Alumni Spotlight: Annika Sacco (BS ’04)
A change in major helped to launch a successful 26-year (and counting) career in Parks and Recreation for Baylor alumna Annika Sacco. In this Q&A, Sacco shares how her Baylor education—and particularly her experience as a Recreation and Leisure Services major—has made an impact on her as a professional in the field.
What originally brought you to Baylor University as a student?
I grew up hearing all about Baylor from my family. I even had a Baylor shirt when I was a toddler. I got to see my older siblings go to Baylor and visit them on campus. It was all encompassing for me. It was my goal to go to Baylor!
How did you become a Recreation and Leisure Services Major?
I started off pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Education with a theater emphasis. I had grand plans to be in theater, and it really suited my personality—every day was different, and it used my creative side. During that time, in the summers, I would drive out to California and work for Parks and Recreation to make money for the school year. It was my favorite part of the summer.
So, two years into my theater degree, I was sitting in class next to a Recreation major, and she was talking about working at camps. Then she told me that was what she was getting her degree in, and I was so surprised. I didn’t realize that was an option! She encouraged me to go talk to [Program Director] Dale Connally to see if it would be a good fit.
I went to meet with Dr. Connally, and it really was the perfect fit. I was so impressed with the degree and all of the different classes that were offered. It completely changed my mindset for what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Everything just started falling into place. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. The professors were amazing. Since I was transferring majors, I was concerned I’d be behind, but I was able to catch up and it was great.
What is a piece of advice that you would offer to current Recreation majors?
Take advantage of all of the opportunities that are there at Baylor. I was able to get experience in so many different areas of recreation when I was there, which helps you figure out what area you want to move into. If there’s a certification that’s available for you to take, take it. I was able to get a lot of great certifications while I was at Baylor that were either free or low cost. Go to conferences—again, they often have student rates or you can volunteer and attend for free.
You’ve now been working in Parks and Recreation for 26 years. Tell us a little about your career journey so far.
I started working with the City of Waco after I decided to switch majors. I felt like I needed to start working for the city that I was in, and I really think working in the field while I was getting my degree helped me to retain so much more information. I was able to put what I was learning into practice immediately.
After working for the City of Waco for seven years, I moved to the City of Garland for four years, and now I’ve been working for Wylie Parks and Recreation for 12 years. Here, I’m the supervisor of Wylie Recreation Center. We have an indoor track, basketball courts, childcare, a big climbing wall. I have about 60 staff under me, both full-time and part-time. This is the first big rec center for Wylie, and it was a labor of love. They didn’t have anything like this when I got to Wylie, so we were able to build it up from scratch.
Next month, I’m actually moving into a new position. I’ll be over revenue and promotions for our entire department, so I’ll be working with the parks staff as well as the recreation staff at all of our different facilities.
What are some of the lessons you learned as a Recreation major that still impact you today?
There are so many—it’s hard to pick! One of the things I learned from Dr. Connally was that education and learning don’t end when you graduate. In order to stay current and keep your professionalism, you need to continue to educate yourself. That’s something I’ve carried on. I go to conferences, I keep learning new things, and that’s helped me tremendously.
Bernie Battles, who was one of my professors, taught me a lot about taking recreation seriously. People tend to see recreation as just a fun thing to do, but he taught me that you can make what you want from it. He took it very seriously and expected a high standard from us, and I really respected that. It’s something I’ve taken into the field. You need a high standard for what you do. My facility is known as one of the cleanest in the area and with the friendliest staff. I make sure everything is updated and on schedule. I learned from those classes to embrace change and creativity, think outside the box, and how to improve other people’s lives through recreation.