Marieke Van Puymbroeck

Marieke Van Puymbroeck, recreational therapy coordinator at Clemson University, said the program’s new Ph.D. program will leave a national mark in the field.
Image Credit: Clemson University

This June, Clemson University will introduce the online Ph.D. in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, Recreational Therapy Cognate Area, the first Ph.D. program of its kind to be offered online. Although the university already offers the Ph.D. program on campus, the department developed the online program in response to a growing need for educators in the field of recreational therapy.

Marieke Van Puymbroeck is Clemson University’s recreational therapy coordinator in the department of parks, recreation and tourism. She said the program will not only offer a flexible option for students in and out of state, but will also guarantee that students educated in the program will help shape the minds of future recreational therapists across the country.

“This is our opportunity to put the Clemson paw print in every recreational therapy education program across the country,” Van Puymbroeck said. “Recreational therapy is a growing field, but that growth will slow or stop without recreational therapy faculty.”

Recreational therapists use recreation and leisure activities to improve function and well being for those with chronic disease and disabilities. Undergraduate and master’s degrees in the field are popular, but numbers for new, graduating Ph.D. students in recreational therapy are staggeringly low. In 2015, there were 17 positions available for recreational therapy faculty across the country and only one graduating Ph.D. student. This year, there were 15 positions and no new graduates with Ph.Ds. to fill them.

While many therapists might be interested in a Ph.D. program, many already enjoy a rewarding career with a competitive salary. It isn’t surprising then that many don’t want to put that career on hold to pursue more education.

According to Van Puymbroeck, this is where an online program becomes attractive.

“This degree will prepare students for positions, but it will allow them to keep their current jobs,” Van Puymbroeck said. “Our graduate program is already known as one of the best in the country, so we wanted to make it more accessible while retaining the rigorous nature of the program that makes it so respected.”

The department plans to achieve this by including online education with in-person visits scheduled throughout the program that include a one-week residency focused on research. One entire class is a research practicum that will see students develop the skills required to produce a manuscript and conference abstract.

Van Puymbroeck said this type of ambitious program would not be possible without the support of the department and her colleagues, including Interim Chair Fran McGuire and Interim Dean Brett Wright. She said plans for the program were always met with enthusiasm, particularly after her colleagues understood that distance-learning technology would be used to facilitate the collaborative relationship between advisor and student that is so crucial in a doctoral program.

“That relationship is long and involved, so we’ve taken great care not to lose it,” Van Puymbroeck said. “So much of that relationship occurs in person, which is why the program uses so many synchronous meeting techniques, both for classes and mentoring.”

The program expects to welcome a small number of students each year—most likely between five and eight—in order to ensure quality. The first students in the program will begin the online Ph.D. program June 11, 2016.