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Meet The Penn State Lifeguards: A Crew Ranked In Excellence

What comes to mind when you think of lifeguards? For many it’s a tanned, carefree bunch that spends time basking in the sun and passively watching patrons play in the pool. Perhaps this describes the lifeguards at your community pool back home. However, the lifeguards here at Penn State are quite a different breed.

Here at Penn State, lifeguarding is more than lazing around in a chair for hours. It’s a serious responsibility, and the guards here truly value safety and the well-being of patrons. Guards participate in a vigorous pre-hire selection process before they even begin to work.  Through this “try-out” process, certified lifeguard applicants are tested on their knowledge, skills, and abilities to determine their eligibility to work for Penn State Aquatics.  This “Lifeguard Try-Out” is led by Penn State Head Lifeguards, most of whom have also trained to become American Red Cross Lifeguarding and First Aid/CPR/AED Instructors.  Not only are potential lifeguards evaluated on skills, but they also sit down for a one-on-one interview, ensuring each employee meets the necessary standards.

Penn State has a long history of excellence in aquatics, having won the National Recreation and Park Association Excellence in Aquatics award in 2000.  Shawn DeRosa, Director of Aquatics, is one of the leading experts in aquatic risk management in the nation. With over 20 years of experience in aquatics as a lifeguard, instructor trainer, Certified Pool Operator, Aquatic Facility Operator Instructor, and Safe Swimming Beaches Instructor, DeRosa serves as an excellent leader for these motivated guards.

Once hired, new lifeguards undergo an additional eight hours of training specific to Penn State’s facilities and equipment. Throughout the course of their employment they participate in a program of ongoing in-service training, totaling four hours per month, where they practice mock rescues, lifesaving and emergency drills.

“When asked at the end of the year what they liked best about working for us, the guards always mention the in-services,” DeRosa said. “They learn a lot, have fun, and really feed off of each other’s energy.”

Fall Lifeguards 2

Photo: Shawn DeRosa

“We have an ongoing audit program where lifeguards are randomly selected for an unannounced skill audit to ensure our staff maintain a high degree of skill proficiency.  Each year we also work with PSU Emergency Medical Services office to stage a training drill involving the University Ambulance Service, thus helping ensure a smooth transition of care from lifeguard to Emergency Medical Technicians,” DeRosa said.

DeRosa’s history of success in aquatics goes on. In 2005, he was profiled by Aquatics International as one of the 25 most powerful people in the world of aquatics, a list that also featured Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.

DeRosa has also developed nationally recognized pool operator training courses and trains pool operators worldwide. DeRosa has taught programs not only in the U.S, but also in Hong Kong and Mexico, bringing his knowledge of safe pool operations to an international scale.

In November 2009, DeRosa was selected to be a member of the American National Red Cross “Sounding Board” for the American Red Cross Lifeguarding Program.  In this role, DeRosa was instrumental in developing and reviewing the 2012 Lifeguarding program materials-which consists of content used by lifeguards throughout the entire nation.

Due to his involvement with the Red Cross on the development of program materials, the publisher of the Red Cross materials, Krames-Staywell, asked DeRosa to serve as a Subject Matter Expert during the filming of the videos and the development of the Lifeguarding Instructor program.

“Because we needed lifeguards that were competent in backboarding skills, we offered Penn State lifeguards the opportunity to perform in the videos. Thus the spinal injury management section of the video was filmed, in part, here at the McCoy Natatorium,” DeRosa said.

Fall Lifeguards 3

Photo: Shawn DeRosa

Due to their distinction and excellence in live-saving skills, the Penn State lifeguards participate in a regional lifeguard competition each year. The University of Maryland has hosted the competition over the past few years, but this year, the leaders of Collegiate Recreation implemented a “Guard Wards” competition. This serves as a means for collegiate lifeguards to both compete and demonstrate the skills they have come to perfect. Penn State typically sends one team of lifeguards to the competition.

When DeRosa first came to Penn State in 2009, the lifeguards were ranked third in the collegiate division. By 2013, Penn State lifeguards placed first in the collegiate division and in 2014 they placed second. “This year we hope to recapture first place,” DeRosa said.

DeRosa sees lifeguarding at Penn State as more than just a way to extra cash. Students learn skills that transcend occupational boundaries and how to work as a team to help save a life. “What makes these lifeguards stand out is their genuine interest in keeping others safe,” he explained. “You can tell none of these guards are here just to get paid or sit around. They really do care.”

In order to be effective, lifeguards must learn to communicate with each other as well as with customers, according to DeRosa. Especially during emergency situations, guards must assume a leadership position and take control of a stressful situation.“We set high performance expectations and work on developing our guards as both responsible and dependable employees ready to enter the workforce and meaningfully contribute to any employer,” DeRosa said.

It’s safe to say the lifeguards at Penn State see their jobs as much more than a job that helps their tan. These hardworking men and women will not only demonstrate their great leadership abilities and safety skills here on campus, but they will surely continue to express and share them throughout their journeys outside of Happy Valley.

About the Author

Carolyn Popescu

Current senior studying Advertising and Visual Arts, Carolyn has a passion for entertainment and music. She also loves photography, film, graphic design, social media, and all things in between. She's the current Sony Music Marketing Representative for State College, so be sure to reach out to her with any local music scene questions, ideas, proposals, or if you just need someone to geek out about music with.

(Contact her through [email protected] or [email protected])

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