in Texas. This prepares them for careers statewide and to better serve the residents and tourists looking to visit the Lone Star State.

The program also emphasizes international touchpoints, introducing students to different cultures and opportunities for hospitality, tourism and visitor experiences abroad.    

“In December, I am taking 15 students to Doha, Qatar, for two weeks for the FIFA World Cup,” Sullins said. “We will be staying at the Texas A&M-Qatar campus and connecting with staff members there. Students will volunteer at various matches and tour stadiums and hotels built for the World Cup. They will also get Arabic language lessons and participate in cultural tours and activities, as well as work on a sustainability project.”

In May 2023, Sullins will take a group of students to Switzerland for an International Events class.

“We will work with students and faculty at the Swiss Hotel Management School in Leysin, Switzerland, as well as touring the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, FIFA headquarters in Zurich and the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne.”

She said applications open this summer for the study-abroad opportunity in Switzerland, with a deadline in early fall.

For more information about the Professional Event Management Certificate, go to:

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