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Alumnus Devotes Career to Protecting Our Nation’s Natural and Cultural Resources

Johnny Parks

For National Park Service Trail Administrator, Johnny Carawan, administering 680 miles of the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail is more than a job — it’s a calling. Traversing nine states plus the District of Columbia, the trail follows the routes taken by American and French armies under the command of Generals Washington and Rochambeau to and from the siege of Yorktown, Virginia — a pivotal event in the American Revolutionary War.

The Wake County, North Carolina, native discovered his passion for the National Park Service during a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2000. “I knew this was the job I wanted,” Carawan tells us. “My interest in working outdoors, protecting the flora and fauna, helping others, and being a part of something greater than self, led me to research ranger careers and the application process.”

A couple of years later he began working for the park service at Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina and he hasn’t stopped protecting our nation’s natural and cultural resources since. Prior to his most recent position, Carawan served as the Fee and Business Program Manager at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DEWA). His past duty stations include Colonial National Historical Park, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and special assignments at Grand Canyon National Park, in addition to the Northeast and Southeast regional offices.

Carawan humbly contributes part of his success to the online Park, Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management (PRTSM) master’s program at NC State’s College of Natural Resources. Carawan graduated from the program in 2016 and was named Outstanding Online Masters student of the year.

Below is a Q&A with Johnny Carawan.

How has obtaining an online master’s degree in Parks, Recreation and Tourism and Sport Management (PRTSM) from the College of Natural Resources impacted you and prepared you for your new career?

Online PRTSM masters students

It has helped in every way imaginable. I sought out the master of PRTSM program as a way to expand my leadership perspective and to develop my operational skills and leadership impact. Every class has been of value and in some way or another has continued to serve as a touchstone in my career. The classes were rigorous and I learned more than ever expected. This program provided me with an additional set of credentials that are highly valued by our senior management team within the National Park Service.

How else does the online PRTSM program build a sense of community among the online students?

Online masters student - Online PRTSM programBefore beginning the program, I had all kinds of worries and doubts about how well I would perform as an online student and how I would be received by both students and professors. However, I found the faculty to be so welcoming and helpful. My cohort was amazing as well. I ended up making a lot of connections and was able to network with some amazing faculty and students. The PRTSM program is tough, it is a degree that is earned and not given freely.

I found that my cohort consisted of a diverse group of professionals that work in a variety of fields associated with parks, recreation, tourism and sports. Their insights and contributions to our courses provided significant value to this program and aided in my learning. I found a strong sense of community and as a cohort, we worked together as a team and became a family looking out for one another.

As for me, in early 2016, my mother passed away, which really took the wind out of me. Trying to focus on coursework was challenging and for a brief moment, I considered leaving the program. My cohort and professors came together to help me through encouragement and various methods of support, thus making it hard for me to give up. I am forever grateful for the help and compassion that was shown by the program members.

Was there a professor or advisor that had an impact on your journey?

Key factors to this program’s success are its professors and staff. I had eight professors while going through the program and noticed that each of them are renowned in their fields and dedicated to cultivating their students. Every one of them brought energy into the classroom and made the classes interesting and fun. It was readily apparent why the PRTSM program and professors are held in such high esteem by my colleagues within the National Park Service, and why it is considered our nation’s leading PRTSM program.

Overall I can say that each professor has had a meaningful impact upon me and has played a part in my career success.

Any advice for incoming online PRTSM students?

First, these classes are tough, but you can do this. This program is the best in the nation and rightfully so. If you are an incoming student, you are here because they hand-picked you, and because they see your potential and believe in you.

Balancing studies with everyday life can be challenging. My commitment to studying took time away from friends and family and affected my leisure time. I learned that calendaring my study time, family time and leisure time helped provide me with clarity and helped me establish some balance between work, studies and home life. I also set boundaries that included do not disturb hours and library time. I talked with my family, friends, and employer about my course requirements and needs, as a way of developing their buy-in and support.

Communication is important. Get to know your cohort members, exchange phone numbers and email addresses. You will become very close with one another and at times you will need to reach out to ask a question or gain clarity, request peer reviews or to seek help on a project. Also, remember to communicate with your professors. You will find that they care about you and want to see you succeed, so let them know if you have questions or are facing any challenges.

Join the NC State Online student and alumni community by connecting with us via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. If you want to learn more about the Online PRTM program, visit the program website or email Erin Adair at