RTE grad uses Navy experiences to entertain visitors

Erica Martin

Patrick Stewart has been active since he was a child enjoying activities at the Boy & Girls Club and as a sailor through the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation program.

Now, the Recreation, Tourism and Events graduate is helping locals and tourists stay active as the sports and special events coordinator at the Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“If you can work in a field where the entire purpose of your work is to bring enjoyment to other people, you should have a pretty satisfying career,” he said.

Since he began working at the visitors bureau, Stewart has worked on festivals, such as Mardi Gras and Music Festival, Chasin’ the Sun Music Festival and Pirates of the High Seas Fest. He also has coordinated youth and other sporting tournaments for teams across the Southeast, securing venues, assisting with permit requirements and recommending accommodations for visiting teams and officials.

Stewart said he was drawn to special events because of his experience with the military’s wellness program.

“I always had a great experience with MWR events, and I thought that getting my degree in Recreation, Tourism and Events would be a good way for me to shift over as a civilian and give back,” he said. “We offer a lot of similar programs that they offer: fun, safe things for people to do.”

“Many students come to the RTE major because they enjoyed either going to camp as a child, playing sports or going to the rec center,” instructor Donna Trafford noted. “When they find out that they can make a living by creating meaningful leisure experiences, they realize play can become work.”

Through the program, Stewart had field work experience at a local gym in fitness recreation and at FSU Panama City in student activities. His full-time position at the visitors bureau satisfied his final internship requirement for his bachelor’s degree.

“About one-third of the students immediately get employed by the organization that hired them as an intern,” said instructor John Crossley, Ph.D., who recommended Stewart for the position with Panama City Beach. “The rest typically get very good recommendations and networking contacts from their internship agency, which helps them find employment in their field.”

Stewart credits his success to his experience in the military. His time serving on the Presidential Honor Guard in Washington, D.C., and the U.S.S. West Virginia taught him to focus and pay attention to details in order to achieve his goals, he said.

After his five-year enlistment in the Navy, Stewart used the New G.I. bill to go to college. He was named on the dean’s list and the president’s list at Gulf Coast State College and FSU Panama City and earned his bachelor’s degree in May 2015. In high school, he had a 2.5 GPA and barely graduated, he said.

“I was sitting at the front of the class because my G.I. Bill, which I earned, is paying for this. I don’t want to waste it. I was there to do a certain job,” he said. “I think that’s something the military set me up for really well: being able to focus on the mission.