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Sarah Beth Reno

Alumni Spotlight—Sarah Beth Reno

Alumni of the College of Applied Health Sciences have myriad career options thanks to the tremendous diversity of programs. We periodically will put the spotlight on an alum to find out what they're doing now, what experiences they had and what AHS means to them. This week, we talk to Sarah Beth Reno, an RST alum who is now Vice President of Guest Operations at Carnival Cruise Line.

Q: Why did you pick AHS?

A: I started my freshman year at U of I as a journalism major. But when I found out there was a major specifically for recreation, I immediately applied to transfer over. Growing up in a small town in Illinois, I always watched "The Love Boat" growing up. My dream was to leave small town and cold weather and work on a cruise ship. I really wanted my career to be fun. And I figured this was the path to get there.

Q: Why did you pick RST?

A: At the time, it was called Leisure Studies, so it took some courage to tell my friends and family this was my choice. And, when I went to visit someone at the college to talk about career opportunities, she informed me that “only magicians and comedians” work on ships. According to her, my career focus should be with the Chicago Park District. I’m sure she thought I was crazy when I asked her what that was (remember, I was from a VERY small town). Despite my lack of understanding, they let me in. I forged ahead, with the hope that a door would open for me somehow.

Q: Which professors had the most impact on you?

A: I had one professor that I will remember forever, and I lost track of him over the years (I know that’s a crazy thing to say in 2021). His name was Michael Phelan, and he made me and my fellow students feel we could do anything. We sat in his office for hours before and after class and talked about everything in life. He always told me that taking opportunities naturally leads to other opportunities. So, even if the job was not perfect—open the door and walk through it. That door will get you to another room (with another door or window) that may just be the opening to the perfect career. It was great advice. He also encouraged me to take an internship with the National Recreation and Park Association for a broader perspective. He was an amazing teacher, husband and father, and I will always remember his kindness and inspiration.

Q: What course did you most enjoy?

A: I’m too old to remember specific courses, but I enjoy all my courses because my professors were so much fun. Everyone was demanding but accessible, which I really valued. I always felt I found my home at AHS. I was no longer “lost” at a big university. This was a place I felt I could be myself and be appreciated for what I contributed.

Q: Did you enter AHS knowing your career path, or did AHS help you decide?

A: I was able to secure a job within the cruise industry through AHS. A recent graduate, Sally Evans, worked at Norwegian Cruise Line. She returned to interview students to work as youth staff onboard during high-season holidays. I secured a job as a teen coordinator onboard during my college breaks and continued within the industry ever since.

Q: Did your AHS experience lead to your current job?

A: The program Sally set up for us was an inspiration for me as my career progressed. When I arrived at Carnival Cruise Line’s Entertainment department, I worked with my team to set up an internship program for recreation students across the country. It was a big success, and many of the students secured full-time jobs within the entertainment department after graduation. I actually returned a few years ago to speak to AHS students about this opportunity. The students were so impressive and far more well-rounded than I ever was at that age. They knew what they wanted and were going for it.

Q: What does AHS mean to you?

A: Looking back to my college career, there were two, distinct benefits to being part of AHS:

1. The camaraderie everyone had with each other. The atmosphere was like working on board a cruise ship. Everyone was so different, but we all had the same “zest” for life. We all supported each other 100 percent—whether it be for a personal reason or to help with a class project. We were in it together.

2. The staff’s focus on true learning and improving yourself for a better future. I recall taking business and marketing classes where students were so competitive and hyper-focused on their grade-point average—people would calculate their grades at the end of each test. I was always perplexed by these hard-driving business majors, who thought I was crazy for majoring in Leisure Studies. In AHS, it truly was about the love of learning, doing your best and developing skills to forge your path in life. The professors taught us so much more than just the facts. I’m so grateful for their guidance.

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