June 2022 Spotlight Professional

NeSha Thomas-Schadt – Parks & Recreation Manager, Pierce County Parks

Describe the scope of your position in parks and recreation.

I am a Parks and Recreation Regional Manager for Pierce County Parks. I am responsible for providing direction and oversight of west region operations for both park maintenance and recreation services. This region includes Lakewood Community Center, Chambers Creek Regional Park (home to Chambers Bay Golf Course) and several smaller park properties. I love that my daily work includes overseeing undeveloped and developed parks, playfields and playgrounds, trails and open space, waterfront and shorelines, and partnerships in communities across the county.

How long have you been with your present agency?

I have been with Pierce County for over five years, three years in my current position.

Background experience and previous careers?

I am a former Division I student-athlete who earned a bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine University (Go Waves!) and a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco (Go Dons!). Over my 20+ years in the industry, I have held positions that focused on adult and youth sports, youth and teen enrichment, event planning, and facility oversight before shifting to a management role.

What were some of your first jobs, and what did you learn from them?

As a young adult, I enjoyed being a summer camp counselor, youth and collegiate basketball coach, and a sports instructor. But my first “real” park job was as a part-time special events coordinator for the City of Carlsbad, CA. Some of the most memorable events that I created were a skateboarding competition and battle of the bands event called “Amps and Ramps” as well as a western-themed fall festival in the city’s historical park that featured a farmers’ market, craft fair, trick roping demonstrations, square dancing and a chili cook off. Good times!

Early on, I learned to be persistent, to have fun at work and to not wait for others to present me with opportunities but, instead, to make them myself. I learned to have confidence in my abilities and my potential when others might not have. Lastly, I have learned the importance of creating meaningful connections with others.

How have you participated in WRPA?

I began attending the WRPA conference and participating in networks and committees when I returned to Washington in 2009. I have also led educational sessions and participated as a speaker at the annual conference. Currently, I am involved in the Conference Education Committee as a member and the Emerging Professionals (PREP) committee which I co-chair with Kelly McGinley-Ashe. This will be my ninth year contributing to that committee.

I’m passionate about working with students and emerging professionals, providing them with professional growth opportunities, and introducing them to our field. Because of the PREP committee’s efforts, this year we hosted 40 students from Western and Central Washington University at the conference in Bellevue.

Why are you passionate about the parks and recreation field?

I love what I do because we are a part of an industry that focuses on community, accessibility, and enhancing quality of life. I can remember benefiting from parks and recreation as a kid; participating in youth sports (which helped foster a love of basketball), camping with family, fishing and boating with my dad. Those experiences at a young age have stayed with me and greatly contributed to who I am as an adult and what I value personally and professionally. 

What has been your biggest professional challenge? 

One challenge I have faced is often being one of the few people of color and from the LGBTQ community in a leadership position in our industry. Opportunities for networking and finding support with folks that share my life experience can be rare, and this can feel isolating. Because of this, I continue to advocate for inclusivity and access in hiring, training, and professional growth at all levels.

What’s the best advice you can give to someone starting out in the field of parks and recreation?

Work hard, take initiative, and be open to new challenges and ways to grow.